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Nightmare Carnival
edited by Ellen Datlow
Dark Horse Books, 381 pages

Ellen Datlow
Ellen Datlow was the fiction editor of OMNI from 1981 until it folded in 1998. She later worked as the fiction editor of SCIFI.COM. Her well-deserved reputation as an editor for both The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror series and for the Fairy Tale Anthologies series has garnered her numerous awards.

Ellen Datlow Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Hauntings
SF Site Review: The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Four
SF Site Review: The Beastly Bride
SF Site Review: Nebula Awards Showcase 2009
SF Site Review: Troll's-Eye View
SF Site Review: Poe
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2008: Twenty-First Annual Collection
SF Site Review: The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007: Twentieth Annual Collection
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventeenth Annual Collection
SF Site Review: The Green Man
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, 14th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, 13th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Black Heart, Ivory Bones
SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, 12th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Silver Birch, Blood Moon
SF Site Review: Black Swan, White Raven
SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, 11th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy & Horror: 10th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Fairy Tale Anthologies

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Mario Guslandi

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Nightmare Carnival Theme anthologies may be tricky, especially when the subject is so precisely defined to leave little room for smart manouvres from the authors involved. Ripetitivity is the main risk, boredom the most dangerous outcome. Here we have an experienced, top notch editor (Ellen Datlow) and a very specific theme: carnival. Not being particularly fond of carnivals and circuses in general, I was dreading the results of this literary project, in spite of my trust in Datlow's ability.

As a matter of fact, after finishing the book, I have mixed feelings about it.

The volume assembles fifteen,brand new horror tales penned by a group of distinguished authors such as Terry Dowling, Joel Lane, Glen Hirshberg, Jeffrey Ford and Laird Barron. They all provide fair enough dark material taking place in carnivals or in little towns visited by travelling circuses. As I said, I rather dislike this type of entertainment, so my lack of enthusiasm for most of the stories is probably affected by my lack of interest in such an environment. And, although I concur that carnivals have often a sinister side, and although the tales in the anthology are generally dark enough and sinister enough, I've found them somehow not fully convincing.

By contrast, I have to point out two stories so outstanding that my slight disappointment in the rest of the book was immediately forgotten.

The first one is "And the Carnival Leaves Town" by A.C. Wise, a superb supernatural noir where people disappear in coincidence with the visits of a carnival. And any attempt to investigate the matter apparently is leading nowhere... I intend to pursue further this author (whom I scarcely knew before) and to secure a copy of all of her work.

The other standout is "The Popping Fields" by the extraordinary Robert Shearman, a memorable story of fatherly love, loneliness and sorrow, featuring a man endowed with the ability (and the curse) to create oddly shaped animal balloons.

Even if you don't care for carnivals, the above two tales alone are worth the price of the book.

If you're a circus lover I'm sure you'll find more enjoyable stuff therein.

Copyright © 2014 by Mario Guslandi

Mario Guslandi lives in Milan, Italy, and is a long-time fan of dark fiction. His book reviews have appeared on a number of genre websites such as The Alien Online, Infinity Plus, Necropsy, The Agony Column and Horrorwold.


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