Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels & Heavenly Hosts (2010, Ulysses Press)
An anthology edited by Stephen Jones
Review by Robert Brouhard
Mark Sieber forwarded me an email about a book being offered to the Horror Drive-In that featured stories about angels as its theme. My first thought… “Interesting.” Then I read through the list of authors: Neil Gaiman, Ramsey Campbell, Christopher Fowler, Michael Marshall Smith, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Michael Bishop, Robert Silverberg, Lisa Tuttle, Jane Yolen, Hugh B. Cave, Brian Stableford, Steven Rasnic Tem, Graham Masterton, Sarah Pinborough, Arthur Machen, Yvonne Navarro, Richard Christian Matheson, Peter Crowther, Conrad Williams, Jay Lake… and on. Many of those names made my eyes light up, but none more than Jane Yolen. I’ll read anything she writes. I grew up loving her marvelous works. My kids love her books too (like The Bird of Time illustrated by Mercer Mayer and the Mark Teague illustrated How Do Dinosaurs… series). I’ve been quite surprised at the places she has turned up, including some very personal poetry in Doorways magazine. Note: I won't be reading my kids the Jane Yolen story in this book anytime soon though... too different, and I don't want to give them nightmares of a plague of killer angels.
Well, I said yes to the book offer (obviously), and a week later this thick volume landed on my doorstep. At over 400 Trade Paperback oversized pages it took me some time to get through this book. I did enjoy myself doing it though. I was slightly disappointed that I had read the Yolen piece before ("An Infestation of Angels"). I read it in her best-of collection called Storyteller (NESFA Press, 1992… highly recommended, yet out of print, Yolen reading) a few years ago, but it was nice to see it back out for people to enjoy again. Neil Gaiman’s “Murder Mysteries” (a reprint included in here) is one of his best short stories and if you’ve never enjoyed it, read it soon. It fits very nicely into this collection.
Overall, more than half of the pieces are reprints in Visitants, but the few originals are a great addition to your reading repertoire . Jay Lake (AKA Joseph E. Lake, Jr.) provides multiple (5) flash fiction pieces, and like multi-layered poetry, you may have to re-read them to get their full gist. Yvonne Navarro, Steve Rasnic Tem, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Richard Christian Matheson, Robert Shearman, Ramsey Campbell, and Christopher Fowler all provide newly published short pieces for this book. Some of the other stories have been slightly changed from their original printings according to the copyright information, but I haven’t compared any to be able to tell you what has changed between them.
Every story is preceded by a page long biography of the author that wrote it. This was an excellent touch, and I love that it was there. Especially for the authors that I wasn't very familiar with. The book is designed very nicely and I enjoyed flipping through the book and getting the overall feel of the anthology before I started reading it. Like most books nowadays, there are a couple of very forgivable typos (except for an author’s name in the Table of Contents section and the Acknowledgements section that got the Brian-to-Brain treatment which I am sure is a pet peeve to people with that name everywhere… or maybe they love it… but probably not when getting credit for their written work, ha ha).
Your idea of what an “angel” is will be challenged (delightfully) over and over in this book. Also, because of the wide range of ideas, the anthology doesn’t flow in the same way that some other anthologies have in my recent reading history (like Richard Chizmar's excellent Shivers VI). I found myself having to forget/flush what the previous author's idea of what an "angel" was before moving on to the next. I recommend reading this one at a pace of one or two stories a night before bed. Of course, depending on which story you end with, who knows what kind of “heavenly” creature will visit your dreams. With the eclectic mix of ideas on how people view what an angel can be – a vengeance dealer, a peace giver, a plague bringer, a strange creature, a God-like being, a fallen demon, a rock-hard-ab-glitter-covered-oiled-up-tiny-short-wearing-booty-shaker, a guardian, a vampire on a cancelled TV show, or whatever else enters your head -- angel-fiction could easily become the next “fad” for writers. Goodbye zombies, hello angels (whoa… 70’s flashback). Would this be a good thing? Yes... At first. Like all good things, I really don’t want the market to get saturated with it, but I wouldn’t mind all of my favorite authors trying their hand at maybe one “angel” story each.
So, if you are sick of zombie and vampire anthologies, I recommend giving this one a try. These stories range from heartwarming to terrifying and variety is the spice of life. So, change your pace. Mix it up a little and add this to your reading stack. Oh, and also on the horizon, Ulysses Press will be releasing another Stephen Jones edited anthology called Haunted: An Anthology of Modern Ghost Stories (currently scheduled to be featuring Clive Barker, Joe Hill, Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen King, and many other favorites), but that won’t be out until around September or October 2011… I can’t wait! In the meantime I'll be looking up at the skies with fear and wonder.
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