In Anno Dracula 1899 and Other Stories, published by Titan Books, Kim Newman once again tears open the toy chest of genre culture and doesn’t pick up after himself, leaving a clutter of in-jokes and obscure references in his wake. Yeah, Newman’s got his schtick, but so do we all and his is a lot more amusing than most, managing the impressive task of being highly referential without lapsing into hipsterish Tarantinean self-indulgence. Anno Dracula 1899 collects nineteen of Kim’s stories, some new and others reprinted. Like most anthologies it’s a grab-bag, but even subpar Newman is usually above-average, and I’m pleased to report that the gems predominate.
Newman’s cultural fare is richly on display in stories like “Ubermensch,” in which Superman lands in Nazi Germany instead of the United States—a meaty and rather frightening premise. Likewise, “Famous Monsters” is a fun pseudo-retrospective on the American film industry post War of the Worlds, as told by a martian. “Illimitable Dominion” imagines Poe by way of Roger Corman’s ‘60s “adaptations” taking over reality, and “The Chill Clutch of the Unseen” is a superbly written encounter between an aging monster hunter and his last real quarry: the Invisible Man. “Une Etrange Aventure de Richard Blaine,” in which Rick Blaine of Casablanca joins the Nazis and hunts down famous characters from Parisian literature and lore, is more of a stumble, a rare Newman story in which literary references overtake plot.
Kim Newman has range, though, and Anno Dracula 1899 showcases some fantastic trips into both surrealism and psychological horror. “Amerikanski Dead at the Moscow Morgue” features a capitalist zombie apocalypse in Soviet Russia (which the Party of course blames on American interference) and the reanimated skull of Rasputin. “One-Hit Wanda” is a haunting rock ‘n’ roll ghost story. “The Intervention,” in which a successful businessman and loving husband and father is taken to a treatment facility for an unnamed problem, is wonderfully Kafkaesque. “Is There Anybody There?” tells the story of a jaw-dropping encounter between a Victorian medium and a 21st century internet troll.
The centerpiece of the anthology is, of course, the title story, “Anno Dracula 1899: Yokai Town,” an addition to Newman’s long-running Anno Dracula series, itself based on the so-cool-I-wish-it-was-my-idea premise that Count Dracula survives Van Helsing, marries Queen Victoria, and makes vampirism all the rage in 1880s England. “Yokai Town” sends bloodsucker heroine Genevieve Dieudonné to Japan, only to be confined to Yokai Town, a supernatural ghetto. And there it ends with a “To Be Continued,” which is both maddening and a bit unfair to the reader, given that “Anno Dracula” is the title story.
Still, Newman has collected quite an impressive set of stories here, and as disappointed as I was with the decision to publish only the first installment of “Anno Dracula 1899,” this is an anthology well worth your reading time.