Lisa Tuttle has long been one of the masters of the deeply unsettling tale. Last year her short story Objects in Dreams may be Closer than they Appear opened Jonathan Oliver’s excellent anthology, House of Fear, a collection of haunted and otherwise strange homes. That was one of my favourite books of the year, and that Tuttle’s tale was chosen to open a volume containing new work by such writers as Chaz Brenchley, Eric Brown, Christopher Fowler, Garry Kilworth, Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Lebbon and Christopher Priest says something of the quality of the tale. It is no surprise therefore to find Objects in Dreams… reappear so quickly as the title story and opener of her latest collection of short fiction, a mixture of Horror, Fantasy and SF stories, and a book I have chosen as my single favourite new genre title of 2012.
(At this point, in the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I was a judge of the Arthur C. Clarke Award at the same time as Lisa Tuttle, count her as a friend and am currently working with her on a publishing project. That said, I wouldn’t be writing about this book, which I bought with my own money, if I didn’t mean every word I say about it here. I don’t get anything out of singing its praises).
Objects in Dreams in a slim volume of 156 pages published by the British Newcon Press. It is beautifully produced in a signed limited edition hardback (125 copies, £19.99, available from Newcon Press though there will, based on other titles from Newcon Press, be an ebook available soon for considerably less. Tuttle’s collection is volume 4 in the Imaginings series of single author collections, which has previously featured Tanith Lee, Stephen Baxter and Tony Ballantyne, and will soon offer volumes from Nina Allen and Pat Cadigan.
There are nine stories, ranging from the 1989 BSFA (British Science Fiction Association) Best Short Story winner, ‘In Translation’, to the 2007 International Horror Guild winner, ‘Closet Dreams’, and right up to date with the previously unpublished ‘Paul’s Mother’.
The title story recounts a surprisingly difficult attempt to find a house in the English countryside, a house best left unexplored. In ‘Old Mr. Boudreaux’ a woman returns to her childhood Texas home and honours a promise made to her dying mother. A Cold Dish is a darkly humoured tale of motherhood and revenge in a near future America, while In Translation finds a man so entranced by newly arrived and enigmatic aliens that he can’t appreciate the love he has. Ragged Claws is a science fiction piece about the lure of a better life on an alien world, and a not entirely trustworthy account of the journey to Eden. The Man in the Ditch is a fine English ghost story with a hint of Don’t Look Now. Shelf Life is another outstanding chiller, featuring a haunting doll’s house. Simply telling my wife about this one gave her delicious chills. Paul’s Mother is another gem, spinning marrow-freezing tragedy out of a rather familiar idea. The closing Closet Dreams is an American nightmare, a surreal memoir of child abduction that offers no escape.
There isn’t a weak piece in Objects in Dreams and everyone will have their favourites. Tuttle is an expert at crafting quiet domestic horror, a nightmare escalating until it can not be ignored, inevitably reaching a terrifying conclusion. The stories are often walk the line between British ghost fiction, the more generally supernatural and surreal, and the hinterland of psychological uncertainty and disquiet. They are character stories, often though not always, about middle-age women, exploring deep anxieties through personal odysseys most of us would prefer not to take. Tuttle’s stories are not for gore-hounds, though very unpleasant things happen in most of them. Rather they are for those who like their dread subtle but lingering, the inexplicable, unshakable feeling of wrongness on a sunny day.
The sampler showcases Newcon Press titles from 2012 and 2013, featuring stories from Nina Allan, Tony Ballantyne, Chris Beckett, Gary McMahon, Mercurio D. Rivera, Lisa Tuttle (‘Ragged Claws’), and Adrian Tchaikovsky.