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Dark Cities: How NOT to arrange an anthology

August 6, 2017

(Full disclosure: I received this book for free.)

(Also, content warning.)

You know when you pick something up, read a couple of pages and just think ‘yikes’? Well, that’s what happened when I picked up Dark Cities.

Don’t get me wrong – Dark Cities is on the whole a really good collection of stories. Tananarive Due’s ‘Field Trip’ was the highlight for me. ‘Field Trip’, in my mind, was exactly what the anthology was about – the horror, both supernatural and mundane, that lurks beneath the comforting hum of the cities we live in.

Before I talk about my other favourites, though, I’ve got to ask one big question.

What were they thinking when they made Scott Smith’s ‘The Dogs’ the first story?

‘The Dogs’ is a 44 page story about a promiscuous young woman who becomes embroiled in a supernatural tale of murder, dark magic, and bestiality. Yep. You read that right.

Content warning for the below quote.

 

“”You bitch,” Zeus said, “You fucking bitch.”

He kept saying those words, over and over, in rhythm with his thrusts. This went on for a full minute, maybe two, an excruciatingly long stretch of time, and finally Rose felt the dog come inside her.”

Woman yelling 'WHAT THE FUCK?!'

Let’s not get into a debate about whether it’s alright or not to publish this kind of misogynistic torture porn. Let’s debate why, if you absolutely had to include this kind of misogynistic torture porn in your anthology of respected horror writers, you would choose to make it the very first thing your readers see.

My impressions after forcing myself to read the whole of ‘The Dogs’ were this: “Oh god, what kind of book am I reading?!” I honest to god thought that this whole damn anthology was going to be the same kind of horrible drivel that I’d just read. In my mind, an anthology is defined by the first story, and in this case, the first story made me feel sick to my stomach. Not ‘scared’, not even ‘horrified’. Just really, really grossed out. ‘The Dogs’ shows an appalling lack of empathy for its (female, of course) main character, and the visceral nature of the piece makes me wonder if that attitude extends beyond the page. It made me question whether I really wanted to keep reading, whether every other story in this collection was going to make me feel this way.

Thankfully, I was proven wrong. This anthology is full of really great horror stories. The aforementioned ‘Field Trip’ is about a supply teacher contending with her unruly class on a subway that is probably, definitely possessed, and has some very poignant thoughts about the current violence in the U.S. Other highlights included ‘We’ll Always Have Paris’ by M. R. Carey and ‘Good Night, Prison Kings’ by Cherie Priest – both excellent tales of supernatural mystery in two very different cities. Editor Christopher Golden also proved himself to be a brilliant writer with his story ‘The Revellers’, about a lotus-eater party palace in the Big Apple itself.

Surprisingly, a lot of the horrors in these tales weren’t just supernatural, but social, too. From the lonely anonymity of city living to the ordinary unease of watching your neighbourhood succumb to gentrification store by store, these are (almost) all stories with heart.

I was also surprised to find a couple of very british stories from very british authors. Ramsey Campbell, of course, is one of them. ‘The Crack’ by Nick Cutter was a fantastic endpiece – it had my spine tingling in all the right ways.

In short? I highly recommend anything after page 57, but I’m still very confused. With all the talented authors and brilliant stories in this anthology, why the hell would Christopher Golden – or any editor – choose to put the very worst one at the front?