Houses on the Borderland

Houses on the Borderland

his is an anthology of new "tales of the macabre" by six British writers, provided free to members of the British Fantasy Society. As the title indicates, the theme of this collection is inspired by William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland. There are seven novellas, all very different in their settings and plots, but linked by the central place of a building which is (in all except one tale) rather more than it seems.

Today We Are Astronauts by Allen Ashley. This story is the exception, in that there are no supernatural elements to the building; a remote lighthouse in a future in which humanity is being wiped out by a strange disease. A family is sent to the lighthouse together with the Mind Blocks, a virtual recreation of the minds of the great and the good, in the hope of preserving them for use once the crisis is over. However, the circumstances do strange things to the minds of the inhabitants.

The Listeners by Samantha Lee. The one traditional fairy story (of the Grimm sort) in the collection: a mercenary, travelling on horseback through a sparsely populated land, spends a night at an inn where an old man warns him about a strange house he will encounter on his journey, a house which locals in the inn say does not exist. Late the next evening, looking for shelter for the night, the horseman does indeed come across the house, and it is not what it seems. The tension is rather dissipated by the fact that the conclusion is clearly signalled part-way through the story.

The School House by Simon Bestwick. A present-day horror story about a malevolent old school and what it does to the minds of the pupils, both at the time and in their adult lives. Unsettling.

The House on the Western Border by Gary Fry. A divorcee escapes with her daughter to a remote house on the coast of Anglesey. A house which has stood empty for years and, she discovers (too late), is rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of the original inhabitant. A traditional ghost story combined with a modern concern about the exploitation of the Third World.

The Retreat by Paul Finch. A late-World War 2 setting here as a small group of German soldiers, survivors of Stalingrad, try to make it home through a bleak Russian winter. Frozen, exhausted and starving they are lost in a huge wood when they stumble across a wooden hut. One which is suspiciously warm and welcoming, and is much bigger on the inside than the outside suggests. A grim and gritty tale.

The Worst of All Possible Places by David A Riley. Back to present-day Britain and the horrors of a condemned tower block of council flats in which a reluctant resident is forced to accept a place. Only to find that it is even worse than he could have imagined. Far worse…

I'm not a fan of horror fiction – I recall reading some classic tales in my teenage years some four decades ago (names such as Edgar Allan Poe, Dennis Wheatley and the anthologist August Derleth come to mind), but none since – and I can't honestly say that this collection prompts me to seek out more. Not that there is anything wrong with the stories, they just don’t reflect my taste in reading material. Still, it made in interesting change from my usual fare, with each tale being short enough to read in less than an hour, the longest being just over 60 pages. I'm due for another exposure to more classic horror soon: for reasons of nostalgia as much as anything, I couldn't resist buying the recently-published Necronomicon: the Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft. I've quite a few other books to get through first, so don't hold your breath.

(This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)