Shining In The Dark: Celebrating Twenty Years of Lilja’s Library!: Edited by Hans-Åke Lilja
Reviewed by Brian Bogart
Collections like this can be a mixed bag- some collections nail diversity, sacrificing quality. Some try to keep a common theme running throughout. Some take an offhanded approach, tossing them together for the sake of collecting.
There is part of me that struggles how to categorize this collection easily. I guess I won’t bother. I’ll grind that axe another day and just approach the stories themselves, instead.
Anybody that knows me, knows that I’m a huge King fan, the good and the not-so-good. I’ve followed Liljas Library online since I can remember. He’s an even bigger fan than most could claim and has been running that website voraciously and has always been a constant in the King Multiverse of Websites.
His short intro is enthusiastic and his joy at the assembling of this book gives a peek into his love of King. Fanboy or not, you can’t deny his passion and dedication.
Here we have a collection of short stories, not necessarily in the “style” of King, but earnest storytelling with a dash of horror sprinkled throughout. We open with the rarely published King story, “The Blue Air Compressor”.
Funny enough, this may actually be the weakest story here. Here’s King’s own words, smack dab in the middle of the story, tearing down that fourth wall for everyone to either enjoy or cringe at (given a large portion of readers’ opinions on his personal appearance in THE DARK TOWER series).
“My own name, of course, is Steve King, and you’ll pardon my intrusion on your mind—or I hope you will. I could argue that the drawing aside of the curtain of presumption between reader and author is permissible because I am the writer: i.e., since it’s my story I’ll do any goddam thing I please with it—but since that leaves the reader out of it completely, that is not valid. Rule One for all writers is that the teller is not worth a tin tinker’s fart when compared to the listener. Let us drop the matter, if we may. I am intruding for the same reason that the Pope defecates: we both have to.
You should know that Gerald Nately was never brought to the dock; his crime was not discovered. He paid all the same. After writing four twisted, monumental, misunderstood novels, he cut his own head off with an ivory-figured guillotine purchased in Kowloon.
I invented him first during a moment of eight o’clock boredom in a class taught by Carroll F. Terrell of the University of Maine English faculty. Dr. Terrell was speaking of Edgar A. Poe, and I thought
ivory guillotine Kowloon
twisted woman of shadows, like a pig
some big house”
What’s interesting to me, is how this reads almost like an experiment, some strange kind of wink and nod to his English classmates, for his own amusement. It is an old story (1971)- and if I view it through that lens- and temper that lens with some theory craft about the possible stirrings of King daydreaming about breaking immersion as the creator of a universe even before The Dark Tower- it doesn’t change the fact that there isn’t much here. An EC comics style tale winking at Poe’s own tale of a beating heart- and nothing else. What it does accomplish, when viewing it that way: it makes it more interesting and a nice little sliver of history, despite its failings.
I’ve spent the majority of this review highlighting King’s tale, but only because this collection is aimed at King fans. Don’t let some missteps by a young King put you off. Think of it as a prelude to better stories ahead.
We have The Net by Jack Ketchum & P.D. Cacek, which is spun with the online conversations between a man and a woman, two lonely people connecting and building up to finally meeting in person. It brought to mind my own early days of the internet and some conversations with strangers, women in particular, and never knowing who it was behind that screen. You never do know- and sometimes- it’s too late.
The Novel of the Holocaust from Stewart O’ Nan, gives us a peek at success in the publishing world, fame and the lingering doubts that arise when we fictionalize, despite the glory in all of that attention. Do we keep that mask firmly in place or do we let it slip? The camera’s rolling and the interview starts in 3,2 and 1….
Bev Vincent brings us Aeliana, a short excursion about carnal necessity and survival.
Clive Barker has a rare story included, Pidgin and Theresa. It’s a story of angels and apotheosis- and I was so glad to have finally read it. It is written wonderfully, and a somber little bit of fiction. High-thinking with a bit of filth. Think that describes Barker, in a nutshell. And I mean that in the best of ways, naturally,
“The seed of rot she had sown in Raymond’s flesh did not cease to spread on her passing. He was withering into shit, and nothing could stop the process. By the time Pidgin and Theresa reached him he was little more than a head in a spreading pool of excrement. But he seemed happy enough.”
An End to All Things by Brian Keene, is a depressive and sad glimpse at a man who wishes he was stronger but instead, just waits and wishes. Sad and effective. Grey skies forecasted- the whole damn year.
Richard Chizmar works up a beautifully written scene that evokes loss and paints images easily in my mind, entitled- what else?- Cemetery Dance. Loved it.
What else? The phrase “moth to a flame” gets some attention from Kevin Quigley. Ramsey Campbell follows the spilling thoughts and hurried footsteps at a fairground. Brian James Freeman conjures a story that is so bloody simple that it lingers despite the shortage of words. Add in Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart because- well, it’s Poe. Always a good time for Poe. Plus, it sort of ties to King’s previous story a bit.
The Keeper’s Companion by John Ajvide Lindqvist brings the collection to a close, with Lovecraftian paint strokes tinged with madness.
The success of a short story is sometimes reflected in how much you wished, upon closing the book, that the author expanded upon it. Sometimes. Other instances, it’s based on how effectively they conveyed the whole in its few pages. Some are nothing more than a scene, maybe two- a moment in the life, as they say. Personal taste plays a big role, on which is more important.
“Hi, horror lovers. Brian Bogart here. Yeah, you probably don’t know me. Maybe one day you will. Bit of a writer myself, so I’ll just say stranger things have happened. I may have even written such things in my own excursions. But enough about that.
I hope you’ll forgive this intrusion but I am the reviewer, and I can’t stand this part. The part where I start to babble, run in a circle (widdershins, mind you), chasing my own thoughts and putting them to the page. The part where I teeter precariously on the fence, trying to arbitrarily build suspense for my final score. Oh and as said reviewer, I’ll do anything I want. (How am I doing, Uncle Steve?)
It’s exhausting for me. Hell, it might be for you. Forgive this bit of literary reviewer indulgence, while I tally the scores for each tale independently and then do the dreaded maths that come along with the final score.
Okay, okay. I’ll position the curtain back. I just wanted to see what it was like to pull off a similar move, like Stephen King does in the first story.
And you know what?
This was pretty damn fun, professional or not. Maybe that’s the whole point, sometimes. Literary tomfoolery as its own reward.
As I was saying, before the daily meds needed redistribution – The Score.
This is a decent collection. It’s not going to set the world aflame, but these stories do have enough spark to warm the hearts of its target audience and perhaps ignite some writing of their own. Not all of the stories are equal- hell, stories never have been- but there are some good ones in these pages. It’s not the darkest, the most horror-filled or the most chilling collection on the market, but contains some great writers and some rare material, seldom seen anywhere else.
For fans and collectors- this makes a great addition. The beautiful “Marv” artwork on the cover helps make it look great on any shelf, too.
Library Policeman be damned…. Here’s to many more years with Lilja’s Library.
Star Rating (out of 5): 3.75*
Hans-Ake Lilja, founder of Lilja’s Library, has compiled a brand new anthology of horror stories to help celebrate twenty years of running the #1 Stephen King news website on the web!
This anthology includes both original stories like the brand new novella by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In), very rare reprints like “The Blue Air Compressor” (a LONG LOST Stephen King story that has never appeared in any of his collections and hasn’t seen print anywhere since 1981), and at least one classic tale that inspired Lilja’s love of the macabre at a very young age!
An exclusive Cemetery Dance Publications release, there are no other editions planned anywhere in the world for this incredible anthology!
Brian Bogart is an American author of dark fiction and horror/fantasy. He has written stories most of his life and has been a fan of the genre since the age of seven. His approach to storytelling is a tad macabre at times but tries to capture the nuances of the humanity and sometimes, inhumanity, beneath the surface. He supports the horror community with bloodied open arms and demonic vigor.
Dream Darkly and Keep Writing.
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