2010s, 2016, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Dark Regions Press, Darrell Schweitzer, David Barker, Donald Tyson, dream/nightmare, Edgar Allan Poe, Gemma Files, H.P. Lovecraft, Horror, Jason V Brock, John Langan, John Shirley, Jonathan Thomas, Nancy Kilpatrick, Ramsey Campbell, Reggie Oliver, Richard Gavin, S.T. Joshi, Simon Strantzas, Stephen Woodworth, Steve Rasnic Tem, W. H. Pugmire, weird fiction
S. T. Joshi has established himself as a leading figure in the study of weird fiction, from his literary criticism, his acclaimed bibliographies (of Lovecraft, Bierce, Dunsany, and others), and the many anthologies and collections he’s edited over the years. One of his newest anthologies is Nightmare’s Realm from Dark Regions Press, collecting 17 original tales about dreams and nightmares—a common theme in weird fiction, as evident by the prologue and epilogue, poems by Poe and Lovecraft. Joshi has assembled some of the best voices from the genre today to write these tales of terror and madness.
Dreams, by nature, are baffling and mercurial, layered metaphors from deep within the dreamer’s mind. Many of these tales are similarly odd or obscure, following their own obtuse logic through surreal landscapes. Jason Brock’s “Kafkaesque” is a dark comedy full of surreal landscapes echoing its namesake, as the protagonist—a writer—dreams that he’s been recruited him to tell one last, great story by Kafka himself, descending through a series of Kafkaesque realms on this epic quest. The story is as evocative as it is compelling, and I was hooked, eager to see what strange new environs the protagonist would wander into next. Steve Rasnic Tem’s excellent “The Wake” sees a man fall asleep at his father’s wake, only to slip into a dreamscape where the dead man walks. Tem somehow captures the quintessential feel of a dream, with the protagonist following the dream’s flow and adhering to its unique dream-logic as he meanders through this strange wake.
Other stories are set in the borderland where dream and reality are intermingled, entwined, and inseparable. Ramsey Campbell’s “The Dreamed” follows a tourist on holiday in Greece, whose passport was switched with another passenger’s by mistake. Despite his fitful nights of half-sleep in his sweaty motel room, and the apathy of the staff who barely speak English, he tries to adhere to his travel itinerary, crossing paths with the man whose passport was exchanged with his—a man who looks more familiar with each passing day. A looming sense of dread pervades the story, along with a cramped, trapped tension. John Shirley’s “Dreams Downstream” shows the dangers of technology: the rollout of a new, untested high-tech communications array causes mass hallucinations, the subconscious turned into audio-visual apparitions that run amok across suburbia.
Then there’s the stories that echo the . David Barker’s “Beneath the Veil” could have been ripped straight from an 1890s ghost story collection, with its ornate language and structure. It’s about a man who’s had two vivid dreams, in one marrying a beautiful bride and the other marrying a withered corpse; he wakes, wondering which dream was real and which one a figment of his imagination. Donald Tyson’s dark and sinister “The Art of Memory” has a Victorian scholar studying memory, but as he delves deeper into his own psyche he finds that the mind represses some memories for a reason. W. H. Pugmire’s “The Barrier Between” is also very evocative of classic weird fiction, but has a distinctive modern-day setting, where a photographer stages an artsy photo-shoot in front of a gnarled, freakish old tree that holds true horror inside it. His reality begins to bend, replaced with rot and carnage.
And, of course, there are stories of dream therapists and the darker things that lurk in dreams. Gemma Files wrote an excellent tale in “Sleep Hygiene,” invoking the invasive unease when a sleeper’s dream-landscape is invaded by something unknown and sinister. Confronting this invader reveals dark truths that didn’t even exist in the sleeper’s mind, something left from the therapist’s earlier methods. In “The City of Sharp Edges” by Stephen Woodworth, we find a unique conundrum, for our sleeper is a blind man trapped in a labyrinthine maze of sharp corners and jagged pits, with some bellowing beast that continues to follow him. Woodworth has come up with a great idea, conveying great terror not just from the strangeness of the dream but from the protagonist’s inability to see any of it.
Overall, Nightmare’s Realm is an impressive anthology; one or two of the stories didn’t work for me, but overall the quality is quite high, and the imagination on display is unchecked and limitless. Dream makes for an excellent theme as well, and not a single story wastes that theme’s promise or potential. Yet the stories are also wide-ranging and varied, and while every one of them deals with dreams, only a few of the stories share any similarities. Nightmare’s Realm is an excellent anthology, one of the best that I’ve read this year. I highly it to any readers of weird fiction, dark fantasy, or horror who don’t mind that this volume of weird dreams may cause nightmares.
The signed and limited hardcover of Nightmare’s Realm is available now for preorder, which includes a free immediate download of the eBook. Trade paperback and eBook editions are also available for preorder now. I received an advance review copy from the publisher in exchange for this review.
Nightmare’s Realm Table of Contents
- Introduction by S. T. Joshi
- Prologue: To a Dreamer by H. P. Lovecraft (1920)
- The Dreamed by Ramsey Campbell
- A Predicament by Darrell Schweitzer
- Kafkaesque by Jason V Brock
- Beneath the Veil by David Barker
- Dreams Downstream by John Shirley
- Death-Dreaming by Nancy Kilpatrick
- Cast Lots by Richard Gavin
- The Wake by Steve Rasnic Tem
- Dead Letter Office by Caitlín R. Kiernan
- The Art of Memory by Donald Tyson
- What You Do Not Bring Forth by John Langan
- The Barrier Between by W. H. Pugmire
- Sleep Hygiene by Gemma Files
- Purging Mom by Jonathan Thomas
- The Fifth Stone by Simon Strantzas
- In the City of Sharp Edges by Stephen Woodworth
- An Actor’s Nightmare by Reggie Oliver
- Epilogue: Dream-Land by Edgar Allan Poe (1844)
Title: Nightmare’s Realm: New Tales of the Weird & Fantastic
Editor: S.T. Joshi
First Published: 22 November 2016
What I Read: Dark Regions Press ebook
Price I Paid: $0 (e-ARC via publisher)
MSRP: $150 signed ltd hc / $25 tpb / $9 ebook