BookBin2012: The Best of Cemetery Dance, Volume 1

I’m feeling a bit peckish for horror this year, denizens. I recently reorganized some of my library and discovered that I have amassed quite a few horror-related novels throughout the years, including a rather impressive list of Stephen King novels never once cracked open in all their years of taking up a lot of room on my shelves.

Horror has been my favorite branch of the speculative fiction triumvirate since I was just knee-high to a corpse (I’d rank them horror, sci-fi, and fantasy a solid and very distant last), so I’ve decided that I need to focus a bit more on this part of my library.

First on my list? The Best of Cemetery Dance, Volume 1, a collection of short stories that I bought at a used book sale slightly more than a decade ago (at the same sale that I bought many of my King novels as well as this previous BookBin entry).

For those not familiar with horror-focused literature, Cemetery Dance is…well, allow them to explain themselves:

Cemetery Dance is the World Fantasy Award-winning magazine of horror, dark mystery, and suspense. Each issue is packed with 100 to 140 pages of short stories, articles, columns, interviews, news, and reviews! Plus stunning full-color covers and striking interior artwork! Covering the entire horror field — Books! Movies! Videos! Comics!

The world’s top authors in the genre are published within our pages, but Cemetery Dance is also the place to look for glimpses of the future. We’ve given more big names their “first shot” than any other publication in the last two decades, and many of those authors are coming back for future issues.

Over the years we’ve published authors such as Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Charles Beaumont, Graham Masterton, Richard Laymon, Bentley Little, Michael Slade, Douglas Clegg, Jack Ketchum, William F. Nolan, Joe R. Lansdale, Poppy Z. Brite, Ronald Kelly, Rick Hautala, and hundreds of others, including the best new writers in the genre.

They are, indeed, quite the big deal. When this anthology was first released as a hardback, both volumes were together. It wasn’t until the paperback edition that the publisher decided to split it into two volumes.

Everyone wants to make an extra buck or two.

Honestly, though, I think this first volume was not only a perfect size but it’s also a nearly perfect collection. First, allow me to offer you a list of this volume’s stories:

  • “Chattery Teeth” by Stephen King
  • “The Box” by Jack Ketchum
  • “Halceldama” by Gary A. Braunbeck
  • “The Pig Man” by Augustine Funnell
  • “Mobius” by R. C. Matheson
  • “The Rendering Man” by Douglas Clegg
  • “Weight” by Dominick Cancilla
  • “Layover” by Ed Gorman
  • “Johnny Halloween” by Norman Partridge
  • “Hope” by Steven Bevan
  • “The Mailman” by Bentley Little
  • “Silhouette” by Stephen Mark Rainey
  • “Roadkill” by Tom Elliott
  • “The Rifle” by Jack Ketchum
  • “Pieces” by Ray Garton
  • “Rustle” by Peter Crowther
  • “When the Silence Gets Too Loud” by Brian Hodge
  • “The Rabbit” by Jack Pavey
  • “The Flood” by John Maclay
  • “The Right Thing” by Gary Raisor
  • “Pig’s Dinner” by Graham Masterton
  • “Crash Cart” by Nancy Holder
  • “Wall of Words” by Lucy Taylor
  • “Metastatis” by David B. Silva
  • “Wrapped Up” by Ramsey Campbell
  • “Depth of Reflection” by David L. Duggins
  • “The Mole” by David Niall Wilson
  • “Saviour” by Gary A. Braunbeck
  • “Great Expectations” by Kim Antieau
  • “Shell” by Adam Corbin Fusco

As you can see, there are some rather recognizable contributors from the horror genre, including two offerings from Jack Ketchum that might actually be the best of what is already a rather amazing collection. Regardless of name recognition, however, I believe that this is one of the most solid selections of talent from the genre that I’ve ever read. There were nearly no misses in this list, even as the anthology neared the end (where composers of such collections typically tend to stick the misfit toys). True, some of the final stories aren’t quite as strong as the earlier offerings, but I think that tales like Gary Raisor’s “The Right Thing,” Graham Masterton’s “Pig’s Dinner,” and Nancy Holder’s “Crash Cart” are proof positive that sometimes they do save the best for last as well as the beginning and the middle.

Even weaker contributions like “Roadkill” or “The Flood” retained some essence of fear that allowed the words to creep under my skin and nestle their icy presence among the sinew and ligaments within.

Final Verdict: Not only will I be keeping this volume, I’ve already added the second volume to my wish list. Of course, there is the slightest worry that this second volume will include the “misfit toys” that I mentioned in my review of the first volume since it is, after all, the original conclusion to what was once a complete anthology. However, I have enough faith in Cemetery Dance that I’m willing to take the chance…