Monday, March 23, 2009

Review: Tainted - Tales Of Terror And The Supernatural

Edited by Aaron Polson
Published by Strange Publications 2008

I was one of the lucky ones and if you wish to be counted among their number as well, then you’ll read no further of this review, for it may colour your thoughts and forewarn you of that which lies in wait between the covers of this anthology.

I missed the announcement for submissions to this anthology so I never read the guidelines. I was unaware of what Mr Polson wanted when he compiled this book. In hindsight this was a good thing. I came to read the stories contained herein with no preconceived ideas and if you wish to experience the same wonderful delight I did, then you’ll stop reading this now, and start reading Tainted: Tales of terror and the supernatural.

For those of you who have had the good fortune to have already consumed the offering or for those of you brave enough to have continued to read my ramblings, then here is what I thought of the anthology.

Inspired by the masters of the macabre in times gone past: namely Messer’s Poe, Blackwood, Beirce, Wells, and Benson, Aaron Polson has gathered together eight tales of terror and the supernatural by modern day counterparts, and just to prove how faithful they have been, he has included Beirce’s ‘The Boarded Window’, Benson’s ‘The Caterpillars, Blackwood’s ‘The Empty House’ (my personal favourite), H.G. Wells’ ‘The Red Room, and finally Poe’s ‘The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.

The modern day weavers of words manage to hold true to all that was esteemed wonderful in literary fiction before these tales of woe warranted a sub-genre of their own. It’s true I knew nothing of the requirement to style tales after a master when I first began reading them, and commented to the editor how surprised I was at how mainstream the fiction came across.

From all the selected new stories, I most admired three. In the order they appear in the book, they are:

Fish balls and Mushrooms by Natalie L Sin – a wonderfully told tale which takes us out of the traditional English or quaint American town the masters wrote about, but maintained their style and technique. A wonderfully chilling tale, externalising how envy eats one young man while his friend succeeds. The narratives and descriptions are wonderfully rendered while the tension is layered on thickly in the classic manner.

The Lion Roared by Jodi Lee was another favourite although in this I could be biased. Give me a well told story containing the unbridled creepiness of child ghosts and I’m putty in the author’s hands.

Lastly, The Tethering by W.D. Prescott made me look twice to see if I’d mistakenly left one of the masters off the list. His emulation of the style and technique in character voice and setting so mirrored those he was asked to, I was taken aback.

Blackwood’s modern counterpart ‘Station Thirteen’ by Camille Alexa arrived in a very close fourth on my list of the modern favourites, and deserves a mention here, as I had to unduly mark her against my favourite tale in the entire collection.

I am yet to find a book without the telltale sign of a flawed link and most of the way through this wonderfully presented publication I thought I’d finally found my grail, but, alas, Carmine Skeptic failed me. The writing was solid and faithful as was required, but the detail too closely matched H.G. Wells’ offering. Being alongside the master’s work only highlighted the lack of real creativity here, which I’m sure Ms Pyne is more than capable of accomplishing as witnessed by her impressive list of past writing credits. It is a good tale, just not as original as the others so in being a blemish, it is really only the slightest of smudges, but I would be remiss if I were not truthful in all my undertakings.

Overall, I heartily recommend this publication in becoming part of your library, and further more to be read quietly in the confines of a comfortable chair beside a welcoming hearth when the weather without is foul and disquieting – preferably with lots of lightning and thunderous applause.

This book earns an easy 4 from 6 on my scale, very nearly reaching a 5 (and I would recommend a 4/5 on the Amazon scale). It missed gaining the higher scale only due to the failure to stir any sense of real dread in me. Only one story managed that within its shiny cover: Algernon Blackwood’s ‘The Empty House’, but then writers of his ilk have earned the title for a reason.

I believe Aaron Polson has done well in gathering some of our potential master’s of future literary works. Due diligence is required to watch their rising fortunes.


  1. You picked my top three stories as well. I would have put Jodi Lee's story first, just barely, in front of Nat's. Nat's has left a more nasty impression in my mind however. (A lot of her stories do that to me, just find a crevice in my mind and lodge themselves there only to turn up in memories at random times. The sign of a good writer I believe.)

  2. I'm glad you like the anthology : ) Aaron is an amazing editor, I was smitten with the anthology as soon as I saw it on Duotrope!

    Once again, I am humbled to find that my recurring fear that people don't want to read about Hong Kong was unfounded.

  3. Jamie - Due to me knowing the author of at least one of my favourites, I refuse to rank them in any order of preference. I've listed them in the order they are in the anthology. Nat, Jodi, & WD were in my top three - in no particular order ;c)

    Nat - I think the fact it was in Hong Kong made it stand out just that much more - well done and congratulations.

    It seems the review has had some positive feedback as well. I'm glad people liked it.

  4. Interesting review, BT, you have me intrigued. I'm going to order a copy of Tainted.

  5. I'm really happy everyone is enjoying the anthology and my first published story. Natalie's story is a wonderful tale, one of the better short stories I have read from a horror author, living or dead, in a long time. Just have one request if you don't ming, but could you change the link from the Facebook page to my website: Thank you for wonderful review and I hope you enjoy the many stories festering in my brain soon.

    W. D.

  6. I don't ming at all - done as requested.

    I look forward to reading more. In fact I'll be particularly interested to read something in your own voice rather than having to emulate the old masters.

    Until next time...