Cover Image: The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan

The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan

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To my shame, I was completely unaware of Kiernan and her body of work. I'm not sure that this is the best way to start with her (not a commentary on the quality of stories here, they are superb), but rather... I think that a fan will get much more out of this, than a newcomer like me. Thank you for the copy!
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I am not quite sure how to start with this review except to say this book was not for me. There were a few good stories but the rest had me wishing the book was over. They were strange or I just lacked interest. I’ll be giving this 2 stars because of the few good stories.
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Horror is certainly the right genre for many of these stories. Some really amazing ideas and writing within the 20 short stories compiled here. There is soo much lesbian representation in these stories; which isn't surprising if you know that Caitlin Kiernan is a transgender lesbian. My favourite part of most of the stories is that the f/f relationships are so well portrayed and have a beautiful depth to them. 

A small note about each of the stories is below: 
Story #1 - Andromeda Among the Stones
Well if this story is representative of the whole anthology then I’m guessing I’ll barely understand half of it... this was a very convoluted story. (Thankfully that turned out to not be the case for all the stories.)
Story #2 - La Peau Verte
Translates to “Green Skin”. Ohh this one is both clever and horrifying. I’d love to read the whole story here as I think there’s a lot more to be said and done with the concept.
Story #3 - Houses Under the Sea
A very well revealed story told by a lesbian about her girlfriend who is obsessed with a deity at the bottom of the ocean.
Story #4 - Bradbury Weather
This felt like the longest short story ever. It went on and on describing and rambling from first person narrative. As I didn’t care about our leading lady, I also didn’t care about her ‘mission’.
Story #5 - A Child’s Guide to the Hollow Hills
Short, sweet and grotesque; but great. 
Story #6 - The Ammonite Violin (Murder Ballad No. 4)
This story triggered by hydrophobia (that's how you know the writing is amazing!): “...all the young women he has murdered by suffocation, always by suffocation, for that is how the sea would kill...”
What an amazing serial killer book this would make!! A girl on the hunt for her sisters killer, that killer targeting certain ways... great story but could be so much more if a full length novel."
Story #7 - A Season of a Broken Dolls 
Either I’m too tired or you need a PhD in English literature to understand this jumble of a mess. I did like the La Llorona quotes however.
Story #8 - The View of Nothing
A story given to us out of order and from a narrator that doesn’t know herself what is happening or where she is. Love the cyborg to female relations. A bit graphic on the sex side of things but there is a point so I’m good with it. I’d have to read this story 3-4 more times to really nail it down I think; but that's not a bad thing. 
Story #9 - The Ape's Wife
Best King Kong story ever! Maybe because it has Kong but yet is not about him at all. This is a weird mind bending story (as all these seem to be) but I really liked it. I was able to follow it and it had a great ending. One of the best stories yet (and I'm not a big fan of the King Kong lore).
Story #10 - The Steam Dancer (1896)
I adored this story!! I believe there are so many disabled folks out there that would really appreciate this one. 
It reminded me of a time my cousin with Cerebral Palsy (who cannot walk) told me he loved video games because in them he was a “whole person who could kick-ass”. ❤️
Story #11 - Galapagos
Another story feels like you might need a fancy degree to really understand it. I know there’s a huge realm of discussion that can come from a story such as this one; however, the question for me is whether anyone actually cares... I think the answer is primarily no.
Story #12 - Fish Bride (1970) 
This is like forbidden love; although perhaps closer to the idea of impossible love. A sad little story set on the coast where land and sea meet.
Story #13 - The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean 
Short and sweet. Not quite what I was expecting but still a lovely little bit of veiled writing.
Story #14 - Hydrarguros
I was really hoping this story was going somewhere and super curious what the silver stuff represented. Sadly it’s not all what I was hoping and instead is all metaphorical. 😕
Story #15 - The Maltese Unicorn
A fabulous story! Could easily be a full length novel as well; but had just enough content to be good as a short story, without having too much complexity. Lots of odd perversion and sex in this one. A line that really stuck out for me: "And then she offered the unicorn one of her breasts, and I watched as it suckled."
Story #16 - Tidal Forces
An odd commentary on the size of the universe; or at least that’s what I think the point is. Best part, main characters are very much in love lesbians. 
Story #17 - The Prayer of Ninety Cats
This is a story about a man watching a movie. We get his thoughts on the movie at the same time we get the main story of the film. It’s clever and I quite enjoyed it.
Story #18 - One Tree Hill 
Not like the show. Lol.
I liked this one a lot. A man investigates an off “positive lightning” incident that hit a sole single tree isolated 25m all around from the rest of the trees on the hill. A very well written Goddess helps this story really sparkle.
Story #19 - Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No 8)
A gem of a story! Two ladies become the terror of the road; proving that these lesbians don’t need no men. They are scary enough on their own. I don’t want to say much about this for fear of spoiling it (as the surprises here are the best!). But I will say that it is not for the faint of heart. Lots of blood, gore, minder, sex and well more sex.
Story #20 - Fairy Tale Wood Street
A sweet little story. Given some of the horror, gore and sex in the other stories this one is tame and romantic. An interesting choice to end the collection on. 

While a few stories were a bit blah or just not for more the large bulk of them were wonderful. I loved all the lesbian representation, the feminism (without being obnoxious) and the relationships (love, hate or otherwise) that are well portrayed. It's hard to do characters well in short stories (as they tend to focus on plot primarily) but Caitlin Kiernan hasn't left anything on the cutting room floor with page/word count here. 
There are a few stories that would make amazing novels or movies if they were expanded; but that didn't detract from my love of them in the shorter form. 
If you want horror, sex, lesbians and/or love, I believe, you'll find all of those here in abundance. 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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Such a great collection of Caitlin Kiernan works. I really enjoy her writing style and found each story really easy to read.
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Kiernan is a master. Cerebral, frightening, and always wickedly intelligent. Any anthology of her work is a must-have, especially for fans of weird fiction. Each story in this collection is an intricate, carefully-composed work of art, and Kiernan's signature prose will delight new readers. A wonderful introduction to her work.
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I was provided with an ARC of this title by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Wow. Kiernan's ability to breathe all that is hidden, ominous and foreboding into her stories is both masterful and captivating. These are not your typical horror stories. 

There is the down and out artist who becomes fairy prey, the grizzled old woman who is not what she seems. The gothic settings, florid language and unique plot twists reel the reader in. 

These are dark fantasy/horror stories for adults because they make you question all of things that exist in the unseen corners of your peripheral vision.
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I didn't finish this. I read the first third or so, really enjoying "Bradbury Weather" and somewhat enjoying "Houses Under the Sea" but really not clicking with any of the other stories. I have heard Kiernan described as a writer of atmospheric vignettes, and that holds true for me, although disappointingly so. Although many stories started in an interesting vein, and some crept with horror elements, they didn't capture my interest or imagination quite as thoroughly as I had hoped. I may someday finish this, or find Kiernan's volume of sci-fi writing at the library (based on my enjoyment of "Bradbury Weather"), but this volume didn't do it for me despite my interest in dark short stories/speculative fiction.
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I didn't get a physical copy but this collection is bang for your buck, you get a lot of short stories. It is interesting how the stories all have a Caitlin Kiernan vibe despite being different. I think I could identify one of her stories anywhere now. There is always mystery and suspense and sometimes she tantalizingly leaves you wondering (I imagine this may frustrate or annoy some people). I have no doubt that she could have made full novels of a lot of these ideas but you get the feeling she wants to leave you to think about the story all day. Then there is the sexy grossness; sexiness and desire but with a slimy, eerie component, lol. It's hard to explain ok? You know how something can be sexy and gross at the same time, like liking the smell of someone attractives' body odour? Well, this review is getting weird, probably time to wrap up. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me a copy for my honest review.
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With a writer like Caitlín R. Kiernan, a title like The Very Best of… is begging a lot. Where’s the ferociously parodic, deconstructive urban fantasy she writes under her Kathleen Tierney nom de guerre? Where’s the Delta Green-flavoured Lovecraftian technothrillers like Agents of Dreamland and Black Helicopters? Where’s her comic contribution to the Sandman mythos? In any collection from such an author, there’s always bound to be, not only favourite stories, but entire sub-genres missed out. I want to put in this quote to illustrate the point, because it’s the kind of thing you so rarely get to include in a review: “Brown University’s John Hay Library has established the Caitlín R. Kiernan Papers, spanning her full career thus far and including juvenilia, consisting of twenty-three linear feet of manuscript materials, including correspondence, journals, manuscripts, and publications, circa 1970-2017, in print, electronic, and web-based formats.” Count ‘em: twenty-three linear feet. It’s a brave editor or publisher who would dare try to encapsulate every facet of an author so various, and so prolific. 

What this compilation does demonstrate is that Caitlín R. Kiernan is producing the very best of contemporary dark and weird fiction, regardless of whether or not that typifies her whole range. She not only has written more than nine-tenths of her contemporaries, she has also written substantially better than nine-tenths of them. She casually throws off metaphor and imagery in passing that would make any other writer’s career. Kiernan has a word horde as rich as Smaug’s, and a voice as mesmeric. 

Part of her mastery of different genres and sub-genres is her unerring ear for the idioms, idiolects, speech communities, buzzwords, shibboleths, jargon, psychobabble, technobabble, Mythobabble of each side alley and cul-de-sac of imaginative literature. Her debt to 1890s decadent literature might have helped tune her ear for distinct prosodies, but even when it’s fully on view, as in “La Peau Verte,” it isn’t anything like as overblown and cloying as Angela Carter or Poppy Z. Brite. Kiernan’s frame of stylistic reference isn’t anything like that narrow, and she doesn’t wallow in overwrought prose like many self-declared decadent authors. She tosses in quotations and references from the whole gamut of literature that you’d ache to see more often in genre fiction, yet she keeps a sinew and thrust in her writing that nails all the glitter and sparkle of her stylistic brilliance firmly to the underlying contours of her narrative. Sometimes her more experimental pieces do tax the reader’s patience – I’m no fan of the unparagraphed construction of “Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)” for instance – but such excesses are rare, and generally tempered by a propulsive impetus, let alone a turn of phrase, that makes her fables unputdownable. “Houses under the Sea,” does dip into the deep waters of her best-known single work, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, but that doesn’t render this collection any less a partial glimpse at best. And there’s that word again.

Kiernan has gone on record in the past to state that she’s “getting tired of telling people that I’m not a ‘horror’ writer. I’m getting tired of them not listening, or not believing.” It’s true that miscegenation and body horror are recurrent themes – steampunk prostheses, flesh sculptures, alien distortion/transcendence of normal humanity – frequently embodied in or espoused by mutated former lovers. Yet she typifies horror as “an emotion, and no one emotion will ever characterize my fiction.” She’s also said that “story bores me. Which is why critics complain it’s the weakest aspect of my work.” I don’t see any lack of story in these stories, though. I also suspect that Kiernan wouldn’t have been able to keep readers’ attention across such a huge volume of work unless she was able to keep them engaged through extended narratives with more than just jewelled individual sentences. She shares that characteristic gift of a really good short story writer of tieing off a section or a passage with a line that hooks you and leaves you gasping, aching to see what comes next. And if she has any uniformity of tonal range or register, it’s one that carries superbly well across genre after genre, from the folk horror of “A Child’s Guide to the Hollow Hills,” to the superb occult noir of “The Maltese Unicorn.” Not only would what she pulls off in that one story alone make another writer’s entire career, I’ve actually seen it happen.

In their introduction to The Weird, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer write that Kiernan has “become perhaps the best weird writer of her generation.” There’s only two parts to that statement I’d  question: Only weird? And perhaps? Weird fiction as a genre, if it is a genre, should be grateful to be able to lay even partial or intermittent claim to her. Caitlín R. Kiernan is the fulfilment of every weird fiction pundit’s dream of a transgressive, inclusive, brutally contemporary author who brings all the territory’s sub-genres bang up to date while ditching their historical baggage – yet she effortlessly transcends such categories and limitations, just as she effortlessly transcends every genre she’s cared to touch down in. Even after successive World Fantasy Awards and Bram Stoker Awards, she’s still a writer who can’t be honoured and recognized enough. Words fail me. But they rarely if ever fail her.
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“No story has a beginning, and no story has an end. Beginnings and endings may be conceived to serve a purpose, to serve a momentary and transient intent, but they are, in their truer nature, arbitrary and exist solely as a construct of the mind of men.” 

Caitlín Kiernan is regarded as a master of dark fantasy and a collection of the ‘best’ of her stories sounded really interesting. The book is a collection of 20 short stories, each with different theme and setting. Though classified as horror, I would describe these stories more of dark fiction than horror. Let me warn you, these are not your usual horror stories. These stories are dark and often bizarre. It felt like being at a modern art collection; either you get the meaning what it’s trying to convey or you simply don’t. 

The stories are dark and disturbing with a mixture of horror and fantasy. Every story is set in a strange and atmospheric world, every character is both fascinating and frightening and everything in this world is strange and unnatural. 

Every story had some unique theme; Like Ann Darrow’s story after King Kong’s death, or the story about twins killing people, Art critics interviewing models of famous paintings. It’s like exploring a new world in each story. Kiernan’s style of writing is unique and her prose is dark, disturbing yet lyrical. 

The stories, mostly told in the first person, are pretty heavy and most of them start and end abruptly (which was really frustrating, at times) and make you really wonder about what’s going on and draw your own conclusions for the endings. There were times when I had to re-read a story to get the real meaning. A little background or context for these stories may have really helped. 

Almost every story asks for close attention, for serious and thoughtful engagement with the text. There are lovely turns of phrase, powerful images, and beautiful sentences but it’s all way too confusing to properly enjoy. In the end, it was a mixed bag for me. I really liked some stories, some stories were confusing and overall the collection was enjoyable but mentally exhausting to read. 

Overall, if you approach this book as a collection of 20 horror stories, you may be confused or disappointed. This collection is not for everyone. These are stories of different styles and plots and will require some patience to enjoy. However, if you are looking to explore new genres and try something weird, dark and different, this collection might be a great place to start. 

Many thanks to the publishers Tachyon Publications, the author Caitlin R. Kiernan and NetGalley for the ARC.
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Kiernan has a very distinctive style, her stories have a great eye for describing horror in excruciating detail, and then making it banal and every day by weaving it in with usually mismatched interpersonal relationships. The reader will either love this style or not. While I thought some of the stories were excellent, overall I just found the collection a bit of a bummer.
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‘It’s just the way I tell stories, right. You know that. I start at the beginning. I don’t leave stuff out.’ If only, Caitlin R Kiernan, if only!

For me a good short story is still complete in some way, it’s a stripped-back story or a snapshot of one but it still needs to be coherent and immersive in its own right. Although it may not have all of the elements of a novel it still needs something to pull a reader in - whether that’s a compelling main character, an interesting situation, a definitive ending or an intriguing backstory. I felt that the vast majority of stories in this collection by Caitlin R Kiernan failed in this definition. They felt a lot less like short stories and more like jumbled excerpts of larger, more interesting books. I was crying out for some of them to have a short synopsis at the beginning to tell me what I’d missed and what was going on so I could enjoy what was presented in front of me without feeling so utterly lost.

There were some stories, such as Houses Under the Sea, Bradbury Weather and A Season of Broken Dolls that from beginning to end I had absolutely no clue what was going on. I found myself skimming them and hoping the next story might be a little clearer. I think perhaps if we had been given context for these stories they may have actually been really interesting – they seemed to sometimes give a flash of something intriguing but it was gone just as quickly as it had appeared.

Even the ones I did like had their own problems. La Peau Verte for example, was a nice story with some great imagery and an interesting backstory, however it ended far too abruptly – as if the last chapter had been left out. In my humble opinion it would have tied much better together if her sister was sitting at the throne. Even the stories I would have rated 4/5 stars in the context of this anthology would only really have gotten 3 stars if I had read them standalone. The only story I actually enjoyed was the Ammonite Violin which had two interesting characters, told you enough about them to keep you engaged, had a sinister feel running all the way through it and a proper ending.

Overall if this is ‘The Very Best’ of Caitlin R Kiernan’s work then I’m afraid it’s not for me, there are some great ideas and imagery in here but it’s all way too confusing to properly enjoy. Thank you to NetGalley & Tachyon Publications for a copy of the ARC in exchange for a (very!) honest review.
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A very odd collection of short horror stories. These are great reads for someone who can’t commit to a whole novel. Perfect for reading on a lunch break. The author has a way with words that drags you right into each story.
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When I read “The Maltese Unicorn” in The Unicorn Anthology, I wanted to read more of Caitlín R. Kiernan’s work. Tachyon on Netgalley had The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan up for download, so I loaded it onto my kindle and started reading a story or three. I was really captivated by a lot of her work because it’s a little creepy, unsettling, and grotesque, but in a way that showcases truths that sometimes we’re afraid to face or don’t know how to face.

My favorite stories in the collection were as follows: “The Maltese Unicorn” (of course, because you really can’t go wrong with lesbian unicorn noir), “A Child’s Guide to Hollow Hills,” “The Ammonite Violin,” and “Hydrarguros”. “The Ammonite Violin” has such a masterfully and terrific thrill to it that I read it twice. I knew the story was leading up to something, and the revelation was perfectly executed.

I had never read any of her work before her story in The Unicorn Anthology, and I think it’s because I don’t often dabble in the “horror” genre. I am hesitate to label Kiernan as “horror” in the traditional sense because so many of her stories were a quiet, creeping sort of horror rather than a shock and scare sort of thing that I generally tend to associate with “horror.” Her work is more an examination of the human existence in all its forms, from light to dark, and I think this collection of her work shows the broad scope of her abilities.
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Over the last year. I have reignited my love affair with short story collections and this one did not disappoint.  I was captivated by the characters and stories that wove incredible, yet somehow believable, tales.
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This is an extraordinary and substantial collection of stories. Most defy categorisation. Are they horror, sci-fi, fantasy? Surreal, beautiful, often with poignant despair. These are dreams, meanderings in another world. These stories are like nothing else I have ever read. This book is nothing short of a literary treasure trove.
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Although this author has a fantastic reputation on the horror circuit I failed to get into this book. I found many of the stories too slow and uninvolving and ultimately lacking punch. I appreciate the melancholic tone of many of the stories, a number of which are themed around the sea and the ocean. Many were beautifully written, but still did not move me too much, it is probably because I prefer more 'bang' in my short fiction. As this was my first read of this much hyped author I found this collection to be slightly over-rated.
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This anthology was phenomenal! I don't typically pick up horror of any kind, but I'd heard good things about Caitlin's work and wanted to give it a go. I was blown away by the complexity, character structures and writing style. This was not your typical "horror" stories though. These reminded me of Black Mirror or Twilight Zone type stories. From sadistic girlfriends, to nicotine stained dentures and symbolism for days. As these are not all new stories, it was a thrill to be able to watch as she morphed and changed with her stories. Stories that had the same themes were vastly different, writing styles - while always true to her voice - are wildly differently, yet eerily similar. Even if one story did not resonate with you, another one surely will. Dark and twisted, her collection is one for constant reread, and you'll never feel disappointed with it! I am now a fan for life! 5/5 stars!!!
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This collection of short stories is detailed, strange, and atmospheric.  Nothing in these stories remain unquestioned.  Romance is questioned, as is knowledge and power.  Art suggests ambiguity, as do films and tomes.  Nothing exists within a vacuum, and everything is strange and unnatural.

These stories are perfect for those who enjoy the creepy, weird, and strange.  These stories are smart, written with great detail and observation.  Not to mention, of course, the style and voice!  Each character was so starkly different and viewed the universe in their own way.  Kiernan is truly a talented writer.
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My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A best of collection is a wonderful concept. Especially if you’re writer Caitlín R. Kiernan, who has published over two hundred and fifty short stories. This is her third ‘Best of’ collection, which speaks to the absolute wealth of her bibliography. For The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan, Tachyon and the author decided to draw stories from her limited-edition publications. This is great, because it gives us an opportunity to experience works that we may have missed in the past. The stories within this collection are powerful and diverse, each one polished to perfection. You can see the hours of work poured into every page. I expected an incredible collection (Caitlín R. Kiernan never disappoints), and she truly delivered.

The TOC is 20 stories deep. Each of them is its own little monster, with a patchwork of different genres and influences. You can see Caitlín’s own brew of Lovecraftian horror in stories like Andromeda Among the Stones or Houses Under the Sea. There are tales of dark fantasy, fantasy noir and more traditional weird fiction. Not all of them would be considered horror, but a thread of darkness is almost always present. Each story is well-written, packed with fibrous prose and rich description at every turn of the page. As you work your way through this stacked book, you can see what makes for an essential Caitlín R. Kiernan story. They are often about loss and the murky power of the sea. The narratives are usually fractured and then sewed back into something emotional and monstrous. The endings are quieter than most short fiction in the genre, but there is always something lurking beneath the silence.

While I loved nearly every story in the collection, a few stood out for me. The Ape’s Wife is a sorrowful version of a story we know very well. La Peau Verte is a piece about the truth of fairy tales that ends with a gut punch. The Prayer of Ninety Cats is a horror tale told with a vivid cinematic flair.

‘The Very Best of’ is not hyperbole. This is a collection released by a multiple award winner at the top of her game. Each story is a testament to the power of fiction and the versatility of genre fiction as a whole.
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