In my opinion, one of Datlow's true passions is the horror genre and she has a unique taste when it comes to the type of fiction she prefers. Her last anthology of original horror fiction (as opposed to reprinting them) was The Dark: New Ghost Stories back in 2003 and it's a pleasure to see her edit Inferno which is a non-themed anthology. The book has 20 new stories (mostly by authors I an unfamiliar with--my ignorance rather than a lack of credentials--since I am not as acquainted with the genre) as well as an introduction by Datlow. The layout is quite functional with the author's bio preceding the story; the author's name is on the left header while their story title on the right header. As for the stories themselves, they are all sophisticated and heavy, not the cheap-thrills horror fare but rather one that tends to be subtle and challenges the reader. There are a lot of horror stories out there that go for the shock factor but that isn't the case with Inferno. Rather, the stories are grounded in good characterization and slow build-up, requiring the reader's concentration and attention to detail to grasp the ramifications. Here's three of my highlights: "Lives" by John Grant was quite interesting for me because the horror aspect is not what we would immediately expect from the genre. It all would have fallen apart however if Grant did not make us sympathize with the narrator--the key to any good story. "Stilled Life" by Pat Cadigan is another story that relies on characterization and the author throws in a unique element that is seeded right from the beginning. Third is "The Janus Tree" by Glen Hirshberg which is a different coming-of-age tale and just when you thought you could relax, Hirshberg pulls a fast one on us like a skilled magician. Again, all of the stories in this collection are well-written but they do take time to process and appreciate. If you're looking for horror that lurks beneath the surface or simply good fiction in general, Inferno is one of those must-have anthologies.
Rating: 4/5.Rating System:
1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.