Isolation, a novel by Dan Coxon
Book details

Placing a restriction on yourself should not be a freeing experience, but the opposite can be true, especially in the arts. Making films under strict rules can lead to innovation as film makers struggle to achieve their vision under restraints. Creating an anthology about one subject matter limits millions of stories from being eligible, but Dan Coxon shows in Isolation: The Horror Anthology, that it can bring out brilliant ideas that are by no means all the same. 

When I think of isolation horror I immediately think of a cabin in the woods and a strange creature outside, the characters huddled together in terror awaiting their inevitable fate. What Isolation proves is that the concept of isolation can mean many things. Do you focus on the person isolated themselves, or the people looking in on them? Does isolation mean the only person left, or does it mean someone surrounded by others, but feeling isolated? Stories in this volume tackle all these ideas, but also throw in the supernatural and the plain old evil humans. 

A strong anthology must have a good mix of styles and Coxon has done a great job of finding stories that are all different from one another. Many distinctive styles of horror are represented here. Folk horror fans have Alison Littlewood’s The Snow Child and Mark Morris’ Friends for Life. Both are new takes on classic folk stories; the witch and the village as a cult. They are unsettling and are the type of horror that affects me most, where innocent people are not free from consequences. 

These two tales open proceedings, but Coxon delivers far more than folk horror. There are classic creatures of the night. Zombies and vampires are represented in the likes of Full Blood by Owl Goingback and The Lond Dead Day by Joe R Lansdale. These stories have supernatural monsters, but they still have isolation at their core. The last people surrounded at all sides by the hordes of the undead. They are poignant stories that display characters realising their isolation and final days. 

With twenty stories, Isolation displays its various voices and styles with pride, none of them overstaying their welcome. I was impressed that few fell into the short story trap of revealing a shock at the end. Instead, the stories focussed on characters and their sense of loneliness or despair. COVID is represented several times, either as part of the story or reflected upon as if something from the past. The Blind House by Ramsey Campbell extrapolates what could happen should your working from home evolve into never leaving the house, with added horrific elements. 

The down to Earth stories that speak of pandemics and bodies piled up in the hospitals hit close to home, so there are some science fiction thrillers to break things up. So Easy to Kill by Laird Barron is unlike anything else in the book and is a story about a mad genius manipulating events over eons. Despite this epic concept, it remains true to the isolation remit of the anthology as the mad genius must go about their plans alone. 

There are many more stories of merit in this collection from diaries of serial killers to the undead buying up an old cinema to live in. The styles are so diverse that there are bound to be some you like more than others, it is just the individual tastes of the reader. What is impressive is how many different stories all match the brief. The eclectic mix shows that there are thousands of ways to tackle the same question. Each tale is an insight into how the author thinks. It is a great set of stories for finding new authors, I have certainly taken note of a few writers that I will read more of in the future. 


If you want to know more about the creation of this anthology, Editor, Dan Coxon, has written a piece for SF Book Reviews that introduces you to the book and how COVID had an impact on the process of curating it. You can find it here:

Written on 20th September 2022 by .

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