Review: “Twisted Anatomy,” ed. SciFi and Scary

Rating: 5 out of 5

I don’t often give multi-author anthologies a perfect 5/5, simply because it’s hard for a given editor’s tastes to line up well with any given reader. But Twisted Anatomy: A Body Horror Anthology really hit the mark for me. First, I should note that since this is body horror, there are a LOT of trigger/content warnings (there’s a list by individual story at the end of the book, but here’s the summary): menstrual blood, gore, defecation, vomiting, surgery, bullying, pregnancy, miscarriage, slut-shaming, body-shaming, eating disorders, disease, self-harm, aging, genitalia, circumcision, gender dysphoria, animal cruelty and death, transphobia, attempted suicide, and body dysmorphia. I don’t think I’ve missed any, but I can’t be sure. Note that all proceeds from this book go to charity: a split between the Pulmonary Hypertension Association and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Also, let it be known now that the next time I see an editor whose story lineup is 95% occupied by male authors, and the editor claims it’s because he just couldn’t find good woman-authored horror stories, I’m going to shove this in his face. More than half of the stories in here are authored by women, and they’re excellent.

Since there are 29 stories, I’m not going to touch on all of them. Just a few notes here and there. There are great stories about possibly fictitious ailments, unending floods of menstrual blood, swallowed leeches of a kind. Some of the stories are really incredibly creative takes on body horror, such as R.J. Joseph’s “Witness Bearer,” in which a woman takes people’s stories into her being… along with their eyes. Another favorite–“Apis Facticius: Or, The Queen Cell” by Michael Morar–is both science fiction and insect horror, and it’s really fascinating. One gene-altering story with dinosaurs (“The Real Jurassic Park Was the Gender Dysphoria We Felt Along the Way,” by Jennifer Lee Rossman) does an excellent job of conveying the feeling that happens when you’re sure that what you are on the outside doesn’t match what you are on the inside.

There are some apocalypse-type stories, although the focus is on individual horrors (a community of “changed” people in one, mysterious bodily mutations in another, odd “worms” in a sci-fi space story). There’s a bizarre story (“Under the Avatars” by D.L. Shirey) that squicked me more than most! It involves people who communicate online using complex avatars to hide what they look like, and what’s behind those avatars. There’s at least one mad scientist story, and one story about mysterious “supplements” that have unexpected effects on the body. Another story (Steve DeGroof’s “All In Your Head”) took some delightful turns as its protagonist constantly hears a bizarre noise that his wife says is all in his head.

As usual, I’m particularly fond of Laurel Hightower’s work. I’ll just say that her character Elise keeps hearing sobbing sounds throughout her life, and it turns out to be something amazing. She really makes it easy to empathize with her characters. A fairy tale type story (kind of a blend of the Little Mermaid and Bluebeard, only not) by Carina Bissett was just utterly fantastic. It’s probably not surprising that there’s also a touch of cosmic horror in this book, because extra eyes, a few tentacles, or mysterious extra teeth make for great body horror material. Speaking of which, the Lilyn George story that kicked off this whole project–let’s just say, vagina tentacles are involved–is delightful and oddly fun. The final story, Hailey Piper’s “Succubus Tips for Succu-Bliss” is a totally fun “guide” to being bound to a “vagina monster.” It discusses such topics as respect and trust, dietary needs, hygiene, love, and so forth. It’s a total delight.

There’s at least one story where I was just totally confused as to what happened and thus left feeling quite unsatisfied, but that didn’t happen as often in this anthology as it seems to overall in horror anthologies. In contrast, Sara Tantlinger’s “Unspooling Screams” left me not really knowing what happened as well, but achieved something unusual–it was internally satisfying enough that I didn’t mind that.

A couple of the stories are horrifying, but then end on a flippant note, and that undermines what they achieved. One is just bizarre in ways that don’t appeal to me (“Ruck Johnson and the Curse of the Concomitant Foreskin,” by Byron Alexander Campbell, and I’m betting that you can tell by the title whether you’re likely to find it interesting). Another story that’s an odd take on a fairy tale was just too short for me to get emotionally invested in it.

Really I have so few complaints about this book. Even the stories that were a little “off” to me, like those ones that end a little flippantly or confusingly, were still good stories. And unusually for short horror stories, I didn’t feel that any of these tales ended too soon. I highly recommend this anthology to anyone who has an interest in body horror!

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