Macabre (2010)

Sex :
Violence :
Editors Angela Challis, Dr Marty Young
Publisher Brimstone Press
Length 672 pages
Genre Collection
Blurb A Journey Through Australia's Darkest Fears

Disclaimer: Please note this review reflects the opinion of the team at ScaryMinds and should in no way be construed as representing the views of the AHWA Shadows Award Judges. This review is for the edification of ScaryMinds readers and does not constitute a “literary criticism” or any other criteria the Shadows Judging panel may take this year.

While I'm personally involved in the Shadows Awards this year I would point out that my review following in no way reflects my opinion of the source material from an Awards perspective.


“Headless zombie communists, must have caused quite a stir.” - Rebecca

Editors Challis and Young present the reader with an ambitious collection of 38 stories covering the complete history of Australian dark genre writing from Colonial days right up to the present. As well we get an introduction by Dr Marty Young giving a brief history of horror writing in Australia and the book rounds up with a timeline of horror prose in this country. At the very least the collection presents a valuable resource for students of Australian dark fiction, of course there is also the fact that there are some pretty good yarns enclosed between the covers for anyone after something to supplement their reading list.

The collection is broken down into three logical sections. Classics (1836 – 1979), Modern Masters (1980 – 2000), and The New Era (2000 - ). Within each section are a selection of, I would guess, Authors who made in an impact during the section's timeline or who are indicative of the style of narrative being produced. While some selections, or lack of selection, might surprise, each story has merit and is worthy of inclusion. Of course I'm not going to say there wont be arguments over the Authors included, but at least in the case of the first two sections the major figures of the periods are pretty much all there.

There's a weird feeling when you pick up a book that includes the iconic Henry Lawson alongside dark genre heavy weights Robert Hood, Kaaron Warren, and matches in the relatively new voices of Martin Livings, Kirstyn McDermott, and Shane Jiraiya Cummings. And that's just the tip of the knife blade with a lot of other recognisable names in the mix. So yes it's an eclectic collection that travels across the spectrum of horror giving an excellent introduction to dark genre writing Down Under. If you ever wondered why horror from this region is getting noticed in the major foreign markets then Macabre provides an excellent sampler. It's like a lucky dip really, except there aren't any dud prizes waiting to catch out the unwary.

Editors Challis and Young have presented the most ambitious to date collection of dark fiction writing to hit book stores.

Of special note, and I found this highly amusing, the Henry Lawson story The Ghostly Door is set in New Zealand and features a hut with a door to an alternative reality. So yes there are some surprises hiding in the thickets with this collection. As the saying goes expect the unexpected and you should be right.

Before each story we get a brief bio of the story Author and more importantly what impact they have had on the dark genre in this part of the World. The collection does include the odd Kiwi, Paul Haines for example. Where possible any web sites for individual Authors are included, which should allow the reader to get more information about an Author and of course additional published works. The bios are about the right length, giving as much information as needed without over staying their welcome. Makes for some interesting reading and pretty much covers all the ground that needs covering.

The collection is worth the price of admission for Down Under horror scholars on the strength of Dr Marty Young's essay on the history of the dark genre in Australia that kicks off the book. It's pretty comprehensive and I certainly learnt a few things I didn't know via reading it. I hate to think how much research went into producing one of the great dark genre non-fiction pieces yet published. There's the added bonus of an Australian Horror Fiction Timeline which rounds out the book for those interested in dates and facts. Macabre has your bases covered both with the included fiction and the non-fiction sections.

While it would be churlish to highlight individual stories in a collection devoted to the study of Australian dark genre writing I still think a number of included pieces are of particular interest. John Lang's Fisher's Ghost: A Legend of Campbelltown (1836) is perhaps the best known “true” Australian ghost story but is surprisingly difficult to find in collections from Down Under, no doubt due to Publishers being concerned about the archaic language in use. David Unaipon's Yara Ma Tha Who (1923) shows that while Film makers in this Country are more concerned with European notions of the vampire, at least some indigenous writers were happy enough to write about the home grown variety. I would image Unaipon's vamp doesn't sparkle in the daylight. Rough Trade (1994) by Robert Hood is pretty much a classic Australian horror yarn and I was well pleased by it's inclusion in the collection. And of course what Australian collection would be complete without the almost obligatory inclusion of a Kaaron Warren story, here A Positive (1997) is the inclusion.

Most readers I would imagine would be highly anticipating The New Era section to see what the modern golden age of dark genre writing is delivering. Macabre has your back here with almost all major horror writers currently working included. I was surprised Felicity Dowker wasn't included, but then I don't edit books and Ms Dowker's work may not have fitted in with the overall pacing of the section. For new readers to Australian horror fiction, Paul Haines, Will Elliot, Bob Franklin, Shane Jiraiya Cummings, Kirstyn McDermott, Stephen M. Irwin, Kyla Ward, and Martin Livings, are all producing outrageously good prose currently. Clearly the future of the genre is in very good hands.

When Macabre arrived in my hands via post I was wondering if the package contained a house brick rather than the promised Brimstone Press collection. The books is huge, an undoubted must have for your bookshelf, and presents as an ambitious project that Editors Challis and Young have managed to pull off with a high degree of polish. Macabre presents value for money on any of a number of levels. As a sampler of Aussie dark fiction, as a historic record of the development of the dark genre in Australia, and as simply a good book to have at hand. Full recommendation, I had a lot of fun checking through the contents and am pleased to have some hard to find classics now available to me.

Macabre is available from Brimstone Press' site right here. The collection will set you back, at time of writing, $33 plus P&H, which represents value for money.

ScaryMinds Rates this read as ...

  The must have collection of 2010 or any year for that matter.