The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan
by Caitlin R. Kiernan; Caitlin R. Kiernan
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 01 Mar 2019 | Archive Date 17 Jun 2019
—New York Times
Caitlin R. Kiernan is widely acknowledged as one of dark fantasy and horror’s most skilled and acclaimed short fiction writers. Here in this retrospective volume is her finest work, previously only collected in sold-out limited editions. Kiernan’s tales are visceral, sensual, devastating, and impossible to resist: a reporter is goaded by her girlfriend into watching people morphing into terrifying art; a critic interviews an elderly model from a series of famous mermaid paintings; a moviegoer watches a banned arthouse film only to discover exactly why it has been banned.
A Note From the Publisher
Praise for The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan
“Pure genius . . . an underappreciated master whose vision expresses itself through vast geographic expanses, gender fluidity, geological upheaval, lingering forces of evil, the horror and beauty of the natural world and the mythic architecture of the human mind. Kiernan is transformative. Read her and be changed.”
—New York Times
[STARRED] "This stellar collection of 20 reprints, drawn solely from Kiernan’s limited-edition publications, showcases her talent for blurring boundaries and creating distinctive sensory experiences. The Lovecraftian “Andromeda Among the Stones” is set against a writhing, vast seascape, where a young woman inherits a profound and terrifying family legacy. A journalist reflects on his time with a beautiful suicide cult leader who came dangerously close to calling forth something truly monstrous in the prickly, creeping “Houses Under the Sea.” The pitch-perfect noir gem “The Maltese Unicorn” is a kinky, twisted take on Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. “The Ape’s Wife,” a genre-defying standout, features King Kong’s object of affection, Ann Darrow, who, lost in a strange space called All-at-Once Time, is confronted with the many paths she might have taken. In “A Season of Broken Dolls,” a woman confronts her lover’s fascination with “stitchwork,” an art movement that takes body modification to terrifying new levels, and a young violinist discovers a terrible truth about her sister’s disappearance in “The Ammonite Violin.” With lush prose, Kiernan finds strange beauty in terrible tableaus, never failing to unsettle and inspire awe in equal measure. This versatile retrospective offers something for nearly every fan of the strange and macabre, and cements Kiernan’s legacy as the reigning queen of dark fantasy."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Wonderful, strange, horrid, lovely.”
“Caitlín Kiernan is a minister of dark magic, and any collection of her work is a must-read.”
—Chuck Wendig, author of Hyperion and The Shield
“Caitlín Kiernan is one of the true visionaries and finest stylists in our field, and very possibly the most lyrical. Her tales enrich the imagination, and represent the literature of the dark at its most gorgeous and disturbing. This book is a treasure house of wonders and terrors, and an essential purchase for anyone who cares about the great tradition of weird fiction.”
—Ramsey Campbell, author of The Parasite and Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach
“A collection rather than an anthology, The Very Best of Caitlín R Kiernan (Tachyon) hews to one style, uttering its fabulations in one piercingly delicious voice. My personal favorite, ‘The Maltese Unicorn,’ dishes up a Dashiell Hammett-esque crime narrative in a setting filled with bisexual demons and enchanted dildos. Often decay appears as a near-sentient character in the fictional worlds Kiernan constructs; often wickedness and ineffability and fate acquire a palpable, practically tactile presence in prose both teasing and pleasing. The author flirts with literary pretentions at times, and many of her overtures have been answered (as a glance at her long list of publication credits reveals) by hard-to-locate publications. Let us be grateful that Tachyon’s Jacob Weisman and Jill Roberts have made appreciation much easier by curating this magnificent selection of Kiernan’s eerily beautiful oeuvre.”
—Seattle Review of Books
“The collection is an excellent example of someone capable of consummate worldbuilding within a limited word count, resulting in the feeling of experiencing a bite-sized epic.”
“To enter the world of Caitlin R. Kiernan is to enter a world where dreams become nightmares, nightmares become reality, and transformation—horrible, beautiful, or sometimes both—is a constant . . . as the title suggests, this is a terrific collection from one of the best writers of her generation.
—Barnes & Noble Sci Fi/Fantasy Book Blog
“Kiernan's stories will submerge you in a strange world filled with the twisted, radical reflections of Giger and Lovecraft, their aesthetic skins stretched over anger, pain, queerness, and courage.”
—Lara Elena Donnelly, author of the Amberlough Dossier series
“Caitlín R. Kiernan is one of the most inventive, seductive, and wickedly intelligent writers working today in any genre, and this treasury puts her powers on full display. Her stories are promiscuous vampires, eager to draw their energy from folklore, space opera, crime fiction, weird tales, and the dreams of the silver screen. Whether their tone is streetwise or scholarly, archaic or futuristic, these tales share Kiernan's signature flavor of a last drink on the edge of the abyss. She is Our Lady of Elation and Melancholy. A sinister, spellbinding collection.”
—Sofia Samatar, author of A Stranger in Olondria and Monster Portraits
“Lyrically compelling tales that are nearly impossible to stop reading . . . fans of weird writers like Carmen Maria Machado, Jeff VanderMeer, and China Mieville will be glad to find this volume and thereby discover a writer who inspired them all.”
“To begin a Caitlín R. Kiernan story is to enter a world so vividly imagined that it's almost unbearable, on a journey as terrifying as it is irresistible.”
—Sam J. Miller, author of Blackfish City
5/5 stars. “Leav[es] you startled by how skilled one person could be. The stories gave me chills at times, and I was in awe of these strings of words that acted more like spells than stories. It’s a collection to be read and savored.”
—Reviews and Robots
“It has made me a fan, and a big one at that. Kiernan is easily one of the best writers of weird fiction working today.”
—The Horror Fiction Review
"Kiernan’s style of writing is not very traditional and her use of language is dark, disturbing, and grotesque, while simultaneously drawing you in and holding your attention. The reading equivalent of: ‘I can’t look away.’ . . . I would recommend this collection to you if you enjoy the works of: Shirley Jackson, Victor Lavalle, Nick Mamatas, Angela Carter, David Lynch, H.P. Lovecraft, or Cosmic Horror."
“The stories within this collection are powerful and diverse, each one polished to perfection . . . This is a collection released by a multiple award winner at the top of her game.”
—High Fever Books
“Magnificent nightmares rise out of Kiernan’s work.”
—New York Journal of Books
"All I can say is, like all good rollercoasters, it left me dizzy and excited and desperate to go around again."
—Nerds of a Feather
“These stories will fucking haunt you.”
—Shon Richards, author of Atlas the Wanderer
“Caitlín R. Kiernan is producing the very best of contemporary dark and weird fiction.”
—Paul St. John Mackintosh, author of The Golden Age
“I have been saying for years that everyone interested in short fiction should be reading Caitlín R. Kiernan. This is the perfect opportunity to be introduced to her range and virtuosity.”
Praise for Caitlín R. Kiernan
“Caitlín Kiernan is the poet and bard of the wasted and the lost.”
—Neil Gaiman, author of Norse Mythology
“Caitlín R. Kiernan is an original.”
—Clive Barker, author of The Books of Blood series and Hellraiser
“Caitlín R. Kiernan writes like a Gothic cathedral on fire.”
—Poppy Z. Brite, author of Lost Souls
Praise for The Drowning Girl
“Incisive, beautiful and as perfectly crafted as a puzzle-box, The Drowning Girl took my breath away.”
—Holly Black, New York Times bestselling author of Red Glove
“This is a masterpiece. It deserves to be read in and out of genre for a long, long time.”
—Elizabeth Bear, author of Grail
“A beautifully written, startlingly original novel.”
—Elizabeth Hand, author of Illyria
“With The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan moves firmly into the new vanguard, still being formed, of our best and most artful authors of the gothic and fantastic—those capable of writing fiction of deep moral and artistic seriousness.”
—Peter Straub, author of A Ghost Story
“Caitlín R. Kiernan turns the ghost story inside out and transforms it.”
—Brian Evanson, author of Last Days
“The Drowning Girl features all those elements of Caitlín R. Kiernan’s writing that readers have come to expect—a prose style of wondrous luminosity, an atmosphere of languorous melancholy, and an inexplicable mixture of aching beauty and clutching terror.”
—S. T. Joshi, author of I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft
“Kiernan pins out the traditional memoir on her worktable and metamorphoses it into something wholly different and achingly familiar, more alien, more difficult, more beautiful, and more true.”
—Catherynne M. Valente, New York Times bestselling author of Deathless
-Promotion at major trade and genre conventions, including
BEA, ALA, Readercon, Gencon, the International Conference for the Fantastic in
the Arts, and the World Science Fiction and World Fantasy conventions
-Features, interviews, and reviews targeting literary, horror, science fiction, and fantasy and genre venues
-Author events/appearances TBD
-Planned galley distribution and book giveaways to include NetGalley, Goodreads, Edelweiss, and additional online outlets
-Advertising and promotion in national print and via online outlets and social media
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 58 members
Oh yes. DELIGHTFUL.
Delightful how, you ask? Delightfully creepy. Unsettling. Tension in the pit of your stomach. The feeling of drowning. Deliciously dark and wonderfully ephemeral.
This is everything I love in short stories. Kiernan is a master craftsman. She evokes such horror, but wraps it in such beautiful imagery and setting. Her stories are haunting, melancholy, sensual. They are best enjoyed in the evening, with a glass of fine wine, in a darkened room, where, if you really listen, you can practically hear the waves crashing over your head as you read through her stunning imagery.
I'd snap up a full length novel in a heartbeat - and you should snap these short stories up too. They'll nestle down deep in your ribcage; like a parasite, like a heart.
The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan
by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Horror , Sci Fi & Fantasy
This author will give you nightmares and disturbed feelings long after you have finished and put down the short stories compiled here. Maybe not contemporary horror and just pitch dark fantasy she drops you in the middle as in life with no beginning or end, just flashes back and forward. The most delightful of the stories for me was the model and absinthe tale and hungered for more of the tale more than almost any other. That is one thing I noticed about every story,;like an exquisite desert in front of you you haven't quite made out about it's makeup and then it is snatched up from you before you have finished. There is something Lovecraftian about her stories in the level of distress they build up in the readier without the climaxing proof on page of the full horror which can be more horrifying. Another story drug me back to a movie in my mind: Source Code and the elements were I think the same.
A masterpiece. Kiernan is a once in a generation writer whose stories reach deep into your very soul. An incredible collection that will peel back your skull and punch you in the brain. Highly recommended.
5 stars--amazing collection. I've been reading Caitlin Kiernan since her babygoth horror days in the '90s. Her early collection, Tales of Pain and Wonder, is one of my favorite books.
This collection contains 20 of Kiernan's short stories (and she's quite prolific as a short story writer--which is, in my opinion, her strongest form). About half of them I've read before in other places. Each story is fabulous, and it shows how far she's come as a writer. The threads of horror are still there, but she's fully embraced weird fiction and dark sci fi as well.
I especially enjoyed "The Prayer of Ninety Cats," which I hadn't read before, and "Fairy Tale of Wood Street." Both are (horror?) stories about movies, which is a genre I particularly enjoy. "The Ape's Wife" is like nothing you've ever read, and "Interstate Love Song" is disturbing and sad at the same time. Highly recommended for lovers of horror, sci fi, and dark fantasy.
The collection includes:
* Andromeda Among the Stones
* La Peau Verte
* Houses Under the Sea
* Bradbury Weather
* A Child’s Guide to the Hollow Hills
* The Ammonite Violin (Murder Ballad No. 4)
* A Season of Broken Dolls
* In View of Nothing
* The Ape’s Wife
* The Steam Dancer (1896)
* Fish Bride (1970)
* The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean
* The Maltese Unicorn
* Tidal Forces
* The Prayer of Ninety Cats
* One Tree Hill (The World As Cataclysm)
* Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)
* Fairy Tale of Wood Street
I received this review copy from the publisher on NetGalley. Thanks for the opportunity to read and review; I appreciate it!
Caitlin R. Kiernan is the type of writer that can balance horror, sensuality, and sensational imagery and make it look effortless. Her work is beautiful, but the difficulty is so much of her best writing has previously only been available is short print runs. That makes getting a hold of some of her old work expensive and difficult. Tachyon Publishing is attempting to change that by collecting some of her best work in the collection The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan.
Enter a world where young women discover their past with the fae after being hired to dress up for a party. See the life behind an infamous cult leader and her sacrifices. A big fan of art house cinema gets a chance to see a banned film and see exactly why it was not available for the public.
Kiernan's writing is stunningly beautiful and I'm so thankful that her hard to find writing is now available again to readers. Treat yourself with this one if you like dark writing.
The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan is available March 1, 2019 from Tachyon Publishing.
Wow, wow, wow. Tens across the board, and I don't even like horror on my good days, much less my bad days. Surprisingly, however, Kiernan's novel of her stories really did uplift my soul on a pretty bad day. Think bear market bad days, but I digress. On a day that I needed a great book to tuck up with on my worn armchair, Kiernan's novel did not disappoint in the least. Let me explain the sheer amazingness of Kiernan's genius.
I do not, on most days, enjoy horror. I hate the suspense and fear and sheer tension that runs through me whenever I watch horror movies, and this is replicated in stories, as well, but without the sound effects.
She writes like she's there. Her characters feel frighteningly real, and each scene is imagined richly enough that it often feels like I'm right there...I can feel each and every crawl of an insect's legs, and I can see the shadows lengthening in my own room as I read her stories. It was disturbingly good.
And her writing, oh my dear loves, her writing is sublime. Just absolutely sublime and originally twisted. Her imagination is just incredible, and quite honestly, I would've kept reading if the book had more material.
Among a few of my favorites amongst the selected stories were: "Houses Under the Sea," "The Ammonite Violin," "Fish Bride," "The Maltese Unicorn," and finally, "Interstate Love Song."
I had never heard of Caitlín R. Kiernan before, despite my love for dark fantasy, horror and short stories. I know, I’m ashamed of myself as well. Thankfully there is no time like the present and the moment I started The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan I was sold. Within this collection is an amazing mix of sci-fi, horror, the supernatural and humour that will blow you away. Thanks to Tachyonn Publications and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
There is a magic to short stories that novels can’t capture. You’re never entirely sure where a short story will leave you, how much it will reveal and how much will be left unwritten. A novel is much more tied down to structure, even if it is an experimental novel, since it has to support itself for hundreds of pages. A short story’s structure is much more translucent. It’s because of this that I adore short stories and in The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan Kiernan indeed presents the very best. Moving between genres almost effortlessly, Kiernan crafts moments of exquisite pain and aching beauty, whether her story is set on Mars or downtown New York.
Although I have tried above, it is hard to encapsulate the whole of The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan into a few sentences, so I’ll just talk about a few of my favourite stories. The collection starts with ‘Andromeda Among the Stones’ and it has a very distinct Lovecraftian atmosphere, but without the pretension. There are old texts, ancient evils and family curses, all coming together to weave a haunting tale. This story converted me to a Kiernan fan. ‘Houses Under the Sea’ is perhaps one of Kiernan’s most famous stories linked to Lovecraft’s Mythos, centering around the Mother Hydra figure. But somehow her story is more authentic, giving us an outsider’s perspective into the mystery and horror. ‘The Ammonite Violin (Murder Ballad No. 4) gives us a more straightforward horror in a flipped version of the famous ‘The Twa Sisters’ murder ballad. I loved the way Kiernan played with the reader’s expectation in this story and there are some truly touching moments in this story. Finally, ‘The Prayer of Ninety Cats’ is a brilliant take on Elizabeth Bathory as the story centres around a movie critic watching a once banned movie about the Bloody Countess. It’s meta but in a way that mirrors the reader’s own experiences of being drawn in by a piece of art. There is stunning imagery in this story and I wish I could see the movie itself.
Caitlín R. Kiernan is a brilliant writer. The Gothic and Horror genres are often very unkind to women, although female agency is sometimes secretly present. Kiernan’s stories are filled with women taking control, losing control, going mad, loving each other, hating each other, fighting each other, you name it. That was perhaps one of my favourite aspects of this collection, the sheer variety of female experiences that Kiernan describes. Most of her characters are lesbians but rather than make this a big thing it is simply a given. It is not a plot point or a big reveal, it just is. A central theme to many of the stories in The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan is the sea. From the first story, ‘Andromeda Among the Stones’, the sea was a constant in The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan, a thread weaving its way throughout, both a threat and a source of comfort all at once. I myself love the sea and how it is used in music and in literature, so this made me love the stories even more. In the end what really struck me about the whole collection is that no matter how diverse the stories are in setting, genre, mood or theme, Kiernan’s tone stays strong throughout, binding all the stories together into an opus.
I’d wholeheartedly recommend The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan to any reader with an interest in the Gothic, the supernatural or even just in a story collection that is slightly different than all the others. Her stories are shocking at times, but also beautiful. Kiernan pushes her reader’s boundaries but never beyond the point of no return. No matter how dark, there always seems to be a light.
If you're looking for the fantastic, the strange, something out of the ordinary, stop right here. Caitlin R. Kiernan is one of the very best and this is volume collects just some of the very of her short stories stories.
She will drop you into a scene, guide you around and then exit. Was that stage left? Who knows? And best of all, none of her stories seem alike. That's what sets her apart from the pack. Did I mention she's smart?
She's a gifted author as well.
If you've never read Caitlin Kiernan before this would be an excellent place to begin.
One of the things I've tried to do in recent years is expand my reading horizons. Yes, the bulk of my reading is science fiction, but even within that genre I've been branching out to works that in the past I would not have had an interest in reading. Many of these works are much more literary in nature, and while I don't necessarily seek them out, I don't shy away from them either (It could be argued that science fiction has been heading in a literary direction for years, and I don'tdisagree).
And while I prefer science fiction, I've discovered that every now and again I like to stick my toes in the water of horror and dark fiction. A few years ago one of the stories in this collection, "Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8) appears in one of Jonathan Strahan's Best of the Year anthologies, so when I was presented with the opportunity to read this collection of Kiernan's work I decided it was time to dive in (rather than just stick my toes in the water).
Kiernan's work is...stunning. It is dark and disturbing. It is horrifying and frightening. The characters are at once both repulsive and fascinating. And the stories are unconventional, in the sense that there isn't always a traditional story structure. Some of the stories are just scenes out of people's lives, a snapshot if you will. And they are all beautifully written and intensely compelling. And they *all* make you want to know just what it is that is going on inside Kiernan's head.
It took a while for the book to percolate within me before I wrote this review. I can tell you that I knew only that one story, so I didn't know what I was getting myself into. Once I finished, I wasn't sure what I'd just read, or whether I liked it or not. So it took a week or so to gestate. And after all that, I realized that I had been blown away.
"The Prayer of Ninety Cats" tells the tale of a movie critic watching an art house movie about the infamous Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess. I was completely unaware, until I'd read the story, that Bathory was an actual historical figure. Apparently the movie told us things about her that aren't in any of the official accounts of Bathory's life. The previously mentioned "Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)" follows a pair of twins as they travel the country, leaving butchered people in their wake. And yet, there is a sadness to it that makes the reader almost want to feel for the characters. "One Tree Hill (The World as Cataclysm)" follows a science journalist to a remote section of New Hampshire (as with "The Prayer of Ninety Cats", there is an element of realism with this story, as Kiernan provides latitude and longitude coordinates that actually exist in New Hampshire - I checked) who is investigating a weird occurrence of a lightning strike on a cloudless night up on a hill. What she finds is unsettling.
Those are three of the last four stories in the book, and they're all terrific. But outstanding stories are scattered
throughout the rest of the book as well. "The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean", one of the non-horror stories in the book, follows an art critic as he interviews an elderly woman who was a model for a series of mermaid paintings. "A Season of Broken Dolls" is one of the most disturbing stories (to me, anyway) in the collection. A reporter, at the urging of her girlfriend, goes to an "art" display of disturbing and grotesque pieces made of living humans. "The Ammonite Violin (Murder Ballad No. 4) (which leads me to wonder if Murder Ballads 1 through 3 and 5 through 7 have been written as well) is a fascinating look at a demented serial killer who creates violins from the remains of his victims. The collection leads off with "Andromeda Among the Stones", a Lovecraftian tale of what can best be described as a dysfunctional family. And "The Ape's Wife" just possibly gives you the answer to "whatever happened to Fay Wray?". "Galapagos" is a science fiction tale of a woman sent to investigate what happened to the ship Pilgrimage after it abandoned its mission and stopped responding to communications efforts. It is a combination of Alien and The Expanse that I found fascinating.
As I go through the collection I find that I want to summarize all the stories. "The Maltese Unicorn", "Fairy Tale of Wood Street", and "Hydrarguros" are fascinating tales - and quite frankly, I just love the titles. There are 20 stories here, and each one of them has something has something different to offer the reader. One thing that's true is that every last one of them is compelling and thought provoking.
However, I would state that it is clear from reading this book that Caitlin R. Kiernan's work is not for every one. It's very different in tone, style, and substance. Readers looking for traditional horror or dark fiction probably won't find what they're looking for here. However, if you're willing to stay with this stuff (and it isn't necessarily easy to do so), I'm pretty sure you'll come out the other side as a changed reader, a reader who will never be the same.
Recommended for those who like fantasy and science fiction with an edge to it.
This book took me a long time to read because every story was like reading a novel in and of itself. Not in that they were long, but Kiernan’s rich, immersive storytelling had me coming up for air after every ending. I stepped in and out of so many worlds between these pages, and when it was done, I needed time to sit and wrap my head around everything I’d just been through.
Their are skilled writers who inspire me to write, and there are skilled writers who make me step back and accept that I will just never be that talented, and Kiernan is one of the latter. The writing in this book is beautiful and captivating, even when the story is rough and full of grit.
If I had to give a criticism, it is that some of the endings did not feel entirely satisfying—like a thought half-finished that trails off—although I suspect that was intentional. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this collection.
I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan
by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Tachyon Publishing, San Francisco
4.8 / 5.0
If you enjoy brilliant written stories that are creepy, weird and dark.....in the best way.....Caitlin Kiernan is probably already an author you enjoy. This ia an excellent collection of some her best. I have been a fan since the 90's, and was so excited and pleased to receive this ARC.
My favorites were "Houses Under The Sea", "A Child's Guide To The Hollow Hills", "The Ape's Wife" and "The Maltese Unicorn", but all are well worth the read. I love this weirdness and would recommend this engrossing collection.
Thank you Tachyon Publishing for the ebook ARC for review.
Wow! I was entirely captivated from the first story to the last! Each story was completely different from one another. So much so that I forgot it was all by the same author(which is a good thing). Caitlin Kiernan has a beautiful writing style that leaves the reader wanting more. Her description of characters and their personalities is next level. I would recommend this book to anyone who thoroughly enjoys horror, adventure and fantasy. One of my newly loved authors for sure.
I’ve read a story or two from Kiernan over the years, but never read a novel or collection (and she has many of both). So when given the chance to check out her latest collection I figured it was high time to dive in. While most of the tales here are dark fantasy or sci-fi, almost all have elements of classic, sometimes extreme horror.
‘Andromeda Among the Stones’ is an apocalyptic Lovecraftian chiller set in California during WW1. An astrologer attempts to bring about the end after studying an ancient book he has taken home from the Middle East. His young daughter manages to keep him at bay with the help of her ghost mother and dying brother. One wicked opener...
In ‘La Peau Verte,’ Hannah turns to alcohol to deal with the death of her sister...or was her sister taken by mythical creatures? A wondrous dark fantasy and one of my faves of the collection.
‘Houses Under the Sea’ is the story of Jacova Angevine, a Berkeley Professor who has been fired after her controversial book is published. A man investigates her story, which leads to romance and an ancient cult. A great Lovecraftian piece to get the chills going.
In ‘Bradbury Weather,’ lovers are affected by a weird cult on Mars, and although sci-fi, this one is a psychological horror novella at its core. Loved it.
‘A Child’s Guide to the Hollow Hills’ is an inventive (and dark) look at a fairie’s fate.
In ‘The Ammonite Violin (Murder Ballad No. 4),’ a serial killer, who also happens to be a Collector, hires a woman violinist to play his new, custom made instrument. A couple of surprise twists made this one of the best of the lot.
In ‘A Season of Broken Dolls,’ a couple living in a post “micro-nuked” NYC manage their loose relationship over an extreme downtown art scene. Interesting but felt like part of a bigger story.
‘In View of Nothing,’ finds an assassin taken hostage during a future war somewhere in Asia. Told in future then past events, this sci-fi thriller is as weird as it is darkly suspenseful.
‘The Ape’s Wife’ features alternate versions of what could’ve become of Ann Darrow, the forced bride of KING KONG. And if like me, you’re a fan of the original film, this will be one of your favorites. Kiernan’s prose here is fantastic.
‘The Steam Dancer (1896)’ is a character study of a dancer and her mechanic husband who takes off one morning with her mechanical leg. Held my interest and ends on a melancholy note, but doesn’t really go anywhere.
In ‘Galapagos,’ a scientist from earth is called to check out a spaceship that has changed its course after encountering a bizarre alien “cloud.” She recounts her experience from a psychiatric clinic and this sci-fi head scratcher ends on an unexpected note.
‘Fish Bride (1970):’ A woman, who is turning into an aquatic being, falls in love with a man she knows can’t come with her. Reminiscent of classic mermaid tales yet quite different, this is a depressing look at loneliness, family and accepting one’s destiny.
‘The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean’ features an art journalist interviewing an elderly parapalegic woman who had modeled for a series of paintings by a late artist. As much a mystery as a fantasy, the author’s writing sings in this beautifully written collection highlight.
‘Hydrargurous,’ is another sci-fi tale about a drug transporter who’s convinced he keeps seeing people leaking an odd liquid. The ending had me a bit confused but the ride there was worth it.
In ‘The Maltese Unicorn,’ demons battle in Manhattan in an attempt to find a dildo (yes, a dildo) made from a unicorn horn. As funny as it sounds, this one is played straight (although there’s some dark humor—how can there not be?) and makes a way out there noir/Lovecraftian dark fantasy fans of weird tales will love.
‘Tidal Forces’ features my favorite ending of the collection, another dark fantasy about two women who live seaside when one develops a mysterious hole in her stomach that keeps expanding.
In ‘The Prayer of Ninety Cats,’ gothic horror is explored through a film about Countess Bathory who lives in her late husband’s castle. She now seems to prefer women over men, and stranger sexual fetishes, as she tortures victims. Despite her dwarf servant and believing her prayers will help, her destiny is literally sealed by members of the outraged state. Best of all, Kiernan managed to make this one interactive, if you will, putting the reader in the center of the story. Great stuff here.
‘One Tree Hill (The World as Cataclysm)’ finds a science journalist investigating a New England town where a home and its adjacent tree were struck by lightning. One of the spookier stories here, it reminded me a bit of 80s-era small town horror tales ALA Rick Hautala and TM Wright.
In ‘Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8),’ The Southwest becomes the killing grounds for two lesbian sisters in this nasty, sex-charged tale of mayhem.
And finally there’s ‘Fairy Tale of Wood Street,’ perhaps the strangest piece here (and that's really saying something), a dizzying account of a woman, returning from the restroom, observing what she sees from the back of a movie theater’s auditorium. The onscreen images hint the woman may or may not have a tail. Like a David Lynch film, the point of this one may decide to reveal itself to me (or any reader) at some point, but on this first read we’re with this woman and completely engrossed in the author’s odd visions and narrative.
These are 20 previously published stories, so this might not be of much interest to long time fans. But for this newbie, it has made me a fan, and a big one at that. Kiernan is easily one of the best writers of weird fiction working today and I'm looking forward to digging into her catalog.
(The Horror Fiction Review, 1./28/19)
The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan is a collection of stories that defies expectation. You’ll find fantasies to startle and impress the imagination. Horrors to shock and enthrall you. Most importantly, you’ll find a brilliant writer that gives you every detail, no matter how gruesome or grotesque. Kiernan’s talent oozes off the page, forcing itself into your mind, leaving you startled by how skilled one person could be. The stories gave me chills at times, and I was in awe of these strings of words that acted more like spells than stories. It’s a collection to be read and savored.
Full review at: https://reviewsandrobots.com/2019/02/01/the-very-best-of-caitlin-r-kiernan-book-review/(opens in a new tab)
A deliciously unsettling group of stories on a wide range of subjects -- sort of sci fi, sort of realism tinged with elements of horror... Can't wait to read more Caitlin Kiernan -- why haven't I heard about this author before?
I don't know why I haven't read anything previously by Caitlin R. Kiernan! Her writing is beautiful and really draws you into the stories. This book is a collection of short stories. The stories range from sci-fi to full out horror. There is a darkness to her writing style that really gives these stories an edge. I will definitely have to check out more by her!!
Thank you to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for this ARC.
Picking up this collection of stories was like being given a traditional quilt as a present. Each square a unique story with its own narrative meaning. A piece of craftsmanship you can spend many happy hours examining, thinking about the history of the fabrics and the story each has to tell you. Once you have worked your way through the entire piece, you begin all over again noticing the embellishments of stitch work you might not have seen before, thus renewing the pleasure of your acquaintance.
Caitlín Kiernan slips comfortably between the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, as well as modern nods to epic Gothic horror, at times melding them all together. If you like something dark and unsettling this is the collection for you. Put The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan down for a moment and you will feel the need to keep looking over your shoulder, or find yourself waking up with a sudden start in the middle of the night.
Creating a nagging sense of disquiet is something the author is very skilled at. Stories which slowly detach themselves from reality abound. There are also those which have no connection at all, but because the narrative is divorced from physical reality, there is always the psychology to work on, which Kiernan does ruthlessly, leaving the reader with the sense that they are reading something which might just swallow them whole and not bother to spit them out.
The collection is an excellent example of someone capable of consummate worldbuilding within a limited word count, resulting in the feeling of experiencing a bite-sized epic.
I’d never read any of Kiernan’s work until now, but this collection has certainly made me very interested in her writing, so I will hunt out her backlist and be on the lookout for any new work.
Caitlín R. Kiernan is amazing as always.
Beautiful short stories, beautiful book.
Have recommended it to our stores.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.