By Ellen Datlow
Author Website: datlow(.)com
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Caro
Body Shocks is an anthology of short body horror stories with different levels of gruesome, ranging from serial killers to psychological horror. As the book progresses, the stories become even better. I really liked several of the themes used in the stories, such as motels in the middle of nowhere, couture designers and their models, female metamorphosing into better or worse versions of themselves, friendships gone wrong, experiments on the human body, and much more. In addition, the stories’ lengths and styles make them more interesting depending on the theme.
All in all, very good horror stories I will be rereading and thinking about when I least expect it. A recommendation to any horror aficionado and to those looking for horror authors to follow. Here are some special mentions:
Toother by Terry Dowling – Toother is about a serial killer collector of teeth, and a group of people trying to capture him. One in the group has a special connection with the serial killer through dreams, which he later transcripts and uses as clues to figure out his next victim or any whereabouts. This story was too short for my liking. Although a horror story, it had all the elements of a good mystery with a touch of gore. I liked how the dreams were turned and narrated as transcripts, almost like listening to a radio show. The ending keeps you at the edge of your seat wanting more of the Toother. Definitely a must read.
Painlessness by Kirstyn McDermott – The beginning of this story can be very relatable to life. Sometimes you just don’t want to get out of bed and go to work. But then we learn of the next door girl’s secret life, and everything seems more interesting. In Painlessness Faith meets Mara, a woman who gives and fulfills other’s fantasies, but sometimes it can get a little too rough, and it becomes too much for the body. Painlessness opens the door to body horror in this anthology with a great start. It was interesting hearing Mara talk about herself, but it was more interesting seeing her through Faith’s eyes. Another story I wouldn’t mind reading more about.
You Go Where It Takes You by Nathan Ballingrud – Throughout the anthology there are stories about parents and children, this particular one shows a young mother who didn’t have a chance at life. Her job doesn’t pay much, the child’s father left, and the town she lives in doesn’t have much to offer either. One day a stranger appears, he shows her how he can change his skin and to his surprise, it catches her attention more than being afraid. What she decides to do next, I did not expect. One thing I liked about this story was the child’s perspective of the whole situation, her view of her father and any man approaching her mother. So curious to know more about her perspective.
A Positive by Kaaron Warren – One of my favorite stories in this anthology! A good redemption to the savior sibling, in this case savior son. A couple so in love that they only needed themselves, until one day the husband becomes sick. After seeing every doctor possible, one finally gives them the solution they need, a child that can provide what the father needs in order to be healthy once more and enjoy life with his wife. But eventually time catches up with everyone. More than body horror, this story is pure horror inflicted on the son by parents only caring for themselves. Recommended.
Atwater by Cody Goodfellow – In this story, a man is late for an interview, lost on the highway and makes a wrong turn. What he finds in the middle of LA, no one could have imagined. The only way to describe this story is as a Salvador Dali painting, very surrealistic. You have to read it calmly and with no distractions because of all the creatures and descriptions that later are explained. Unfortunately, I will always think about this story whenever I’m driving.
Cinereous by Livia Llewellyn – This story is set in Paris in 1799. Olympe is an assistant in an unnamed building. In this building they conduct experiments on what Olympe and the others call Les enfants sauvages. Olympe is very proud of her position and aspires to be more. She secretly takes notes of the experiments and anything she thinks is important. The outside world has no idea of what Olympe and her coworkers do inside the building. One day, Olympe is tasked to help her teammate with an unusual sauvage, but things get out of control. Another story I wouldn’t mind being a little longer in a 1700’s horror Paris. The horror Gothic/Renaissance aesthetic would be very interesting.
The Truth That Lies Under Skin and Meat by Cassandra Khaw – This story is shorter than the others, but very interesting to read. The style is more along the lines of a transcript or telephone conversation between bickering characters. I also liked the descriptions at the beginning of paragraphs that tell you what one of the characters is always doing. I do wish I knew more about the characters’ backstory.
Natural Skin by Alyssa Wong – This is a story of envy and the price it takes to resemble someone. In this futuristic world there are two types of people: those of Natural Status and those with bodily modifications. Xuemei is playing to be both, but she first has to remove some obstacles in order to become just one. I didn’t expect the twist at the end for this story, definitely chilling.
The Lake by Tananarive Due – “Not supposed to swim in the lake in summer.” This story, like many others in this book, is about women transforming and embracing their animal instincts. Another aspect I liked about this story was the main characters’ journey, she’s alone in a new town, home, and workplace. She has to figure out a new life, which is always terrifying for anyone, but she has to go through an additional transition and transformation.
Spores by Seanan McGuire – Megan works at a bio lab, where her OCD helps her keep everything tidy and clean. One night she sees mold in her home’s kitchen and panics. Why is it growing so fast in a home she keeps super clean? How did it get there and where did it come from? Megan has reasons to panic. Seanan McGuire did it again. She delivered a story that will haunt me anytime I eat fruit. Fairies, mermaids, lost children, and now fruit. Do I want more of this story? Yes. Definitely a must read.
Skin City by Gemma Files – In this story, a girl gains the ability to detach herself from her skin becoming dangerous to those around her. A detail I really liked from this story was characters describing the smell coming from the main girl. Very chilling when you think about what’s under your skin.
Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma – Kath and Ami are sisters. They each have daughters. People know them as Kenny’s princesses, but Kathy wants nothing to do with him. Years go by and the sister’s daughters grow. Lola has always taken care of Tallulah, ever since she was a baby. But one day Kenny returns, taking Kathy and Lola away from Ami and Tallulah. What Lola learns next is a beautiful twist on female snake folklore. A wonderful short story, but I wouldn’t mind knowing more about this world and all the girls in it.
Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Report by Michael Blumlein – the last story in this anthology is one to admire. Beautifully redacted as a medical report, you really don’t expect the ending. And then, the chart at the end gives a description of the results. That’s when you realize what you just read.
Table of Contents:
- The Travelers Stay by Ray Cluley
- Toother by Terry Dowling
- Painlessness by Kirstyn McDermott
- You Go Where It Takes You by Nathan Ballingrud
- A Positive by Kaaron Warren
- La Beauté sans verte by Genevieve Valentine
- Subsumption by Lucy Taylor
- Spar by Kij Johnson
- It Was the Heat by Pat Cadigan
- Atwater by Cody Goodfellow
- The Transfer by Edward Bryant
- Welcome to Mengele’s by Simon Bestwick
- Black Neurology: A Love Story by Richard Kadrey
- Cuckoo by Angela Slatter
- Cinereous by Livia Llewellyn
- The Truth That Lies Under Skin and Meat by Cassandra Khaw
- Natural Skin by Alyssa Wong
- The Lake by Tananarive Due
- I’m Always Here by Richard Christian Matheson
- The Look by Christopher Fowler
- The Old Women Who Were Skinned by Carmen Maria Machado
- Spores by Seanan McGuire
- Sweet Subtleties by Lisa L. Hannett
- Elegy For a Suicide by Caitlín R. Kiernan
- Skin City by Gemma Files
- A True Friend by Brian Evenson
- What I Found in the Shed by Tom Johnstone
- Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma
- Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Report by Michael Blumlein