Brian Hodge, . . Night Shade, $27 (386pp) ISBN 978-1-892389-32-9

"It's only in our fears and dreams that anyone comes to know the real anyone else," says the narrator of "Some Other Me," a haunting speculation on the transformative power of unexpiated guilt. In these 21 stories written over the past decade, Hodge (Wild Horses; Falling Idols), one of the more articulate members of the younger generation of dark fantasists, applies his considerable talents to finding original embodiments of the fears and anxieties that define his soul-searching characters. In "Little Holocausts," a sensitive man's desire to avoid emotional hurt summons a supernatural surgeon to excise his compassionate soul. "Madame Babylon" presents the modern metropolis as a sentient entity whose repressed sexuality leers out through provocative billboard ads. Hodge's evocative prose—"they made what passed for love, in a kind of energized mutual loathing" is how he describes estrangement in a couple's relationship—and casual philosophizing add texture to these fanciful extrapolations and softening the impact of their sometimes visceral horrors. His quest for the appropriate metaphor to give shape to their disturbing subtexts isn't always successful, as in "Pages Stuck by a Bowie Knife to a Cheyenne Gallows," which saddles a bushwhacker in Civil War times with an affliction symbolic of the divided South that is more far-fetched than affecting. Still, readers will have to look far to find a more thoughtful and thought-provoking collection of dark fantasies. (Aug. 5)

Forecast:Unlike most small horror presses that specialize in collector's editions, Night Shade offers an affordable simultaneous trade paperback. With luck it will boost sales and start a trend. Meanwhile, there's also a deluxe signed edition for $55, complete with bonus CD of music composed by the author.