Championed and headed by revolutionary editor/writer Jeanne Cavalos, Dell Abyss represented the last wave of the horror bust. Debuting in 1991 and wrapping up with promises of a newly appointed editor to take over the line (which never occurred), Abyss mangled tropes, instead encouraging new realms of psychological terror, experimental horror, dark realms of sexuality, and ultimately introducing the world to a few authors who would go on to find momentous success, among them Poppy Z. Brite, Kathe Koja, and Brian Hodge.
These titles are now collectors’ items, and while not at all uncommon to find one or perhaps two when touring a used book store, oftentimes the foil-cut and view-through window covers are marred and torn, which in their aged brittle state they remain quite susceptible to.
Uniformly praised by critics and authors alike (including a oft-produced paragraph blurb by Stephen King used on the titles themselves), the quality of Dell Abyss is uneven…at best. Here, taste certainly plays a part, but much of the contemporary argument regarding horror’s history with misogynistic and overly-sexualized male gaze-y plays out in the pages of more than a few of these authors, with perhaps Ron Dee serving as the prime example.
As the line progressed, its original claim and stance on avoiding familiar settings and tropes softened, and titles like Gail Peterson’s The Making of a Monster featured vampires, and other titles began to produce slight twists on familiar monsters.
Several anthologies of the Dell Abyss Line were produced, including an erotic horror anthology Little Deaths edited by the peerless Ellen Datlow, the ghost story anthology Post Mortem, edited by Paul F. Olsen and David Silva, and Metahorror, edited by Dennis Etchison. The reach of these titles offered some superior short stories, including:
Story Name, Author.
If spotted in the wild, many of these titles are worth snatching, if not just for trade/resale value (for those catch-and-release/profit folks). Instead, I’d advocate for settling in for a nostalgic night, a trip back to the 90’s, where the emergence and marriage of technology, sexuality, and suburban ennui collided to make for some interesting premises, and more often than not, fantastic prose.
A few additional Dell titles of the era, but not quite the Abyss line: