Paula Guran Reviews The Best of Michael Marshall Smith by Michael Marshall Smith

The Best of Michael Marshall Smith, Michael Marshall Smith (Subterranean Press 978-1-596-06950-3, $45.00, 568pp, hc) December 2020.

Michael Marshall Smith is that rare author whose first published story “The Man Who Drew Cats” won a respected award – the British Fantasy Award for Short Fiction – and put him immediately on the genre map. He followed it with a second win the following year with “The Dark Land” and went on the win the BFA in that category two more times (for “More Tomorrow” and “What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night”) – more than any other author – as well as other accolades. Smith writes stories that draw the reader in and keep them mesmerized as they worm their disquieting way permanently into the psyche. He’s a perceptive observer of human passions, weaknesses, and everything in between. His scrutiny thereof usually results in dark conclu­sions. Normal folks have a tendency to do dread­fully abnormal things or wander into the horrific. This massive (31 stories) collection, The Best of Michael Marshall Smith, covers stories written from 1987 through 2017. As many of the stories were first published in the UK (born in England, Smith now resides in central California) many will be new to even devoted US readers. To give you a taste: “The Man Who Drew Cats” is about a quiet painter who befriends a young boy with a violent father; “The Dark Land” conveys the bizarre and frightening world of dreams; “What Happens When You Wake Up in the Night”, in which a boy does just that, turns into a truly terrifying tale; and “More Tomorrow”, one of the earliest (perhaps the earliest) story to successfully use the internet as a horror motif, has an ending that will jar any reader. The stories – all intelligent, some witty – display a wide scope. In “Hell Hath Enlarged Herself”, the science fictional – experimental nanotech – combines with the supernatural – the living communicating with the dead. In “The Seventeenth Kind” humankind encounters aliens via a television shopping channel. Some stories are affectively human: a grieving widow learns her late husband really meant what he said when he promised he’d left “Everything You Need” in a file drawer. Smith updates Lovecraft with “The Window of Erich Zann”, in which the Summer of Love meets the Elder Gods. “Dear Alison” is a poignant vampire story. I could go on… and on. As is befitting a “best of,” there’s not a “meh” story in the bunch. The Best of Michael Marshall Smith is simply brilliant.

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron, Ohio, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the November 2020 issue of Locus.

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