Wrapped in a stunning cover by John Picacio, Outside the Box exemplifies the best and worst of anthology titles. The best thing about anthologies is that they give you the chance to sample authors you may never have heard of before, which will spur you into tracking down their longer works.
The worst thing about anthologies is that inevitably, there will be authors whose work you won't enjoy and will perhaps ponder the value in purchasing a title containing their stories.
I'm pleased to report that there is very much of the best and little of the worst in this collection. There's much to recommend for many of the stories published in print here, which were first presented on the now defunct bookface.com web site.
The most memorable contributions are those of John Grant (Mouse, a thought-provoking blend of fantasy and reality); Erin Cashier Denton (The Hiddenbehind, a chilling horror story); Graham Joyce (who brings an edge of unease to growing up in Under the Pylon); and Cold Type by J. Michael Straczynski. Straczynski, perhaps best known as creator of Babylon 5, continues to prove himself a master storyteller with the tale of a man with a unique talent for re-writing reality, and provides a chilling round off to the anthology.
Many of the stories featured are quite dark in tone, which can become a little wearing. The only exception to this theme is The Greys from Paul Cornell, whose tale of a possible abductee displays much of his ability to burst the balloon of many modern myths.
If the collection has fault, then it is that the inclusion of fantasy tales with more mainstream SF stories doesn't really sit right for me. I have a feeling that the contributions of authors such as Fiona Avery, Tippi Blevins, Vera Nazarian and Laura J. Underwood, while strongly written and offering absorbing tales of other realms, might have been better suited to a fantasy anthology rather than this collection. Of course the demise of bookface.com prevented such an item, although I gather this was one unachieved aim of the enterprise.
Despite this reservation, there is much to recommend about Outside the Box, and it has spurred me to look out for more by many of the authors included. Well worth sampling.