Frights Paperback – Sep 1977
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This was my unfortunate experience with the 1976 horror anthology FRIGHTS, edited by Kirby McCauley. With a table of contents like this, featuring writers I have admired for most of my life, to come away in the end feeling less than satisfied sort of breaks my heart a little.
FRIGHTS is a relatively short anthology, featuring only 14 stories, all of them unpublished at the time. Other than “horror”, I didn’t detect any other theme binding the stories together. And that’s cool, because it opens up the possibilities and reduces the risk of prematurely predicting where a story is going.
The problem was, many of the stories here just fell flat and left me shrugging my shoulders in the end.
R. A. Lafferty’s “Oh Tell Me Will it Freeze Tonight” and William F. Nolan’s “Dead Call” were two of the least thrilling of the lot, and that surprises me, especially the Nolan one; he’s usually one of those held in high regard in the horror community, but this story, about a man receiving a call from beyond the grave just felt predictable and trite, while the Lafferty story seemed, at times, to be more stream of consciousness rambling before any sort of discernible story began to emerge. By then I just didn’t care anymore.
David Drake’s “Firefight” was another I wasn’t impressed by, but that could be because war stories have never been able to grab my attention, and often the military lingo leaves me scratching my head and losing the point of the plot . This story definitely left me in its wake for most of its length and it was only near the end that I began to make some sense of things.
“Compulsory Games” by Robert Aikman wasn’t a terrible story, nor a terribly-written one, it was just too long and too boring and certainly didn’t fit in among some of the better stories here.
And, yes, despite everything I’ve said so far, there ARE some good ones here.
There’s Ramsey Campbell’s “The Companion”, an evil little story about what may or may not be a haunted carnival ride. I also really liked Dennis Etchison’s “It Only Comes Out at Night” about a man and his trials and tribulations at a road side rest stop in the middle of the night.
“The Whisperer” by Brian Lumley had some great moments, as did “The Kitten” by Poul and Karen Anderson.
But in the end, after 14 stories and 286 pages, I just felt it took me way too long to get to the end of this collection, and that’s because of one simple reason. The stories just weren’t grabbing me upfront. Russell Kirk’s “There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding” was way too long and predictable a story to open with and did not set a welcoming tone for me. This was followed by Lumley’s “The Whisperer”, which, again, I liked, but the third story was Joe Haldeman’s “Armaja Das”, a story that, on reflection wasn’t terrible, but apparently left little enough impression with me I had to go back just now and see what it was about.
For such a short collection, and with names like these in the bylines, I’m expecting every story in here to knock me off my feet, or at the very least to come out of the gate with a hell of sucker punch to the gut. But this book just wasn’t doing that for me, and the good ones were spaced so far apart, it only made the less than great ones stand out even more.
In the end, I came away liking the same writers I went into it liking but, unfortunately wasn’t able to add any new, unknown (to me) names to my list of authors to look for. The ones I didn’t know before I read this book, I’ll forget their names after I replace this paperback on my shelf. And that’s too bad.