Year’s Best Weird Fiction – Volume Two

My purchased copy arrived today.


Edited by Kathe Koja and Michael Kelly (2015)

My other reviews of Undertow Publications HERE (including Volume One of above series)

Stories by Nathan Ballingrud, Siobhan Carroll, Julio Cortázar (Michael Cisco), Amanda C. Davis, K. M. Ferebee, Karen Joy Fowler, Cat Hellisen, Kima Jones, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Rich Larson, Carmen Maria Machado, Usman T. Malik, Nick Mamatas, Sunny Moraine, Jean Muno, Sarah Pinsker, Karin Tidbeck, Charles Wilkinson, Isabel Yap.

When I real-time review this anthology, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above…

20 thoughts on “Year’s Best Weird Fiction – Volume Two

  1. I reviewed the first two stories in this book HERE and I copy those reviews below. (I don’t think I have previously read any other stories in this book.)


    The Atlas of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud
    “…the language of deep earth that curdles something inside me, springs tears to my eyes, brings me hard to my knees.”
    There’s something I don’t get about this story but I know enough about this story, having just read it, to be pleased at least that I don’t get it! It has the aura of a brutal, conniving city gangster ethos that migrates to the swamps outside the city, where books and skulls are not distinct from each other and where Whovian metal boxes allow insulated migration from Hell itself, ending with a boy dangling these boxes like huge lanterns … or gas masks? It seems a perfect follow-on from the previous story but, as yet, I know not whither all this is taking me… A reading journey is only complete when every bit of that journey, that is still unread, has later been taken further into eventually complete hindsight.
    The Ballingrud language here is like bone containing blood and vengeful vistas, apertures, double dealing, all sweetly searing inward. My previous review of one of his books here.

    siobhan shearman kiernan kaaron warren mcmahon barron ellen langan nathan cadigan caitlín


    Wendigo Nights by Siobhan Carroll
    “‘The air is full of ghosts.’ She delivers this information as though it were an ozone reading: a fact, visible to us all.”
    From the Attic to the Arctic. Not only an ozone reading, but also an osmosis one, where the words infect us with the same insidious power as by which the plot infects its characters…? This, like the book’s first story, is at first glance another adventure Whovian template of gathering characters working or investigating (here in the Inuit Arctic), characters whom we have enticingly adumbrated for us, their template as threatened by some inferred monster. Here it is a canister given forth from these melting Arctic wastes…or a “Holy Grail”, a container, like this book, that emits holy as well as unholy, where a combination of both is more powerful than either.
    A story blending, inter alia, the mist ghosts of Kaaron Warren and the ‘retrocausality’ of Pat Cadigan; we gradually work out what I feel is Eucharistically threatening these characters, except, intriguingly, their retrocausality is not linear in any particular direction…as part of the aforementioned infection? I shall read this story again one day.

  2. HEADACHE by Julio Cortázar, translated by Michael Cisco

    “…Camphora monobromata, which causes one to believe one is going in one direction when in reality one is going the opposite way.”

    Having recently real-time reviewed the stories of Silvina Ocampo and Clarice Lispector HERE and HERE respectively, I was looking forward to this Cortázar (as translated by Cisco whose work I have admired over the years) – but nothing could have warned me about the exponential hypnotism of this work. Whether or not I understand the technical terms for their ailments and the medicines, the type of animal they are keeping in the corrals outside and their habits and needs, the almost musical flow of the weather symptoms in tune with all of these phenomena, the type of disloyalty of their helpers, the onset of the police almost as a side issue to be brushed off, the slow accretion of their house into the human head, I was certainly not merely captivated but captured by this hyper-temperamental gazetteer of the nurturing and the nurtured amid such methodical struggling. Still am.

  3. LOVING ARMAGEDDON by Amanda C. Davis

    “There’s vile satisfaction in making an Ouroboros out of a fight:”

    I loved this short short fuse of a story. Terrifying as living alongside one’s own life.
    Also a stunning new addition to the methods of calling ‘time out’ in an otherwise endless lovers’ argument…


    “The apples were small and hard, but sweet-smelling. She rolled one in the palm of her hand.”

    Having once had published a novel about the Earth and everything under, even with skies under, I was intrigued by the title before reading the story. Of course, this story is nothing like that novel, but it helped to know others had travelled such skies.
    A gently beautiful fiction, in many ways, with the death of a witching woman’s husband and, in this story’s world, many feared the witching and sealed off his grave to prevent its witching by her. But birds began breaking from the earth all over the land, the largest of which, when cut open, contained letters from her husband as he made his rite of passage.
    That brief description cannot do sufficient justice to this haunting, aching work.
    The witching woman’s relationship with the eventually helpful sheriff is touching, one that I sense growing almost without volition of the author or the ‘words’ and ‘wounds’ involved.
    I sense, too, that the story, arguably complex in itself, miraculously allows the reader to have simple thoughts about it while never missing anything that it wants to tell you. “Hunger, not-hunger, and sometimes the moon.”
    Perhaps carries a blend of the nurturing gaia of the Cortázar with the hair-trigger message-within of the Davis.


    “But this was just a little storm. A strange and little storm.”

    A localised storm, as if you are only subject to such a storm while you are reading this story, a gentle storm at first, a fairy story about a fairy story (thus making it real?), but when one sees the accretive assuming of roles, it takes on a colder, more haunting aspect, when others are missing or just late home, and vice versa, the potential for changelings among two small twin girls, so temperamentally different from each other if otherwise identical, and their Nanny (who tells the inner fairy story) accretively, too, taking the devious place of their Mummy as unexpectedly both parents (if there are two parents actually able to do so) can’t return in time for Christmas.
    I thought this charming story was its own changeling, and it was raining, not snowing. It would be unbearably horrific to have read the foundling version. Or perhaps I did.
    Any story that makes one doubt even oneself like this must have something special about it.
    And the sheriff in the Ferebee turns up here as the policeman?

  6. THE GIRLS WHO GO BELOW by Cat Hellisen

    “…though I do not know how we can return to a place we have never been.”

    I enjoyed this rhapsodic, fairy-tufted text of two dissimilar sisters who bathe and lave each other lakeside to the heady strains of their discovered beau’s violin playing – a blend for me, at first, of the style of Katherine Mansfield, the DH Lawrencian sisters and, dare I say, Jane Austen, with their mother expressly wanting them to marry well, then reminding me delicately of Ferebee’s witching Earth-under above (with these Hellisen sisters currently doing a world atlas jigsaw) and of the foundling or changeling Fowler sisters, the latter’s comparison to the Hellisen sisters becoming more significant in tune with the deadpan-expressed but, at heart, devastating event that is said to occur later in the lake between them, devastating unless it did not occur at all by means of one sister, as the text reveals, overwriting her diary about it? One story, as in the Davis hair-trigger heart, engulfing another, or one sister cancelling out the other?
    Much of this entrancing book so far has a fey or fay heart.

  7. NINE by Kima Jones

    “And who doesn’t bleed a little coming back to life?”

    Not fey or fay, now, but more a nitty gritty nose-bleeding of a bodily recrimination by this book’s earlier witching, here of hex (juju) and possession, not in a Crossroads Motel so much as in a cross-racial one. If some of the previous stories were ones of wistful savouring this has an al dente mastication. One where I think we learn of the undercurrents that both support and deny miscegenation. And zombie restraints like being tagged in the real world for house-arrest. But here the tagging clings and cloys at each margin of potential escape.
    This is a strong story – and I respect its own soul, one, like the Cortazar, we need to work at to garner its thrust gradually, like, say, what or who Rinny happens to be that they need to feed and that later someone or something decides to eat. There are some amazing passages, some well-characterised hybrid characters such as Newt and ‘Uncle’ Tanner, and biting as well as poignant resonances with Davis’s hair-trigger innards.

    “Like someone snatched a piece of fruit from a tree inside her and kept snatching and snatching and instead of taking the last piece of fruit or letting it drop to the ground for harvest, they stood on their tiptoes, opened their mouth to the branch and ate her seed and stem and all.”

  8. As I did last year with the first volume of this series, I shall make a few brief words about this book generally. I understand that any Year’s Best Fiction as a commercial title is not necessarily to be taken literally, as it depends on what is available to be considered as well as subject to the overall taste and vision of its lead editor. But, like last year’s stories, this year’s seem overwhelmingly (other than Solaris and Granta?) taken from the publications of North American publishers. There are significant streams of great weird fiction from, say, TTA Press in UK and a certain publisher in Romania that keeps changing its name, both of which I regularly real-time review. Not a criticism, but an observation.

  9. BUS FARE by Caitlín R. Kiernan

    “You’re kidding me. You hitch rides with vampires, but you don’t believe in werewolves?”

    There’s one paragraph in this tantalising story that – as a prelude to a tournament of riddles between two well-characterised girls, one albino and the other olive-skinned – potentially itemises the plot of several weird horror stories in one go. Not that the whole work is exactly of the horror or weird genres, but more a mythology of our “deserted, boarded-up” future as if seen from its own future like mythologies usually are. And that perhaps is the intrinsic riddle of the complete story, one also subtly echoing the riddle of skin miscegenation in the Jones, with a metamorphosis exploding from within of the Davis or an act of becoming a changeling in full view from the Ferebee and Fowler during the reader’s gradually realised accretion of the full significance of this scenario in the same manner as the earlier scenario in the Cortazar… So, the whole Kiernan story becomes itself itemised like its own single itemising paragraph that I cited above.
    Unique in itself – with clever riddles – but paradoxically a uniqueness that seems tapped bit by bit from the crammed Collective Jungian Unconscious that is owned by all of us. Including the Unconscious of the story’s Seraphim – and even of the Greyhound Bus, too.

    “In her head, Dancy counts off the contents of her cigar box…”


    “…and felt a distant embarrassment about the grout creeping between the bathroom tiles.”

    An engaging gradual-realisation-by-accretion of a story, one that, like the previous story, encourages the reader eventually to itemise – items like Skype, Acer, Kindle, Emails, Wikis and Auden, Melville, Kierkegaard, Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen… An almost hypnotic effect that enhances this meticulously built-up scenario of living on a Baltic rig, the male protagonist in difficult internet relationship with his pregnant wife, whilst being visited by a female who appears to have lived under the rig before climbing aboard to believably strike up or have struck up a (mermaidish?) relationship with him… Another foundling or, even, changeling, and those earlier ‘girls who go below’?
    I was particularly poeticised by her eventual beautifully described departure from the rig, the “rending sound of flesh and bone finding new places” with the bony development of a baby’s head… And the latter’s small voice beyond Skype’s dial-tone.

  11. THE HUSBAND STITCH by Carmen Maria Machado

    “Stories have this way of running together like raindrops in a pond.”

    …like the stories in this book, as well as the möbius ribbon of stories in this story itself, the pond now become a lake for the ‘girls below’ , the ‘mermaid’, too, from the previous story… “Then her face slips somewhere else for a moment as if she has slipped beneath the surface of a lake.” — “Mermaids grow feet and it feels like laughter.”

    Having recently read the complete stories of Clarice Lispector (with my review here), perhaps it is not surprising that I find there seems to be a kindred spirit with this story, a splendidly methodical or deadpan ribbon of events, some magically real, others as part of a changeling alternate world when an escaped madman approaches that same lake, with events that differ afterward, and we then would never have had these stories onward from this woman narrator’s childbirth, with a slight incision to ease the birth, and the growth of her son page by page until he is a teenager, as interspersed with tantamount to another story that is made up of the stage directions of this story’s eventual gestalt, how to read the story aloud…
    And the man’s search for that möbius ribbon and its eventual unfurling from her body…And a musical ‘dying fall’ as its ending leading back, I infer, to that car wherein it all started beside the lake. The word-felt stitching and unstitching of sex, narrative grope by narrative grope, each a light touch.

    by Carmen Maria Machado

    “Also Herman Hesse was a bastard and I don’t want to talk about him anymore.”

    An author is a character in his or her own fiction, if you believe the Intentional Fallacy theory of literature. This eggstrapolation heightens my sense of the kindred spirit with Clarice Lispector regarding her own accidental similar theme and variations on an egg, with ‘egg’ uncannily patterning the page, too, the Lispector effect of which I visually showed HERE a few weeks ago before knowing I was going to encounter this Machado version. I feel privileged to have witnessed this dual but separate parthenogenesis today made clear by the truth of Machado’s… “Sometimes, in another place entirely, another person has also cracked open an egg and is also looking inside, and you are both, in fact, looking at the innards of the exact same egg.”

  13. RESURRECTION POINTS by Usman T. Malik

    “There are no sides. Only love and hate.”

    It’s like Machado’s earlier audit trail of stage directions for reading her story aloud. And now I am implicitly given a similar lesson in making the text judder or arch its back. The story is already alive within itself; a story needs its text to bring it alive with its own fingertips, tip to tip with the reader like God’s with Adam’s on the Sistine ceiling?
    This is a story of Muslim-Christian dichotomies, one even dividing the marriage from which Daoud was born, and we learn of the clinic where Daoud works with his father, in a form of chiropractic electric healing by triggering bodies into life from deathly inertness through the healer’s fingertips. Like a prayer between man and God, but which way does a prayer work? A satisfyingly but open-endedly poignant tale that ends with Daoud evolved into almost our saviour with a nurtured skill at this type of healing, a skill possibly getting out of hand with his kingdom come of onward zombie soldiers marching as to war? A just war or just another war? The questions continue resonating.

  14. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP by Nick Mamatas

    “Everyone here eats ice cream in the winter time.”

    I left this story via its metaphorical gift shop, expecting to look around it, think about it, and to buy some handy keepsake or aide memoire, even a short explanation of its plot, a reason for not having to return to it. But instead I was instructed to keep looking “straight fucking ahead.” An irony. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this story of a Rehoboth with all its resonances, both Biblical and New English for an Old Englishman like me. The hitchhiker, the Haunted Stretch of road that is purpose built almost bespoke for this story, costing more than a small fortune to travel. A rollercoaster of a ride, one of self and not-self blending as a parthenogenesis of raw sex along a Bible Belt’s Genesis, a real-time dangerous relationship, which you can’t leave either via GPS or the gift shop. “Anyways”, I sensed this was a significantly cathartic work and I still can’t help worrying at it.

  15. SO SHARP THAT BLOOD MUST FLOW by Sunny Moraine

    “Death always has to go somewhere.”

    A story that fulfils the promise of this book’s witching, various mermaids and ‘girls below’, but also here the promise of Machado’s stories running together like raindrops in a pond. There the pond became a lake. Here, like Larson, the sea itself, but also, at first, the yearning to be sea foam. And insulating those stories one from the other, where death or blood-drops running together or different story-endings reside.
    This has a fairy tale ambiance with the sporadic staccato of enticingly naive verse as prose, where a Prince and Princess on a romantic sea voyage suffer the sharp touch of tail-slapping as a leap of jealousy or Brothers Grimm.

  16. THE GHOUL by Jean Muno (translated by Edward Gauvin)

    “Each of us moves forward with our own death for a shadow. Each of us, sooner or later, abandoned.”

    Having recently read a collection of stories by Jean Ray (reviewed here), I was looking forward to reading this work and I am not disappointed. Alone worth the entrance fee to have this translation crystallised here in print. A highly atmospheric and disturbing vision of recurrent stalking, but who is stalking whom out of the seemingly four characters involved, including the narrator (author?), the narrated male protagonist, the Melancholy Woman who pushes the woman in a wheelchair and the woman in the wheelchair. This all takes place in a beautifully described sea situation and a town one, the sense of stalker and stalked in each other’s arms, or as an appendage like a homunculus parasite with its host, or nurse with patient, lover with lover, friend with enemy, narrator with narrated, author with reader, not only with but also within: arguably perpetrator and victim as a single ghoul, while embodying its theme of “The rapture of borders”, borders geographical, personal and spiritual. An eschatological nightmare, “the limbo haunted by spectral stories”. Those stories running into one story like water drops, the story that still evolves as this book’s gestalt so far.


    “You don’t work a horse with a harness sore.”

    This is a moving story in itself with its wonderfully naive and grass-grows-greener-goal- and girl-yearning characterisation of Andy and the botched indelible tattoo using the name of a fickle girlfriend called Lori on one of his arms – and his other arm, plus a chip in his brain, following a combine harvester accident, becoming a robotic one with a pincer.
    But it is also a striking work with both or either arm being connected not with becoming a phantom limb but with something that actually becomes a road to that greener grass for which he yearns, in full tune with Mamatas’ earlier Haunted Stretch of road (surely this was conspiratorially planned by both authors as it is too much of a coincidence otherwise!) and, less obviously perhaps, as part of this book’s striking reading experience, his robotic arm is also known as a ‘rig’, the same name as a much bigger contraption in the Larson story, a rig that also turned out to have a girl attached like the other arm…
    And Machado’s eggs, too, make an appearance.
    For me, give or take such connections, this Pinsker story is a significant piece of work that seems to play with some original aspects of artificial and real intelligence.

  18. MIGRATION by Karin Tidbeck

    image“A seam has split along the cardigan’s right shoulder.”

    …and a seam has split in the panoply of reality, too, it seems,as Edith provides a real but dream-like fluidity of a metaphor for migrants and the holes they need to build on beaches, or caves to inhabit where the ocean ends. Also a flaking painted ocean amid the stalactites. Like most of this book, there is an undercurrent of the ocean or the undercurrent of womanhood beneath or above that ocean. Edith flows with the migrants amid a Pilgrim’s Progress of characters like the Neighbours, the Janitor, the Caretaker and her friend Irma, between the endless stairwells, a make-do-and-mend society in the city flats that seem to be attacked by ‘invaders’ – hence this vision of what I see as a figurative prose poem of fantasy treehomes and caves (a prose poem with dialogue) deploying the distorted fluidities, the moral migraine of migration. And the seemingly positive ending begs a negative question of doubt. Another stretch of highway.

    “It’s never good when things happen.”

  19. HIDDEN IN THE ALPHABET by Charles Wilkinson

    “Their dancing steps in the brilliant white water foaming about their feet.”

    Since first encountering his fiction in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction a few years ago, Wilkinson has joined the ranks of my favourite living authors. And this intriguing and stylistic work has confirmed such a feeling in me. It has the methodically deadpan, but poetic, triangulations of detailed viewpoints and Pinteresque allusions (akin to similar effects in what I consider to be an overlooked fiction masterpiece from 1968 entitled ‘Report on Probability A‘ by Brian Aldiss). It tells of an ‘auteur’ and the gradually evolving past when his son and niece were still young and there are insinuations of the film he took of them together. Today, in later time, negotiating his inscrutable accident outside a hotel, his broken spectacles, visits (by himself and his niece separately) to an optician, and his projected reunion or reconciliation with his son. Nothing of it fully crystallises but it would have been an anti-climax if it had done so. The optician’s eye-test cards with alphabets of letters evoke writerly considerations of wordplay such as anagrams and assonances. Things that my reviews seem to thrive on! A shriving at the altar (auteur) of the past? Also resonances with the concept of cousin-with-cousin births needing changelings or foundlings amid the waterside or sea-foam love, sex and death that seeps in from the rest of this book. Seabirds like flowers behind a window.

    “What the film will never remember was how fine the sand was, silkily running through her toes.”

  20. A CUP OF SALT TEARS by Isabel Yap

    “‘I will tell you a fairytale,’ the kappa says, ‘Because I know you love fairytales. A girls falls into a river–‘”

    This is a perfect closure for the whole book, but a rhapsodically rarefied story in itself, strongly passive with Japanese tea drinking and the meeting of others in communal baths, such as the woman with the water-creature kappa who once saved her from drowning, but a creature that normally eats the insides from out of women. The story tells of this woman who once wished to be a Disney princess, but now she suffers a beautiful grief, as some in Japan say grief is beautiful, while nursing her dying husband.
    I have not looked back to reread the Rich Larson story in this book, but memory seems to say there is something telling about the comparison with this story. There it was a man and his love union with a mermaid that transcends his marriage. Here, it is such a union by woman with the gender-indeterminate but male-leaning kappa that not only transcends this woman’s marriage but saves it. But for whom is the cucumber carved and dropped in the river? I think I know.
    A classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story with an original twist that stays with me yearningly, so far at least.

    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.


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