Book Review: A Rainbow of Horror Anthologies

Just in time for Halloween, “Queers Destroy Horror!” by “Nightmare Magazine” slashes the trend of horror’s domination by straight, white, males with a collection of short fiction, poetry and nonfiction by a collection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer authors.

“Queers Destroy Horror!” is the latest book in the Destroy All Genres Project, “Nightmare Magazine” and “Lightspeed Magazine”’s movement to showcase author diversity, the name being an ironic reference to genre fans who don’t believe LGBTQ writers can make good horror.

The introduction explains how being an LGBTQ fan of horror is often difficult when the genre tends to punish queer characters or simply erase everyone who isn’t straight. Attempts to add more gay-friendly content is often decried by genre fans as being irrelevant; why care about a character’s sexuality when the story is most important?

Author Lucy A. Snyder dedicates an entire essay to this line of thought, “The H Word: A Good Story,” taking a knife to this attitude later in the book and recounts her experience being requested by an editor to make her lesbian protagonist straight as not to offend her publisher.

Editor Wendy N. Wagner has put together eight stories, five new for the book and three reprints, most dealing with LGBTQ themes.

It’s a diverse bunch ranging from Lee Thomas’s harrowing story of family in “The Lord of Corrosion” to the nauseating decadence of Matthew Bright’s “Golden Hair, Red Lips” to the creeping paranoia of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “Rats Live On No Evil Star” to the Catholic horror and guilt of Poppy Z. Brite’s “Bayou de la Mère” to the stark surrealism of Palahniuk’s “Let’s See What Happens.”

Sunny Moraine’s “Dispatches From a Hole in the Wall” is light on LGBTQ themes, but might be the most terrifying story in the book with a university student’s efforts to catalogue the facts of an epidemic of suicide afflicting the world.

Another heavy-hitter is Kelly Eskridge’s “Alien Jane” where a young mental hospital patient becomes privy to the medical experiments and tortures being conducted on another patient who can’t feel pain.

Alyssa Wong’s “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” was the most relatable of the stories for me with its Asian-American community settings. While it focuses more on predators that drain evil thoughts from people for food instead of of what it’s like being a queer Asian-American, a short interview with Wong included in the book goes into more detail on that kind of life.
For the poetry selected by Robyn Lupo there are some short, surreal pieces, none of which have any LGBTQ themes but are highly evocative and atmospheric.

Amal El-Mohtar’s gruesome take on Snow White “No Poisoned Comb” is very striking with an evil queen much more twisted than in usual fairy tales.
Megan Arkenberg’s nonfiction choices are an illuminating bunch with “A Good Story” being a standout.

“Effecting Change and Subversion Through Slush Pile Politics” by Michael Matheson is a fascinating look at being a submissions editor to anthologies and story magazines and how badly the majority of these submissions fail at representation, often failing to even include women as anything but victims.

“Creatures of the Night: A Short History of Queer Horror” by Catherine Lundoff goes over how some of the earliest published horror stories such as William Beckford’s “The History of the Caliph Vathek” (1786), John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” (1819) and Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1890) were written by gay men; however, it stretches badly by the end when describing the TV shows “Penny Dreadful,” “American Horror Story” and “True Blood” as queer horror when the queer players tend to be side characters at best, victims at worst.

Stretching even further is including the 2012 film “Paranorman” where gay inclusion amounts to a single joke at the end.

Sigrid Ellis and Evan J. Peterson respectively provide quirky pieces “The Language of Hate” and “Putting it All the Way In: Naked Lunch and the Body Horror of William S. Burroughs.”

We get a delightful roundtable interview between Arkenberg, author Meghan McCarron, editor Brit Mandelo, author Rahul Kanakia and editor Carrie Cuinn, and a showcase of eerie art by A. J. Jones, Eliza Gauger, Elizabeth Leggett, K. G. Schmidt and Plunderpuss.

Is LGBTQ representation in horror improving? It certainly looks that way but only if you know where to look.

It has to begin somewhere though and works like “Queers Destroy Horror!” are a another step towards mainstream acceptance.

This is an excellent collection, full of gripping stories and eye-opening essays, and if you like horror it deserves to be on your tablet or shelf whether or not you go with an LGBTQ label.