Poe Week: Review: Poe

Poe_Week

By Brian M. Sammons

poe_anthologyDatlow, Ellen, ed. Poe. Solaris (January 6, 2009). USD $15.00. ISBN-13: 978-1844165957.

As we are all Lovecraftians here, we all know that authors have been playing in and with the worlds that HPL created for many years. Famous masters of the macabre like Bloch, Campbell, and Lumley made their bones doing Lovecraft pastiches and today, new anthologies about the Cthulhu Mythos are still very popular. This year alone, I’ve read four different collections of Lovecraft-lite-lore and there’s still a good chunk of the map yet to go. Yet, with that many authors writing like the Gentleman from Providence, you would think there would be a bit more penning tales in the similar voice of another golden olden titan of terror. I’m alluding to an author that HPL himself greatly admired and whose tales inspired Lovecraft to write a few Poe-ish stories of his own. Naturally, I’m talking about Edgar Alan Poe and while occasionally, you’ll see an author doing a Poe-inspired tale, or even utilizing Poe as a character in their narrative, Poe is easily the “forgotten master” when compared to Lovecraft and the amount of writers who want to tell tales about the dark worlds that both of these men dreamt up.

Well, Poe-heads rejoice! Uber-editor extraordinaire, Ellen Datlow, obviously felt your pain and has taken steps to put a little Poe in your life. No, she didn’t bundle a bunch of Edgar’s old stories in a handsome, new book. No, instead, she tapped a group of living authors and asked them to do all-new Poe-fect stories. The end result is a collection simply entitled “POE” and it contains 19 new stories, most of which evoke the shade of EAP (hmm, doesn’t have the same ring as “HPL”) without becoming simple pastiches. No, unlike what so often happens to Lovecraft, here, Poe is usually used as a starting-off point, a place to give some Poe flavor or theme, but then the stories usually go off on their merry way in a wide range of directions.

A great example of that is the lead story in the collection and one of the ones that I liked best: “Illimitable Domain” by Kim Newman. This tale was equal parts frightful and funny and takes place in the thoroughly un-Poe-like setting of 1959 Hollywood. I won’t say more about this tale than that, well, other than this: it is worth getting this book for this tale alone. Yes, I liked it that much.

Now, I’m not going to write about all of the stories in this book as I don’t like reviews like that. I’m not here to give you the Cliff Notes version of this anthology; I’m here to tell you whether or not I think it’s worth your cold, hard cash. So, if you want the short answer to that, then it’s a solid “yes”. If you want a bit more info, and I wouldn’t blame you because that answer is a bit brief even for me, then I’ll highlight some more of my favourite tales from this book. That is not to mean that if I don’t mention a story here that it’s bad, only that there were some that I really, really enjoyed and felt compelled to make special note of.

One such story is “Shadow” by Steve Rasnic Tem, a story about houses, paranoia and videotape. In this story, you are the protagonist and I must admit I wasn’t a fan of the use of second-person narrative here, or anywhere for that matter, but that aside, the story was strong enough to overcome that shortcoming for me and that’s saying something.

Not to be outdone by her hubby, Melanie Tem offers up “The Pickers”, a story that takes one of Poe’s most famous works and spins it around and around until it’s something new and wonderful. I won’t say which of Poe’s creations acts as the catalyst for this story, as that would ruin some of the fun, but if I tell you the title refers to garbage-pickers, you might get a sliver of a clue. I will say that grief hangs heavy in this tale and as it directly follows Kim Newman’s story, it does a wonderful job at obliterating any smile that may have been lingering on your face. Not that that’s a bad thing. This is Poe we’re dealing with, after all.

“The Reunion”, by Nicholas Royle, just might be the creepiest story in this collection and I loved it for that. Based off of one of Poe’s lesser-known tales, it is a very effective story of a man attending his wife’s reunion, while suddenly and unexpectedly having a reunion of sorts of his own. I won’t give anything else away, but I will say that much of this story is left up to the reader to decide upon and once more, I loved it for that, even if I was suffering a bit of double vision at its end.

Yes, that was another hint.

John Langan is an author I only became aware of about a year or so ago but one I have encountered many times since and have yet to be disappointed by. Here, with his wonderful tale, “Technicolor”, Langan continues to bat 1000 with me. This is also a story where I can freely tell you what Poe tale was used as a jumping-off point without giving any of the fun away. However, I still won’t do that, just because I’m cruel. Okay, here’s another hint: there’s “color” in this story’s title for a reason. There, you’ve got to be able to guess it from that. Regardless, let me point out that this is the last story in the book and for good reason: it’s a great way to end the collection on a very high note.

Well, I’m fast approaching 1000 words, so if you haven’t decided to get this book yet, I probably won’t convince you. That’s a shame because I honestly think you should. No, not every story is perfect. In fact, there was one I didn’t like much at all and another two I thought were only so-so, but that still leaves sixteen stories I did enjoy. Of those sixteen, only five have I briefly hinted at here. That leaves plenty of more winners for you to discover for yourself. I wholeheartedly hope that the little hints and clues I have sprinkled about in this review have whet your appetite for the mysteries you are bound to face in this collection. Once more, this is Poe we’re dealing with, after all. If you’re not into guessing, this is not the book for you. But as I am, consider this one highly recommended by me.

Purchase Poe through Amazon.com