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Nightmare At 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories By Richard Matheson Paperback – January 5, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

This classic horror collection showcases the early career of one of the field's most influential and innovative writers. Much of Richard Matheson's work has found its way into pop culture: the title story became a memorable episode of television's The Twilight Zone, and horror aficionados reading "Prey" will immediately visualize Trilogy of Terror's Karen Black hunkered down with a butcher knife. But this collection's power lies in its wide-ranging exploration of style and subject and the literary skill that Matheson demonstrated right from the start of his career. Many of his stories were decidedly unconventional when published (most in the 1950s and early 1960s), and still have the power to shock or to satisfy with their graceful inevitability. Matheson is not primarily a monster writer: rather, he examines how we create monsters from our own fears and frailties, and sometimes become the monsters ourselves. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is a must-have collection for Matheson fans and readers who like their horror spare, precise, and chilling. --Roz Genessee

From Publishers Weekly

Although Matheson (I Am Legend; Hell House; etc.) needs no introduction to most horror fans, Stephen King provides one for this collection of classic weird tales in which he appreciatively remembers his mentor's "gut-bucket short stories that were like shots of white lightning." Spanning almost half a century, the influential contents are as much a roadmap to the direction horror fiction has taken since the 1950s as to Matheson's own legacy of spare, scary chillers. In lieu of pedantic priers into the Unknown, he offers sympathetic everymen, like the husband in "First Anniversary," who finds hints of the unearthly suddenly seeping through his comfortably complacent marriage. Matheson strips away horror's traditional gothic clutter to expose ordinary landscapes that perfectly take the imprint of his characters' paranoid fixations: that life's petty annoyances are part of a universal conspiracy to drive a person mad in "Legion of Plotters," and that dangerously malfunctioning household items are channels for a man's self-destructive anger in "Mad House." The agents of horror in these stories are less often the usual supernatural bogies than malignantly endowed everyday objects, like telephones, television sets and home appliances that are all the more frightening for their ubiquity. The well-known title tale about a nervous air traveler is a showcase for the author's trademark less-is-more prose style, which suspensefully delineates a psychological tug-of-war between man and a monster that may be purely imagined. Timeless in their simplicity, these stories are also relentless in their approach to basic fears. (Feb. 9)Lifetime Achievement, Matheson has also won Edgar and Hugo awards.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (January 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312878273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312878276
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #110,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Matheson was born in 1926. He began publishing SF with his short story 'Born of Man and Woman' in 1950. I Am Legend was published in 1954 and subsequently filmed as The Omega Man (in 1971), starring Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend (in 2007), starring Will Smith. Matheson wrote the script for the film The Incredible Shrinking Man, an adaptation of his second SF novel The Shrinking Man. The film won a Hugo award in 1958. He wrote many screenplays as well as episodes of The Twilight Zone. He continued to write short stories and novels, some of which formed the basis for film scripts, including Duel, directed by Steven Spielberg in 1971. A film of his novel What Dreams May Come was released in 1998, starring Robin Williams. Stephen King has cited Richard Matheson as a creative influence on his work.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By mrliteral VINE VOICE on January 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
His name might not be as big as Stephen King's or Dean Koontz's, but Richard Matheson is nonetheless a master of horror fiction. Even if the name is not familiar, his works are: the title story has been shown in both Twilight Zone the TV show and movie and even been spoofed on the Simpsons. Another story in the collection, Prey, has also become a TV horror classic as part of the 70's movie, Trilogy of Terror. Matheson is also the author of the Incredible Shrinking Man, What Dreams May Come, Somewhere in Time, Stir of Echoes and I Am Legend.
In this set of short stories, Matheson shows he is worth all the praise he is given. The weakest of these stories are merely good and the best are not only great, but classics. Besides his talent to create fantastic horror scenarios and true suspense, he also can leave you thinking at the end of the story. In many of these tales, you are never quite certain if there is something supernatural going on or if it is all imagined by the main character. This intentional ambiguity, done incorrectly can frustrate the reader but in Matheson's hands, it adds an extra level of depth.
If you enjoy horror fiction, this collection is a must. It gives you an opportunity to read one of the most important and underrated persons in the genre.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on June 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
In the introduction to this collection of classic Richard Matheson short stories, no less of a figure than Stephen King delivers oodles of praise to this author. According to King, Matheson emerged in a time (the 1950s and early 1960s) when the horror genre desperately needed a kick in the pants. King attributes his very existence as a horror writer to Matheson's influence. With that type of praise, the stories here need to live up to a tremendous standard, which they do easily. It should go without saying that Richard Matheson is the grandfather of modern horror; his stories created indelible impressions on millions of people when Hollywood translated "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and "Prey" into memorable television moments. But nothing beats going to the source to see how the original stacks up to the adaptation. You will not be disappointed with this collection, I assure you.
This compilation starts off with the slam-bang "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," a story made into an episode of "The Twilight Zone" with William Shatner staring as the nervous wreck of a lead character. An unbalanced traveler on a flight through a rainstorm sees something terrible on the wing of the plane, something no one else sees and which paints him as a potential troublemaker to the flight crew. This man immediately associates the thing he sees with a gremlin, or creatures that WWII pilots claimed they saw in the skies over Europe while on their bombing runs. Whatever this thing is, time is running out because this humanoid is tearing up exterior parts of the plane. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), our neurotic hero has a gun on the plane. When he takes action everyone thinks he is nuts, but is he? And will people think him crazy when they eventually see the outside of the plane?
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Rux on May 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
Each of the twenty Matheson short story/novella gems in this collection represents a separate haunting, of sorts. There are traditional haunted houses, haunted psyches, and beings from elsewhere who haunt and bedevil unsuspecting souls in strange places. Unlike most horror authors, Matheson excels both in the writing of novels and the writing of short stories, and each of these little nightmares are quite well-crafted.
The two showpieces, beginning and ending the book, are among the author's most famous stories. The former is the title of the book, in which a fearful flyer becomes engaged in a private little war with a gremlin that is dismantling the engine of the plane in which he is riding. This story was the concluding one of the Twilight Zone movie, and was probably the best known (or at least best remembered) of the original series. The latter, "Prey," was adapted into the central piece of two Dan Curtis T.V. movies, Trilogy of Terror and Trilogy of Terror II. "Prey" revolves around a Zuni fetish doll called "He Who Kills," who - needless to say - lives up to his name.
These two stories alone are worth the price of admission, but Matheson has included eighteen more from his early 1950s to late 1960s period, when he was at his peak. Among them are found psychopathic interlopers, men driven mad with their own rage or paranoid obsessions, psychotics, ghosts, vampires, unearthly predators...something for everyone.
I am a lifelong Matheson fan, and was surprised at the number of stories in this collection I had never seen before. I meant to savor them over at least a week, but found myself reading the whole lot from start to finish in a single sitting - without even going to the bathroom!
Highly recommended for all fans of horror stories, and lovers of short stories in general. Matheson is a genuine master.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By K. H. ZAINAL on April 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
Included in this collection are twenty of Richard Matheson's best tales of horror. These stories were written some forty-fifty years ago and the fact that they still manage to chill and thrill proves its lastability and Matheson's talent as a writer.
Many will probably remember the "Nightmare..." tale from the Twilight Zone episode and movie but any of the others would have fitted nicely in that series as well.
Not all of the tales have a supernatural tinge to them. Some are purposely left ambiguous (yet still sinister), while others suggest that man's greatest enemy is man himself. All of them, though, can make your skin crawl, your spine chill and your heart beat just a little bit faster.
And leave you wanting more...much more.
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