Stephen King, Bentley Little, Whitley Strieber, et al,
From the Borderlands: Stories of Terror & Madness
(Warner, 2004)

In the early to mid-1990s, White Wolf (oh, how I miss their original fiction line) published a set of four anthologies under the title of Borderlands. The only real rule was that there weren't any rules. Authors were encouraged to experiment. Cliches and common subject matter were to be avoided. These turned out to be four of the best collections of dark fiction ever published. The stories were original, diverse and memorable.

After a nine-year gap, this fifth anthology finally appeared. What a disappointment.

From the Borderlands is filled with rambling, forgettable, often incoherent rubbish. The ubiquitous Bentley Little, an author who has essentially built a career on writing the same novel over and over, seems to think he can put any kind of bizarre nonsense down on paper and get it published. Unfortunately for us, he's right. (Little is the only author to have appeared in all five anthologies.) His piece appears to have been transcribed directly from a bad dream he might have had. It makes no sense -- an absolute head-scratcher. Far too many of the stories are like this. The worst are both incoherent and tedious, like Barbara Malenky's "A Thing," whose narrator is barely literate.

Seeing the editors gush praise about each entry in the introductions only adds insult. I actually thought the Monteleones must have been on drugs when they read for this volume. Out of 25 stories, only a few are worth a look:

"Rami Temporalis" by Gary Braunbeck: Joel has one of those faces, the kind anyone can trust, even a complete stranger. One day, he finds out why. Though the ending is anticlimactic considering the grand nature of what is revealed, this story involves a truly interesting philosophical idea and is exactly the kind of imaginative tale that should appear in these books.

"N0072-JK1" by Adam Corbin Fusco: I'm a sucker for stories that are done as scientific transcripts. You know that they are gradually building to something awful but you can't stop reading -- the horror story in its purest form. The deeper unease, I think, comes from knowing that humans are, in fact, capable of doing terrible things in the name of research, and that maybe it isn't far-fetched at all. This one involves a study of the nature of tickling, one that leads to sinister and disturbing conclusions.

"Infliction" by John McIlveen: A delinquent father goes in search of his runaway daughter and finds that sometimes the only way to erase old scars is to create new ones.

"Around It Still the Sumac Grows" by Tom Piccirilli: A man returns to his high school after 20 years to retrieve something he left behind. Piccirilli's tales usually have a surreal quality to them, but not so much that you feel like he's blowing hot air (which is how I felt about most of the stories here.) Besides, I've revisited my old school many years later as well, and it is indeed a surreal experience.

Collections like this make me sad, this one even more so because I'm aware of the potential it had. Borderlands No. 5 is largely a waste of time. I hope the good stories get reprinted somewhere else.

review by
Scott Promish

9 February 2008

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