The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan

Caitlín R. Kiernan

Caitlín R. Kiernan is widely acknowledged as one of dark fantasy and horror’s most acclaimed short fiction writers. Collected in this retrospective volume is her finest work: visceral, sensual, devastating, and impossible to resist.


The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan

by Caitlín R. Kiernan

ISBN: Print: 978-1-61696-302-6 Digital: 978-1-61696-303-3

Published: February 2019

Available Format(s): Trade Paperback and Digital


With an introduction by Richard Kadrey

“One of our essential writers of dark fiction.”
New York Times

Caitlín R. Kiernan is one of dark fantasy and horror’s most acclaimed and influential short fiction writers. Her powerful, unexpected stories shatter morality, gender, and sexuality: a reporter is goaded by her toxic girlfriend into visiting sadistic art exhibits; a countess in a decaying movie theater is sated by her servants; a collector offers his greatest achievement to ensnare a musician who grieves for her missing sister.

In this retrospective collection of her finest work—previously only available in limited editions—Kiernan cuts straight to the heart of the emotional truths we cannot ignore.

Praise for The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan

“Pure genius . . . an underappreciated master whose vision expresses itself through vast geographic expanses, gender fluidity, geological upheaval, lingering forces of evil, the horror and beauty of the natural world and the mythic architecture of the human mind. Kiernan is transformative. Read her and be changed.”
New York Times

[STARRED] “This stellar collection of 20 reprints, drawn solely from Kiernan’s limited-edition publications, showcases her talent for blurring boundaries and creating distinctive sensory experiences. The Lovecraftian “Andromeda Among the Stones” is set against a writhing, vast seascape, where a young woman inherits a profound and terrifying family legacy. A journalist reflects on his time with a beautiful suicide cult leader who came dangerously close to calling forth something truly monstrous in the prickly, creeping “Houses Under the Sea.” The pitch-perfect noir gem “The Maltese Unicorn” is a kinky, twisted take on Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. “The Ape’s Wife,” a genre-defying standout, features King Kong’s object of affection, Ann Darrow, who, lost in a strange space called All-at-Once Time, is confronted with the many paths she might have taken. In “A Season of Broken Dolls,” a woman confronts her lover’s fascination with “stitchwork,” an art movement that takes body modification to terrifying new levels, and a young violinist discovers a terrible truth about her sister’s disappearance in “The Ammonite Violin.” With lush prose, Kiernan finds strange beauty in terrible tableaus, never failing to unsettle and inspire awe in equal measure. This versatile retrospective offers something for nearly every fan of the strange and macabre, and cements Kiernan’s legacy as the reigning queen of dark fantasy.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Lyrically compelling tales that are nearly impossible to stop reading . . . fans of weird writers like Carmen Maria Machado, Jeff VanderMeer, and China Mieville will be glad to find this volume and thereby discover a writer who inspired them all.”

“[STARRED] “Drenched in an ocean setting and an atmosphere of corruption and decay, Kiernan’s short fiction, published previously in volumes by several small presses, is collected here for the first time. ‘In Andromeda Among the Stones,’ Meredith Dandridge has to close the gate her father opened, letting the horrors of World War I into the world. In ‘Houses Under the Sea,’ a cult leader ushers her followers into the ocean (readers of Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl will be familiar with the group), while “The Prayer of Ninety Cats” features a film critic who reviews a disturbing film covering the life of Erzsebet Báthory. In “A Fairy Tale of Wood Street,” the narrator’s girlfriend stops hiding the cow’s tail that she had all along, and an artist enters the land of faeries in “La Peau Verte.” The anthology’s lack of explanatory prefaces or afterwords is noticeable, but the stories speak for themselves. VERDICT: Bodies, relationships, and the world are all changeable, shifting, and unstable in this collection by a master of dark fiction. Though influenced by Lovecraftian mythos, the work stands on its own and will be essential for Kiernan devotees.
Library Journal, starred review

“Wonderful, strange, horrid, lovely.”
Strange Horizons

“Caitlín Kiernan is a minister of dark magic, and any collection of her work is a must-read.”
—Chuck Wendig, author of Hyperion and The Shield  

“Caitlín Kiernan is one of the true visionaries and finest stylists in our field, and very possibly the most lyrical. Her tales enrich the imagination, and represent the literature of the dark at its most gorgeous and disturbing. This book is a treasure house of wonders and terrors, and an essential purchase for anyone who cares about the great tradition of weird fiction.”
—Ramsey Campbell, author of The Parasite and Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach

“A collection rather than an anthology, The Very Best of Caitlín R Kiernan (Tachyon) hews to one style, uttering its fabulations in one piercingly delicious voice. My personal favorite, ‘The Maltese Unicorn,’ dishes up a Dashiell Hammett-esque crime narrative in a setting filled with bisexual demons and enchanted dildos. Often decay appears as a near-sentient character in the fictional worlds Kiernan constructs; often wickedness and ineffability and fate acquire a palpable, practically tactile presence in prose both teasing and pleasing. The author flirts with literary pretentions at times, and many of her overtures have been answered (as a glance at her long list of publication credits reveals) by hard-to-locate publications. Let us be grateful that Tachyon’s Jacob Weisman and Jill Roberts have made appreciation much easier by curating this magnificent selection of Kiernan’s eerily beautiful oeuvre.”
Seattle Review of Books

To enter the world of Caitlin R. Kiernan is to enter a world where dreams become nightmares, nightmares become reality, and transformation—horrible, beautiful, or sometimes both—is a constant . . . as the title suggests, this is a terrific collection from one of the best writers of her generation.”
Barnes & Noble Sci Fi/Fantasy Book Blog

“The collection is an excellent example of someone capable of consummate worldbuilding within a limited word count, resulting in the feeling of experiencing a bite-sized epic.”
Strange Alliances

“Kiernan’s stories will submerge you in a strange world filled with the twisted, radical reflections of Giger and Lovecraft, their aesthetic skins stretched over anger, pain, queerness, and courage.”
—Lara Elena Donnelly, author of the Amberlough Dossier series

“To begin a Caitlín R. Kiernan story is to enter a world so vividly imagined that it’s almost unbearable, on a journey as terrifying as it is irresistible.”
—Sam J. Miller, author of Blackfish City

“Caitlín R. Kiernan is one of the most inventive, seductive, and wickedly intelligent writers working today in any genre, and this treasury puts her powers on full display. Her stories are promiscuous vampires, eager to draw their energy from folklore, space opera, crime fiction, weird tales, and the dreams of the silver screen. Whether their tone is streetwise or scholarly, archaic or futuristic, these tales share Kiernan’s signature flavor of a last drink on the edge of the abyss. She is Our Lady of Elation and Melancholy. A sinister, spellbinding collection.”
—Sofia Samatar, author of A Stranger in Olondria and Monster Portraits

5/5 stars. “Leav[es] you startled by how skilled one person could be. The stories gave me chills at times, and I was in awe of these strings of words that acted more like spells than stories. It’s a collection to be read and savored.”
Reviews & Robots

“It has made me a fan, and a big one at that. Kiernan is easily one of the best writers of weird fiction working today.”
—The Horror Fiction Review

“Kiernan’s style of writing is not very traditional and her use of language is dark, disturbing, and grotesque, while simultaneously drawing you in and holding your attention. The reading equivalent of: ‘I can’t look away.’ . . . I would recommend this collection to you if you enjoy the works of: Shirley Jackson, Victor Lavalle, Nick Mamatas, Angela Carter, David Lynch, H.P. Lovecraft, or Cosmic Horror.”
Infinite Text

“The stories within this collection are powerful and diverse, each one polished to perfection . . . This is a collection released by a multiple award winner at the top of her game.”
High Fever Books

“Magnificent nightmares rise out of Kiernan’s work.”
New York Journal of Books

“All I can say is, like all good rollercoasters, it left me dizzy and excited and desperate to go around again.”
Nerds of a Feather

“These stories will fucking haunt you.”
—Shon Richards, author of Atlas the Wanderer*

“Caitlín R. Kiernan is producing the very best of contemporary dark and weird fiction.”
—Paul St. John Mackintosh, author of The Golden Age

“I have been saying for years that everyone interested in short fiction should be reading Caitlín R. Kiernan. This is the perfect opportunity to be introduced to her range and virtuosity.”
SF Revu

“A must-read for any fan of dark fantasy and horror.”

“There’s literally nothing out there quite like Kiernan’s stories, and they’re dazzling.”
Pixelated Geek

About the author Caitlín R. Kiernan was born in Dublin, Ireland, and raised in the southeastern U.S. She is the author of thirteen novels, including The Drowning Girl, winner of the Bram Stoker and the James Tiptree, Jr. awards, as well as more than two hundred and fifty short stories. Kiernan has written graphic novels for both DC/Vertigo and Dark Horse Comics. She has fronted a short-lived goth-rock band, and worked as a vertebrate paleontologist in both Alabama and Colorado; in 1988, she described a new genus and species of ancient marine lizard, the mosasaur Selmasaurus russelli. Kiernan currently lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her partner, Kathryn Pollnac, and two very large cats, Selwyn and Lydia.

Praise for Caitlín R. Kiernan

“Caitlín Kiernan is the poet and bard of the wasted and the lost.” —Neil Gaiman, author of Norse Mythology

“Caitlín R. Kiernan is an original.” —Clive Barker, author of The Books of Blood series and Hellraiser

“Caitlín R. Kiernan writes like a Gothic cathedral on fire.” —Poppy Z. Brite, author of Lost Souls

Praise for The Drowning Girl

“Incisive, beautiful and as perfectly crafted as a puzzle-box, The Drowning Girl took my breath away.”
—Holly Black, New York Times bestselling author of Red Glove

“This is a masterpiece. It deserves to be read in and out of genre for a long, long time.”
—Elizabeth Bear, author of Grail

“A beautifully written, startlingly original novel.”
—Elizabeth Hand, author of Illyria

“With The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan moves firmly into the new vanguard, still being formed, of our best and most artful authors of the gothic and fantastic—those capable of writing fiction of deep moral and artistic seriousness.”
—Peter Straub, author of A Ghost Story

“Caitlín R. Kiernan turns the ghost story inside out and transforms it.”
—Brian Evanson, author of Last Days

The Drowning Girl features all those elements of Caitlín R. Kiernan’s writing that readers have come to expect—a prose style of wondrous luminosity, an atmosphere of languorous melancholy, and an inexplicable mixture of aching beauty and clutching terror.”
—S. T. Joshi, author of I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft

“Kiernan pins out the traditional memoir on her worktable and metamorphoses it into something wholly different and achingly familiar, more alien, more difficult, more beautiful, and more true.”
—Catherynne M. Valente, New York Times bestselling author of Deathless


Visit the Caitlín R. Kiernan website Visit her on Twitter Follow her Livejournal Online Journal

Table of Contents

Introduction by Richard Kadrey

Andromeda Among the Stones

La Peau Verte

Houses Under the Sea

Bradbury Weather

A Child’s Guide to the Hollow Hills

The Ammonite Violin (Murder Ballad No. 4)

A Season of Broken Dolls

In View of Nothing

The Ape’s Wife

The Steam Dancer (1896)


Fish Bride (1970)

The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean


The Maltese Unicorn

Tidal Forces

The Prayer of Ninety Cats

One Tree Hill (The World As Cataclysm)

Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)

Fairy Tale of Wood Street