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Acclaimed author Kathe Koja brings her expert eye and editorial sense to the second volume of the Year's Best Weird Fiction. Contributing authors include Julio Cortazar, Jean Muno, Karen Joy Fowler, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nick Mamatas, Carmen Maria Machado, Nathan Ballingrud, and more. No longer the purview of esoteric readers, weird fiction is enjoying wide popularity. Chief Acclaimed author Kathe Koja brings her expert eye and editorial sense to the second volume of the Year's Best Weird Fiction. Contributing authors include Julio Cortazar, Jean Muno, Karen Joy Fowler, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nick Mamatas, Carmen Maria Machado, Nathan Ballingrud, and more. No longer the purview of esoteric readers, weird fiction is enjoying wide popularity. Chiefly derived from early 20th-century pulp fiction, its remit includes ghost stories, the strange and macabre, the supernatural, fantasy, myth, philosophical ontology, ambiguity, and a healthy helping of the outre. At its best, weird fiction is an intersecting of themes and ideas that explore and subvert the Laws of Nature. It is not confined to one genre, but is the most diverse and welcoming of all genres.


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Acclaimed author Kathe Koja brings her expert eye and editorial sense to the second volume of the Year's Best Weird Fiction. Contributing authors include Julio Cortazar, Jean Muno, Karen Joy Fowler, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nick Mamatas, Carmen Maria Machado, Nathan Ballingrud, and more. No longer the purview of esoteric readers, weird fiction is enjoying wide popularity. Chief Acclaimed author Kathe Koja brings her expert eye and editorial sense to the second volume of the Year's Best Weird Fiction. Contributing authors include Julio Cortazar, Jean Muno, Karen Joy Fowler, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Nick Mamatas, Carmen Maria Machado, Nathan Ballingrud, and more. No longer the purview of esoteric readers, weird fiction is enjoying wide popularity. Chiefly derived from early 20th-century pulp fiction, its remit includes ghost stories, the strange and macabre, the supernatural, fantasy, myth, philosophical ontology, ambiguity, and a healthy helping of the outre. At its best, weird fiction is an intersecting of themes and ideas that explore and subvert the Laws of Nature. It is not confined to one genre, but is the most diverse and welcoming of all genres.

30 review for Year's Best Weird Fiction; Volume 2

  1. 4 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    This is simply an amazing collection of last year’s best “weird” fiction. The stories are all somewhere in between urban fantasy and horror, written by talent such as Caitlín R Kiernan, Nathan Ballingrud, and Carmen Maria Machado, the last of which I had never heard of before but am now desperately scrambling to get my hands on everything she’s written. I love discovering new writers in anthologies, it’s part of what I love about them. Year’s Best Weird Fiction V2 is gorgeous inside and out and This is simply an amazing collection of last year’s best “weird” fiction. The stories are all somewhere in between urban fantasy and horror, written by talent such as Caitlín R Kiernan, Nathan Ballingrud, and Carmen Maria Machado, the last of which I had never heard of before but am now desperately scrambling to get my hands on everything she’s written. I love discovering new writers in anthologies, it’s part of what I love about them. Year’s Best Weird Fiction V2 is gorgeous inside and out and clearly Michael Kelly and Kathe Koja have an keen eye for talent. Highlights for me include Carmen Maria Machado’s The Husband Stitch, which is a bit, erm, racy, Caitlín Kiernan’s Bus Fare and Rich Larson’s The Air We Breathe is Stormy, Stormy. — Johann Thorsson from The Best Books We Read In February: http://bookriot.com/2016/03/01/riot-r...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    Moving from the first volume, curated by Laird Barron, to this one, overseen by Kathe Koja, I find that, for the most part, the tendencies I set forth for the fuzzy set of “weird fiction” mostly hold true. This is good because I definitely don’t have it in me to try anything like that again. Part of this, I have to admit, is me being a contrarian sick of the explosion of listicles and think pieces and articles on weird fiction these days, which possibly hit rock bottom with this article, which s Moving from the first volume, curated by Laird Barron, to this one, overseen by Kathe Koja, I find that, for the most part, the tendencies I set forth for the fuzzy set of “weird fiction” mostly hold true. This is good because I definitely don’t have it in me to try anything like that again. Part of this, I have to admit, is me being a contrarian sick of the explosion of listicles and think pieces and articles on weird fiction these days, which possibly hit rock bottom with this article, which somehow recapitulates the standard tactic of pointing to weird fiction as “the genre that transcends genre” without ever using the word “weird,” in favor of the bland-to-the-point-of-meaninglessness “the new fantastic… evinced by the ways in which something deviates from a normativity.” Anyway. Where Barron’s selections last year tended to align with my suspicion that weird fiction is just a specific subset of horror, Koja’s choices tend more toward (dark) fantasy with a whimsical sensibility (more Link than Ligotti, let’s say). This difference in approach is apparent even from their introductions: Barron references Blackwood’s “The Willows,” while Koja’s touchstone is the quirky town Riddle from the sort-of-Bob-Dylan-biopic I’m Not Here. Koja’s selections, too, are less likely to riff on classics of the genre, concerning themselves instead with folktales (more kappa than Cthulhu… I’ll stop). The main difference from my schema from the first volume (look, I’m doing exactly what I said I wasn’t going to do) is the lack of what we might call a pessimistic epistemological shift - these stories tend to be more concerned with relationships and the personal/insular and conversing with monsters. They’re all still tonally dark, though, focus on some sort of liminal intrusion, and tend toward a knowledge/ignorance binary rather than a good/evil binary. This last was the most striking theme of the collection to me, linking it closely with VanderMeer’s Southern Reach/Area X books (I assume most of these stories were written/being written before that trilogy was published, making this a similarity in zeitgeist rather than aping the commercial success of those books, although it will be interesting to see how this plays out in next year’s stories). A “meme,” before the word became a meaningless bit of internet ephemera, was an idea or custom that spread from person to person in a viral manner (a concept introduced by Richard Dawkins), and both VanderMeer and some of the stories here (especially Ballingrud and Carroll) are concerned with exploring the possible horrific implications of this idea. I have to assume said zeitgeist has to do with the post-modern information economy, perhaps especially as that relationship parallels that of Lovecraft et al’s with the emerging industrial economy - maybe we could even ruminate on the spread of the “weird renaissance” as a real-life application of memes and dangerous knowledge, eh? It bears pointing out that most of these stories are by women - good for Koja and Kelly for putting together a genre anthology that just happened to work out that way without it being explicitly designed as such. This crop of authors is also an impressive assortment of up-and-comers, many of whom I had never even heard of before, and with only one recurring from Barron’s volume. It seems that the system of rotating guest editors will keep this series from becoming stale or predictable (as will the impossibility of strictly defining “weird fiction” for that matter). This, like Volume One, is an excellent collection of stories, whether or not you buy the idea that weird fiction is a genre or field in-and-of itself. A small quibble: there’s a certain modern aesthetic sensibility (particularly prevalent with online publications?) and which I tend, possibly unfairly, to associate with workshopped fiction - an over-reliance on metaphor, a love of single-sentence opening/closing paragraphs, the omission of certain articles and connectors - that a lot of these stories are guilty of, but clearly I am in the minority in finding it irksome at times. “The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud Noirish horror set in New Orleans with a (seemingly) standard weird fiction protagonist “seduced by old books” - how could I not love this one? The underworld (of crime) intersects with the underworld (of Hell) when a mobster wants to steal the titular artifact from a small-time crook operating out of the swamps. Things get gory, and the unknowable cosmic horror of Hell is excellently conveyed. Shares with the Southern Reach trilogy not only the marshy, Southern American setting, but also a concern with language/knowledge as a vector of awful change (“Maybe language is over” / “It’s the language that hurts”). Feints in the direction of Etchison’s “The Late Shift” at one point, which I appreciated. I’ve had a copy of North American Lake Monsters on my shelf for ages, and this story makes me feel shameful about not having read it yet. “Wendigo Nights” by Siobhan Carroll The Wendigo, a personification of cannibalism and the frigid north which originally haunted tribes of the Algonquian, has a long pedigree in weird fiction. In Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo” it was an unseen monster that kidnapped and impersonated its victims, while Alvin Schwartz’s retelling left the creature itself offstage and replaced the impersonation with a pile of ash. Norman Partridge’s “The Hollow Man” centered on the monster as some sort of reptilian beast that physically possessed its victim, and now Carroll has moved past a separate monster at all into the meme of “wendigo psychosis” (a real thing) introduced by means of a mysterious cylinder dug up by an Arctic research team. For all of them, the wendigo is a stand-in for “the dread of nature,” and it’s noteworthy that nature is also mostly kept off-stage here, with the ambiguously-gendered protagonist’s diary entries (titled by number of days since the station lost contact with the outside world, and presented achronologically) all taking place within the walls of the station itself. Carroll also folds in inspiration from Who Goes There (1938, which became The Thing (1951), and then The Thing (1982), and then The Thing (2011)). A variety of possible explanations are proffered for the cylinder, but it doesn’t really matter where it came from, does it? “Headache” by Julio Cortázar I’m conflicted about the idea of using the year of translation as a basis for inclusion/placement in anthologies as opposed to year of initial publication, but c’est la vie - I’m also surprised there was fiction of Cortazar’s yet to be translated into English. This is a story of mancuspias, some sort of bird-mammal creature, and their caretakers, and I finished it absolutely certain that “mancuspias” were an entry in Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, but apparently they were not. Now I’m not sure where I would have heard of “mancuspias” prior to this and find myself in my own real-life meta-weird story. Written in first-person plural from the point of view of the caretakers, whose increasing headaches and sense of vertigo mirror the health of their flock (herd?) and their increasingly precarious standing as commercial farmers (it doesn’t get much more topical than precarity, I have to admit). The vertigo, indeed, is literalized in the bizarre spinning about of the mancuspias. Throughout, a kind of agitated unease continually bubbles beneath the surface. “Loving Armageddon” by Amanda C. Davis A very short story about a woman who loves a man with a “hand-grenade heart” and the danger she faces when he could blow up at any time. Again, a variety of possible explanations are offered and discarded, which is a common tactic in modern weird stories, but here the very multiplicity of the stories is what comforts the narrator. Carroll’s “All it needed was our stories” gives way to “Whichever story she needs right now, so she can love him.” “The Earth and Everything Under” by K.M. Ferebee Birds begin to erupt from the ground, carrying within them letters written to our protagonist, a hedge witch, by her husband, who was executed for being a hedge witch. He, in some sort of underworld/afterlife, becomes increasingly feral/wolf-like, while she makes her peace with his passing and grows closer to the local sheriff (this growing closer being conveyed in an excellently understated way by Ferebee), eventually removing the spells on her house which had been placed “to keep out what needed keeping out, and keep in what needed keeping in.” Mentions Woodbine, which is a real town in Georgia, but possibly also a Davis Grubb reference. This could easily have been unbearably twee, but it worked for me. “Nanny Anne and the Christmas Story” by Karen Joy Fowler A common trick for weird fiction/horror is to end a story with an unresolved conflicting interpretation between the supernatural and mental illness - let’s call this the Oliver Onions trick: we know Elsie is dead, but why? Less common (probably because it’s much more difficult to pull off) is the de la Mare/Aickman tactic where the lack of resolution is compounded by the reader’s confusion about what it is that did or did not perhaps happen. This is an example of the latter, and an excellent one at that. A pair of binary opposite twins are left by their academic parents with a babysitter, who may or may not be taking the place of their mother, and at the twins’ insistence tells them the story of a changeling (complete with magic cradle and a debt with unforeseen consequences) which may or may not have something to do with the two of them. “The Girls Who Go Below” by Cat Hellisen As a counterpoint to “Nanny Anne,” an example of the first type, but it’s subtle about it. Another sister binary, this time with a few years between them (I took the younger for ~12 at first and was not really convinced when she was revealed to be 16), vacation with their aunt in South Africa. Things are safe, and therefore boring, until a neighboring boy (from a family rumored to have fairy blood) comes between the two, at which point things get messy. I liked this one on a structural/narrative level (because I enjoy narrators who don’t beat you over the head with their possible unreliability) and appreciated the musical themes, but the prose crossed the line for me a few too many times (ie “We kiss until I learn what a heart tastes like.”). “Nine” by Kima Jones At the Star Motel (because “the North Star Motel” would be too obvious to white folks) in Phoenix, three women cater to African Americans partaking in the Great Migration. One of them, Tanner, another protagonist with an ambiguous gender presentation, has been confined there by the juju of an old lover, and the others have fallen into the same trap. The witch sends her sons one-by-one to try to bring Tanner back, and the story is concerned with the death of the ninth and final of them. The idea of human calculus and trade haunts this story, but Jones also touches on gender and sexuality and motherhood, and that most integral of horror themes, the weight of the past on the present. “Bus Fare” by Caitlín R. Kiernan An entry in Kiernan’s long-running series starring Dancy Flammarion, albino monster hunter, who here encounters a werewolf at a bus stop in the South and engages her in a battle of riddles. Old-fashioned and pretty straightforward - a good story, but I prefer Kiernan in her more devious/shifty mode. “The Air We Breathe Is Stormy, Stormy” by Rich Larson A roughneck seeking to escape his pregnant girlfriend and abusive father finds refuge in the lonely world of an offshore oil rig (thematically, we’re concerned here with why people choose to live in darkness and murk). One night he finds a mysterious woman in the water, and we start to do that suggest-and-discard-possible-explanations thing (mermaid? no. selkie? no. wait, yes.) but that ends pretty quickly and the story takes a hard left turn into a surprisingly sentimental conclusion. “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado A mature (in every sense of the word) and deeply feminist retelling of the folktale of the woman with a ribbon/scarf tied around her neck, which stems from Washington Irving’s “The Adventure of the German Student.” (I had assumed for no real reason that the folktale preceded the Irving, Machado told me otherwise, and I defer to her). Here, it is just a sad fact of life that women have ribbons tied about their person, and men needle them about it. The narrative covers most of our protagonist’s life, and is interspersed with blackly humorous asides (both instructions for reading the story aloud and other Alvin Schwarz-by-way-of-Angela-Carter folktales about women). The antagonist (if that’s even the right word to use) isn’t so much malicious as he is banally inconsiderate, and watching their son follow in his footsteps is fantastically depressing. Like “Loving Armageddon,” a story about the dangers and difficulties of women in a patriarchal society as they deal with the men who love them even as they push and pull them apart. “Observations About Eggs From the Man Sitting Next to Me on a Flight from Chicago, Illinois to Cedar Rapids, Iowa” by Carmen Maria Machado As promised, one-sided dialogue from a man on a plane whose liminal/apocalyptic unveiling of the world takes place through a variety of human interactions with (mostly chicken but occasionally dragon) eggs. Particularly Link-esque and full of excellent lines and thoughts, but lacking the emotional punch of “The Husband Stitch.” “Resurrection Points” by Usman T. Malik Religious strife in Karachi erupts around a young man who is coming into his own as a kind of Gramscian organic intellectual who uses a “biocurrent” to heal the afflictions of poor locals. The city, like the diabetic limbs of his patients, is rotting and festering, and parallels are drawn between him and the Prophet Isa (Jesus). “Someone once told me dust has no religion.” “Exit Through the Gift Shop” by Nick Mamatas The tourism economy takes hold in Lovecraft country (Rehoboth, Massachusetts), centered on the local myth of a phantom hitchhiker. Told in second person from the POV of the cosmic horror itself, a risky tactic that pays off handsomely here. Perhaps, in some ways, a rural New England take on Fritz Leiber’s megapolisomancy? “So Sharp That Blood Must Flow” by Sunny Moraine A nightmarish reenvisioning of the end of The Little Mermaid (“This was not her ending. And she sees no reason why she should take it gracefully.”) - I’m sure I would have appreciated it even more if I was more familiar with the source material, but this was dark and morbid and lyrical in a way that spoke to me nonetheless. “The Ghoul” by Jean Muno Also nightmarish and oceanic, but in an entirely different way. Our narrator, introduced as “just a witness” and then essentially forgotten about for the rest of the story, follows a man on a beach (that most liminal of environments, locus of the “rapture of borders”) who follows a cry for help from a woman in a wheelchair who is also the titular monster- this echoes a similar encounter he had with the woman decades ago. This time, she leads him to the avian Fates, who tear him to pieces. Perhaps a vision of a pseudo-Sisyphean kind of Hell, although that might be too reductionist a reading. “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide” by Sarah Pinsker A farmer in Saskatchewan gets set up with a cybernetic arm after losing his in a combine accident. While his parents (also farmers) are progressive technologists, he is more of an atavist. He begins feeling sure that his arm wants to be/knows it is a road in Colorado until he has to get a new brain chip because of an infection. Weird/novum as the yearning for belonging/being elsewhere. “Migration” by Karin Tidbeck “>William F. Temple’s “Forget-Me-Not” (1950) is a neglected classic of weird-ish science fiction, a cold open into a confusing and alienating Gnostic universe (in the form of an underground complex), all of the broad strokes of which are echoed here. Where Temple trips himself up by conforming to mid-century generic expectations in the form of the reveal/explanation (even as it was an understated one for the time) and especially the need for an Empowered Individual protagonist, Tidbeck sustains a surreal, beautifully mysterious atmosphere full of unsettling and uncanny details. I sometimes try to resist my natural tendency to catalogue similarities to other works in these reviews, but this kind of uncertain-spatial-weirdness resonates with some of my favorites: Michel Bernanos’s “The Other Side of the Mountain”, Gene Wolfe’s “Forlesen,” and Steve Rasnic Tem’s similarly circular “At the Bureau.” “Hidden in the Alphabet” by Charles Wilkinson In Algeria, perhaps, a man known only the Auteur lives years after his prime as an arthouse director disintegrated into pornography - this began, we learn through bits and dribbles of inferences and vagaries, with a pseudo-incestuous film about his son and niece (whose POV alternates with the Auteur’s) made when they were adolescents, and which prompted them into an actual incestuous relationship, perhaps, for which they are now seeking revenge, perhaps (there’s also an aside about the Auteur slamming his son’s hand in a door, and also that the son has faked his own death). Vengeful dissolution here echoes “The Ghoul,” but I never thought this one cohered enough to justify what plot there was. “A Cup of Salt Tears” by Isabel Yap A Japanese woman with a dying husband encounters, in a bathhouse, a kappa who once saved her when she was a child and has now returned for her love. Men as monsters again (“And don’t let them touch you, darling. I am telling you this for you are often silly, and they are cruel; do not let them touch you.”) and, again, folklore, this time riffing on aging and beauty.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    After talking to Nathan Ballingrud on my podcast, I have been keeping my eye out for stories of his I had not yet read. I knew "The Atlas of Hell" was in this volume, and I had seen acclaim for the anthology over all. So I actually bought this for myself! This is only exclamation worthy because I already have a big shelf of unread anthologies of short stories at my house. And one of my reading goals for 2016 is to get through some of them. It makes perfect sense that I would instead buy a new on After talking to Nathan Ballingrud on my podcast, I have been keeping my eye out for stories of his I had not yet read. I knew "The Atlas of Hell" was in this volume, and I had seen acclaim for the anthology over all. So I actually bought this for myself! This is only exclamation worthy because I already have a big shelf of unread anthologies of short stories at my house. And one of my reading goals for 2016 is to get through some of them. It makes perfect sense that I would instead buy a new one. :) It is always daunting to approach an anthology so this time I went with the authors I had previously read first - Nathan Ballingrud, Karen Joy Fowler, and Karen Tidbeck; then to the authors I at least have on my radar and have meant to read - Julio Cortazar, Caitlin Kiernan, Usman T. Malik; last I read the others. I find it impossible to summarize these stories as a whole because "weird fiction" is... weird. For some it means tweaks of fantasy, fairy tale, or horror; for others it is metaphoring the heck out of an idea; still others take a normal place or situation and turn it on its side. I find the weird-within-normal the most unsettling, and also the easiest to point to and say "that's weird." There is just a lot of crossover with other genres and many of these stories could easily belong to the year's best fantasy, horror, etc. Luckily for me I have many more weird anthologies on my shelf so perhaps I will continue finding an answer to this question of weird. Before I comment on individual stories, I did want to say that I was disappointed by the number of typos in this book. With two editors and 21st century technology, I don't understand how anyone can have an inappropriate apostrophe, a misspelled book title, or the wrong article in front of a word beginning with a vowel ("a alien.") I don't know what happened but I hope they pay more attention to basic grammar and spelling in volume three. They are slightly pardoned because of the beautiful cover art (I know artists and editors do not have the same job.) Now without further ado, my favorites in this volume: "The Atlas of Hell" by Nathan Ballingrud - seriously, the Louisiana swamps are scary enough, no need to create hell-traveling bone-growing swamp monsters. Ballingrud is one of the authors that starts with normal places and people and then it goes places you don't expect. Loved the ending. "Wendigo Nights" by Siobhan Carroll - a disease you can get once you've heard about it, while trapped without supplies in a polar expedition? Terrifying. This could easily be a horror story. "The Earth and Everything Under" by K.M. Ferebee - great witchy story! Actually made me cry too. Weird. "Nanny Anne and the Christmas Story" by Karen Joy Fowler - this is a take on a scary story you might tell as a child but the brilliance in it is that by the end you don't necessarily know what happened exactly, and not knowing is far, far worse. "Resurrection Points" by Usman T. Malik - interesting very real-world setting, with special abilities trying to fit into religious conflict in a community "Migration" by Karen Tidbeck - This story doesn't have anything familiar but it is so unsettling!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Lloyd

    YEAR’S BEST WEIRD FICTION VOL. 2 What is most immediately noticeable in Kathe Koja and Michael Kelly’s handsome collection of twenty stories designed by Vince Haig with luscious cover art by Tomasz Alen Kopera, is that the quality of the writing is consistently high and the range of stories represented pleasingly wide which means that the reviewer’s task is made easier than is sometimes the case when a collection is less well considered. Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume Two includes fabulist sto YEAR’S BEST WEIRD FICTION VOL. 2 What is most immediately noticeable in Kathe Koja and Michael Kelly’s handsome collection of twenty stories designed by Vince Haig with luscious cover art by Tomasz Alen Kopera, is that the quality of the writing is consistently high and the range of stories represented pleasingly wide which means that the reviewer’s task is made easier than is sometimes the case when a collection is less well considered. Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume Two includes fabulist stories, stories of pure fantasy and stories in which fantasy is meshed into realistic settings. Amongst the characters represented there are witches, mermaid-like creatures, shape-shifting entities, a werewolf, creatures from ancient mythology, a changeling, a seraphim, peculiar animals, and a ghoul. One of the ‘memes’ in the collection is the shape-shifter idea, found in Nathan Ballingrud’s The Atlas of Hell, a gritty fantasy set in New Orleans with enticingly dramatic scenes, and also in Siobhan Carroll’s atmospheric Wendigo Nights set in the Artic where a canister is found buried in the ice. In Nine, a well-paced story about Juju with a slow reveal written by Kima Jones, shape-shifting entities and real people are engaged in battle, and in Caitlίn R. Kiernan’s Bus Fare in a creepy setting in South Carolina, Dancy is challenged by a werewolf who appears at first in the shape of a teenage girl. In four other stories creatures exist in their pure forms, as in Rich Larsen’s outstandingly beautiful and stylish story The Air We Breathe is Stormy, Stormy, and in So Sharp That Blood Must Flow by Sunny Moraine involving a witch and a mermaid. The Ghoul by Jean Muno, (translated by Edward Gauvin), is about a female creature with claws and fangs, and Isabel Yap’s elegant and haunting story A cup of Salt Tears brings to life the Kappa, a river creature from Japanese folklore. Because the range of stories is so broad in this excellent collection, it caters for many different tastes from the visceral in The Atlas of Hell mentioned above, and Exit Through the Gift Shop by Nick Mamatas, to oddly hypnotic dream-like stories such as the beautifully written The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee, or the gentle and macabre story by Cat Hellisen, The Girls Who Go Below, and Karen Joy Fowler’s creepy and clever tale Nanny Anne and the Christmas Story. Personally, I am attracted to stories that are entirely original and that have no cliché characters or ideas in them, as I think they are the bravest and most difficult to write and it is those that are at the outer edge of the genre pushing it onward into new areas. There are plenty of such stories in this collection. Two in particular I was pleased to have read, are the previously mentioned The Air We Breathe is Stormy, Stormy in which the oil rig is ‘populated as rigs always are, by coarse men young and strong whose faces soon overgrew with bristle and bloat,’ and Resurrection Points by Usman T. Malik whose writing is tight, strong and descriptive—‘Gangly man took the front of his own shirt with a tarantula-like hand and began to shake it, fanning his chest.’ I was interested to come across Hidden in the Alphabet, a truly weird and wonderfully original story by Charles Wilkinson that I’d read before and which left me as unsettled and oddly tense as it had done the first time. And again, I was struck by these lines:- ‘Delicate features and enormous blue eyes, but with a sort of shivery sensitivity that was irritating, like a pedigree dog that had been badly inbred.’ Amongst these highly imaginative stories were a few which, while I enjoyed them immensely, I did not entirely understand. This is true of the curious and memorable fabulist story Migration by Karin Tidbeck, and also The Husband Stitch, a lush and strongly written story by Carmen Maria Machado, which for me is the most mysterious of all the stories in this collection. Machado also contributed a second work, Observations About Eggs From the Man Sitting Next to Me on a Flight from Chicago, Illinois to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and this was a story I simply lent into as it is utterly enjoyable and completely mad. I found Headache by Julio Cortázar, (translated by Michael Cisco) to be another very memorable strange story— terrible and subtle and one you might recall years later. And I do not know whether Loving Armageddon, a restrained love story, by Amanda C. Davis would be called ‘fabulist’ or not, but it was again an unusual and beautifully imaginative work. Finally, A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide by Sarah Pinsker is a profoundly bizarre and strikingly different tale that I greatly admired.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Raab

    My literary tastes trend toward the grindhouse. Schlock, melodrama, and spooky spectacle of the un-ironic variety. To continue to couch this in terms of the cinema, I prefer John Carpenter over David Lynch; Stuart Gordon over Lars von Trier. Whatever weird fiction might mean, I more often than not prefer it to mean horror, and within that association, I like monsters, creepy settings, unsettling imagery, and a little action. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy fiction that’s intellectual or cer My literary tastes trend toward the grindhouse. Schlock, melodrama, and spooky spectacle of the un-ironic variety. To continue to couch this in terms of the cinema, I prefer John Carpenter over David Lynch; Stuart Gordon over Lars von Trier. Whatever weird fiction might mean, I more often than not prefer it to mean horror, and within that association, I like monsters, creepy settings, unsettling imagery, and a little action. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy fiction that’s intellectual or cerebral. But I like what I read to strike a balance somewhere between fun and intellectual, with the slider closer to the former. It’s all art to me, man—whether it’s the rickety spookhouse ride or the ballet. I just tend to have more fun at the spookhouse. It is, however, with great pleasure that I devoured Year’s Best Fiction Volume Two edited by Kathe Koja and Michael Kelly. Koja is a powerful writer and artist, and Kelly’s voluminous reading of horror and weird literature is award-worthy unto itself. Together, they’ve curated a book of sterling quality; diversity in stories, modes, and authorship alike. This is elite weird fiction—yes, even literary in its aspirations—done completely right. Not every story was my bag of popcorn, of course. But what makes this collection great is that, even when I didn’t vibe with a particular style or narrative, I still recognized that the writing was masterful, and the imagery was haunting. This book has a little something for everyone, and, I’m not afraid to admit, my own tastes and preferences were challenged for the better. I won’t mention all the stories I enjoyed in this collection (that would be most of them), but I’ll touch on a few. Keep in mind that the stories that I didn’t enjoy were not bad by any means, but were instead just not right for me. Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Atlas of Hell” was the perfect story to start the collection. It’s a crime noir yarn with a delirious creature-feature bent. Siobhan Carrol’s “Wendigo Nights” is equal parts The Thing and introspective supernatural meditation. Kima Jones’ “Nine” is a period piece that tells a story of dark juju and a patchwork family battling its influence. Caitlín R. Kiernan turns the monster slayer trope on its head in the pulpy (yes!) selection “Bus Fare.” Rich Larson laughs off the standard mermaid tale in “The Air We Breathe is Stormy, Stormy” and explores a would-be father’s fear. Usman T. Malik writes about religious-civil conflict in a foreign-born Re-Animator take in “Resurrection Points.” Sarah Pinsker’s science fiction-character study “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide” is a subtle examination of identity and rural life (with more than a passing connection to my own dear Colorado). These selections knocked my socks off—scratching that ghoulish horror itch, or conjuring thoughtful reflection. Again, even the stories not listed here—a couple of which were not to my taste—were still full of striking imagery and impression that lasted well beyond the time I spent reading them. Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume Two is an anthology that, despite its chronological-inspired name, will remain evergreen. I have not read Volume One, but I should. With Volume Three right around the corner, there’s no better time than to get caught up now. Highly recommended for fans of dark speculative fiction, or for those looking for an entry point into the vast and growing body of high-quality weird work… and recommended for lowbrow horror junkies, too.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Graham P

    Perhaps not as viscerally haunting as the first volume (edited by Laird Barron), Year's Best Weird Fiction 2 maintains the high quality standard of contemporary dark fiction. Editors Kathe Koja and Michael Kelly pick from wide source of the supernatural and the sublime, curating tales that don't fall neatly into any one (sub)category. I hope this series continues for a very long time. Perhaps not as viscerally haunting as the first volume (edited by Laird Barron), Year's Best Weird Fiction 2 maintains the high quality standard of contemporary dark fiction. Editors Kathe Koja and Michael Kelly pick from wide source of the supernatural and the sublime, curating tales that don't fall neatly into any one (sub)category. I hope this series continues for a very long time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    H.L. Nelson

    This second edition is as good, if not better, than the previous/first, in my humble opinion. And I really enjoyed the first! I dig Koja's taste in stories, which seems to favor direct language and bizarrely beautiful characters, with a bit of mythos setting-wise. I'm also pleased to see a large number of these are by women. Kelly and Koja have a home run here. This second edition is as good, if not better, than the previous/first, in my humble opinion. And I really enjoyed the first! I dig Koja's taste in stories, which seems to favor direct language and bizarrely beautiful characters, with a bit of mythos setting-wise. I'm also pleased to see a large number of these are by women. Kelly and Koja have a home run here.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    I like the fact that every volume in this series will have a different editor. It gives each volume a slightly different feel and it pushes the limits of what weird fiction really is, and can be. There is some truly bizarre stuff in here, my favorites being the two stories by Carmen Maria Machado. A wonderful, mind-blowing reading experience!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jon

    Another fantastic collection of modern Weird fiction! This one featured Kathe Koja as the guest editor, and while I still somehow haven't read any of her fiction, her selections for this, for the most part, make me want to all the more. Her curation of the Weird displays a different face than Laird Barron's selections in Volume 1 from the previous year. There were no stories I didn't like to some degree. A couple were "merely" good, and for my tastes, it was a bit front loaded. Starting the colle Another fantastic collection of modern Weird fiction! This one featured Kathe Koja as the guest editor, and while I still somehow haven't read any of her fiction, her selections for this, for the most part, make me want to all the more. Her curation of the Weird displays a different face than Laird Barron's selections in Volume 1 from the previous year. There were no stories I didn't like to some degree. A couple were "merely" good, and for my tastes, it was a bit front loaded. Starting the collection with a Nathan Ballingrud story was a way to go, for sure! Along with his, favorites included the Cortázar translation, Kima Jones' story, Observations About Eggs [...] by Carmen Maria Machado, and Sarah Pinsker's story. I've only read anything by three(!) of the authors in this collection before this and was only familiar with the names of about half the rest, but in due time I'll be seeking out more from most, if not all of them. Soon enough, on to Volume 3 (guest edited by Simon Strantzas!).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dan Coxon

    As always with the Year's Best Weird Fiction series, there are some wonderful stories here - but the change of editors each time also brings some surprises. This is possibly more mainstream literary than some 'weird' collections (one of the stories first appeared in Granta), but the quality is still consistently excellent. Particular standouts from Nathan Ballingrud, Usman T. Malik, Karin Tidbeck and Charles Wilkinson, but so much weird goodness on display here. Such a shame to hear that the ser As always with the Year's Best Weird Fiction series, there are some wonderful stories here - but the change of editors each time also brings some surprises. This is possibly more mainstream literary than some 'weird' collections (one of the stories first appeared in Granta), but the quality is still consistently excellent. Particular standouts from Nathan Ballingrud, Usman T. Malik, Karin Tidbeck and Charles Wilkinson, but so much weird goodness on display here. Such a shame to hear that the series will be ending after Volume 5!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kathe Koja

    What amazing fun it was to edit this volume, alongside the indefatigable Michael Kelly. The TOC is a roadmap to the breadth and depth of the current weird fiction world, but the truest measure of this anthology is its writers' voices on the page: subtle, despairing, stoic, sly, ironic . . . Open it anywhere, you'll find a story to admire. What amazing fun it was to edit this volume, alongside the indefatigable Michael Kelly. The TOC is a roadmap to the breadth and depth of the current weird fiction world, but the truest measure of this anthology is its writers' voices on the page: subtle, despairing, stoic, sly, ironic . . . Open it anywhere, you'll find a story to admire.

  12. 4 out of 5

    E.A.

    I tried reading Kathe Koja's novel Under the Poppy and couldn't get into it, which was disappointing, since she's billed as such a stylist. I had expected to love her work. Although I failed to connect with that particular novel, I found my common sensibilities with Koja in this anthology, her selection of the best weird fiction from 2014. She has an ear for language that resonates with mine. I liked almost love every story in this anthology, and appreciated the gorgeous writing even if the stor I tried reading Kathe Koja's novel Under the Poppy and couldn't get into it, which was disappointing, since she's billed as such a stylist. I had expected to love her work. Although I failed to connect with that particular novel, I found my common sensibilities with Koja in this anthology, her selection of the best weird fiction from 2014. She has an ear for language that resonates with mine. I liked almost love every story in this anthology, and appreciated the gorgeous writing even if the story didn't grab and shake me. My standouts were K. M. Ferebee's "The Earth and Everything Under," Kima Jones's "Nine," Sunny Moraine's "So Sharp That Blood Must Flow," and Isabel Yap's "A Cup of Salt Tears," which I read upon its first publication by Tor.com, and was more than happy to revisit. I'm excited to find more work from K. M. Ferebee - I've been thinking about that story for weeks. Upon further research, I seem to have read two of Koja's short stories, in the anthologies The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest and Queen Victoria's Book of Spells: an Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy, but have no distinct recollection of either story or what I thought about them, except that I enjoyed both anthologies. Both are still on my shelf, so I may revisit her stories. Then again, perhaps I should leave well enough alone; I would hate to go back and discover that I didn't like them.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aksel Dadswell

    I'm very late to the party with Undertow's exquisite publications, but these Year's Best anthologies are always astounding, and each year's guest editor brings something completely different to the overall tone and feel of every volume. Kathe Koja's choices here give us a bunch of beautiful, haunting, dreamlike stories that are as dark and violent as they are heartbreaking, surreal. In this volume I've discovered a number of writers previously unfamiliar to me, and had my high opinions of others I'm very late to the party with Undertow's exquisite publications, but these Year's Best anthologies are always astounding, and each year's guest editor brings something completely different to the overall tone and feel of every volume. Kathe Koja's choices here give us a bunch of beautiful, haunting, dreamlike stories that are as dark and violent as they are heartbreaking, surreal. In this volume I've discovered a number of writers previously unfamiliar to me, and had my high opinions of others only reinforced. Keep up the beautiful work, Undertow.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Des Lewis

    This whole book seems to unify above and beneath a fairy-tale watery shimmer, where creatures and passions move along with others to match or resist, a distaff feel, sometimes with the spear of something more trenchant to widen the choice available in any review or debrief, through the gift shop, towards the stretch of road that is you. The detailed review of this book posted elsewhere under my name is too long or impractical to post here. Above is one of its observations at the time of the revie This whole book seems to unify above and beneath a fairy-tale watery shimmer, where creatures and passions move along with others to match or resist, a distaff feel, sometimes with the spear of something more trenchant to widen the choice available in any review or debrief, through the gift shop, towards the stretch of road that is you. The detailed review of this book posted elsewhere under my name is too long or impractical to post here. Above is one of its observations at the time of the review.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chrystal Hays

    I really enjoyed some of these. I was looking for the new weird, but many are horror or fantasy. Carmen Maria Macado is a standout. There is a feeling of no proofreading. "I'm sorry I mad you mad." is just one example. Disruptive. Were they just pasted in on faith? A reader shouldn't be asking such interior questions while reading. Nonetheless, very much a pleasure. I really enjoyed some of these. I was looking for the new weird, but many are horror or fantasy. Carmen Maria Macado is a standout. There is a feeling of no proofreading. "I'm sorry I mad you mad." is just one example. Disruptive. Were they just pasted in on faith? A reader shouldn't be asking such interior questions while reading. Nonetheless, very much a pleasure.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sara Saab

    A collection full of weird and eclectic gems.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    I do love a good anthology and with the collection being "weird," I couldn't resist. Great stories. I found a few new authors to follow. I do love a good anthology and with the collection being "weird," I couldn't resist. Great stories. I found a few new authors to follow.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Fatman

    Stories that stood out: "The Atlas of Hell" - Nathan Ballingrud "The Girls Who Go Below" - Cat Hellisen "Resurrection Points" - Usman T. Malik "A Cup of Salt Tears" - Isabel Yap Stories that stood out: "The Atlas of Hell" - Nathan Ballingrud "The Girls Who Go Below" - Cat Hellisen "Resurrection Points" - Usman T. Malik "A Cup of Salt Tears" - Isabel Yap

  19. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is a great collection. I can't compare it to Volume One because I don't have that one yet but I enjoyed Volume Two. I found there was diversity in stories and subjects. Some were better than others but I enjoyed some of the stories very much. I would recommend to anyone who is interested in weird fiction. I walked away with a list of authors that caught my interest that I will follow up on. I believe that at least for me that is a goal that this compilation should strive for and reaches. This is a great collection. I can't compare it to Volume One because I don't have that one yet but I enjoyed Volume Two. I found there was diversity in stories and subjects. Some were better than others but I enjoyed some of the stories very much. I would recommend to anyone who is interested in weird fiction. I walked away with a list of authors that caught my interest that I will follow up on. I believe that at least for me that is a goal that this compilation should strive for and reaches.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Khia

    Some of the stories are excellent and others not so much

  21. 4 out of 5

    Pinky

    A prosthetic limb that thinks it's a Colorado highway, surreal migrations, birds erupting from soil, infernal cartographies supplanting thought in a skull back from distant travels, a Wendigo’s infection that takes by knowledge, a town attempting economic resuscitation with a word-of-mouth, $40,000-a-pop tourist trap from hell, a grenade for a heart, a Michael Cisco-translated Julio Cortazar - and eggs. Koja as curator performs an atmospheric balancing act: weird-infused narrative poetry (which A prosthetic limb that thinks it's a Colorado highway, surreal migrations, birds erupting from soil, infernal cartographies supplanting thought in a skull back from distant travels, a Wendigo’s infection that takes by knowledge, a town attempting economic resuscitation with a word-of-mouth, $40,000-a-pop tourist trap from hell, a grenade for a heart, a Michael Cisco-translated Julio Cortazar - and eggs. Koja as curator performs an atmospheric balancing act: weird-infused narrative poetry (which I dig), horror (also dig), and fairy tale (not as much). If this volume were a landscape, each monument would fit – a few I just don’t care to visit.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Like volume one, an outstanding collection of fresh Weird fiction from a myriad of different voices. Some familiar names, some new names. This is one that I can see myself returning to later down the line.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Pearse Anderson

    What a strong collection we have, here. New Weird tends to fall along the same plot elements story after story, and though I did feel that for some number of these tales, the anthology was very refreshing with the types of things I read and the things authors did with the language. Gorgeous imagery, solid worldbuilding, sometimes a bit too much surrealism, but overall a fun and engaging read. 9/10, which I'll round out to five stars. What a strong collection we have, here. New Weird tends to fall along the same plot elements story after story, and though I did feel that for some number of these tales, the anthology was very refreshing with the types of things I read and the things authors did with the language. Gorgeous imagery, solid worldbuilding, sometimes a bit too much surrealism, but overall a fun and engaging read. 9/10, which I'll round out to five stars.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Keith

    Another stellar entry in this series. As with any anthology, there are some stories I liked more than others but even the ones that didn't grab me, I could still appreciate the level of craft and what they were setting out to accomplish. "The Husband Stitch" by Carmen Maria Machado is one of the best stories I've read in a long while. Other standouts for me were "Nanny Anne and the Christmas Story" by Karen Joy Fowler and "Resurrection Points" by Usman T. Malik. Another stellar entry in this series. As with any anthology, there are some stories I liked more than others but even the ones that didn't grab me, I could still appreciate the level of craft and what they were setting out to accomplish. "The Husband Stitch" by Carmen Maria Machado is one of the best stories I've read in a long while. Other standouts for me were "Nanny Anne and the Christmas Story" by Karen Joy Fowler and "Resurrection Points" by Usman T. Malik.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Dunstan

    A great collection of weird, unsettling fiction, that is definitely a step up from volume 1. I felt the quality of stories in the first volume was spotty and uneven. Volume 2, however, comes through with the goods, delivering a collection of stories that are consistently high in quality. Bring on volume 3!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Micah

    One of the better anthologies I've read. The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee seared images into my memory that may be there for life. Rich Larson's The Air We Breathe is Stormy Stormy, and Isabel Yap's A Cup of Salt Tears, are both haunting and hard-to-forget stories. It's difficult to describe what the best stories in this collection made me feel. Strange, beautiful stories. One of the better anthologies I've read. The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee seared images into my memory that may be there for life. Rich Larson's The Air We Breathe is Stormy Stormy, and Isabel Yap's A Cup of Salt Tears, are both haunting and hard-to-forget stories. It's difficult to describe what the best stories in this collection made me feel. Strange, beautiful stories.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kat

    I really enjoyed this collection. Larger review to come.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Penny Harper

    Excellent Unusual, intriguing stories, most not classic horror or any particular genre ... weird is as good a description as any.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Blaine

    Easily my favorite of the three "Year's Best Weird" volumes. Has more of a Fantasy-Oriented vibe going on in this collection. Easily my favorite of the three "Year's Best Weird" volumes. Has more of a Fantasy-Oriented vibe going on in this collection.

  30. 5 out of 5

    William M.

    3 AND 1/2 STARS This second volume in the Year's Best Weird Fiction series is a step up from the first volume. It seems co-editor Kathe Koja actually has a clue about what weird fiction actually is and has selected a very respectable collection, at least for the first half. While the tone is fairly consistent throughout, I found that the first half of the volume is noticeably better than the second half. I give each story a number rating from one (terrible) to ten (masterpiece) and the average rat 3 AND 1/2 STARS This second volume in the Year's Best Weird Fiction series is a step up from the first volume. It seems co-editor Kathe Koja actually has a clue about what weird fiction actually is and has selected a very respectable collection, at least for the first half. While the tone is fairly consistent throughout, I found that the first half of the volume is noticeably better than the second half. I give each story a number rating from one (terrible) to ten (masterpiece) and the average rating for the first half - ten stories - received an average score of 6.3, while the second half - the last ten stories - only received an average score of 5.3, a full point lower. It was clear to me that the editors front-loaded their best stories first, which is fine, but it would have been nice to have a better balance for an overall reading experience. My favorites in this collection, receiving a score of 7, were written by Karen Joy Fowler, Cat Hellisen and Rich Larson. The two best, receiving a score of 8, were written by Nathan Ballingrud and K.M. Ferebee, who really nailed this genre, producing some very chilling work. Looking forward to the next volume!

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