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20th Century Ghosts Paperback – September 16, 2008
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“Alternately sad, scary, strange and at times even sweet, these tales will haunt you long after you’ve read them.” (Parade (a "Parade Pick"))
“[A] lovely, earnest collection of short fiction.” (Village Voice)
“[O]ne of the best [horror] collections of the year. Hill is a relative newcomer who consistently creates creepy, very disturbing stories.” (Locus)
“Each tale is unique, and the collection proves that Hill’s talent is not limited to horror, but extends well into the mainstream.” (Denver Rocky Mountain News)
“[An] inventive collection . . . brave and astute.” (New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice))
“[A] new take on the fantasy-horror genre...Highly recommended.” (The Sun Herald (Sydney, Australia))
“The selections range from the mundane to the surreal, with a strong emphasis on the kind of horror tale perfected by Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub and Stephen King.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“This solid, inventive, scary collection of stories reveals a writer who has thought hard about the problematics of horror.” (New York Times on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS)
“Each of these chilling tales arrests you from the opening sentence and leads you — trustingly, thanks to the simple mastery of the story-teller — into a place of gulping fear.” (Daily Mail (London) on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS)
“Subtle and disturbing in equal measure.” (Coventry Telegraph on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS)
From the Back Cover
Imogene is young, beautiful . . . and dead, waiting in the Rosebud Theater one afternoon in 1945. . . .
Francis was human once, but now he's an eight-foot-tall locust, and everyone in Calliphora will tremble when they hear him sing. . . .
John is locked in a basement stained with the blood of half a dozen murdered children, and an antique telephone, long since disconnected, rings at night with calls from the dead. . . .
Nolan knows but can never tell what really happened in the summer of '77, when his idiot savant younger brother built a vast cardboard fort with secret doors leading into other worlds. . . .
The past isn't dead. It isn't even past. . . .
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"Best New Horror" is the first story in the anthology. An editor for a Best New Horror of the year publication is in search of the next great thing. He comes across a story from an elusive writer that blows him away but the search may not be leading to exactly what he expected and sometimes real life is the scariest story there is.
"Pop Art" is not exactly a ghost story in the conventional way but it is very strange. It is the tale of a young boy who befriends a new kid at school who is a plastic boy full of air and the hazards that come along with the possibility of popping.
"You Will Hear the Locust Sing" is about a boy who loves insects so much that one day he wakes up realizing he is one. What does one do with these new found powers and the prejudice that comes with being a giant insect?
"Abraham's Boys" is the story of a family with a secret dating back to medieval times. Abraham realizes the time is now to tell his boys what that secret entails and their future responsibilities.
"The Black Phone is about a kidnapping gone wrong, with victims reaching out from the grave and a sister projecting telepathically from across town. The black phone is a disconnected phone with a connection that's out of this world.
There are many other stories in this anthology but the ones listed are some of my favorites. These were really fun to read and the writing was excellent. Joe Hill has inherited his dad's talent to not only write about ghosts, but also the monsters within. And not all of his stories are scary. They are also about relationships: reconnecting, finding one's self amidst the chaos of life and loss.
My only real criticism for the installments in this collection is that many of them have ambiguous endings that aren't always easy to read. I'm not a huge fan of narratives that leave things up for interpretation. I think that more solid conclusions would've helped. Some of them read more like the missing chapter, or beginning chapters, of a longer book.
I give this one a 4 out of 5. I love short story collections but sometimes it's better to be more familiar with a writer's larger body of work before one jumps into the collections. I would recommend this book to any fans of Joe Hill or Stephen King as it fits right into their style and I intend to read the rest of Hill's novels in the near future.
Here's a quick rundown of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:
1) Best New Horror - A great way to start the book off with a bang. A horror editor receives an unusual piece of work and tries to track down the author to get permission to reprint the story. I'm glad I'm not an editor.
2) 20th Century Ghost - This was one of my favorites. A girl needs to see the end of The Wizard of Oz - despite the fact that she had an aneurism halfway through.
3) Pop Art - This was just weird. I mean really, really, weird. A boy befriends an inflatable friend - that everyone can see and interact with. While it was interesting, I just didn't get it.
4) You Will Hear The Locust Sing - I didn't like this one at all. Francis wakes up one morning to find he's turned into a giant locust. The story made no sense (to me) and the ending was lacking.
5) Abraham's Boys - This is another story that I really liked. It tells the story of Van Helsing's boys.
6) Better Than Home - I didn't get this one. So much so that I'd actually have to re-read it to give a valid summary.
7) The Black Phone - A boy falls victim to a serial killer and is locked in a basement with only a black rotary dial phone and a bed. The phone has the cords cut, yet can still help.
8) In The Rundown - If you know Stephen King, he LOVES baseball. Apparently so does his son Joe. While baseball is just an allegory, the story is well done.
9) The Cape - Didn't see that coming. I loved this story. We've all put a blanket around our necks and pretended to fly. What if one day we actually did?
10) Last Breath - Most everyone collects something. Meet a man who collects last breaths.
11) Dead-Wood - A different type of ghost story. Extremely short, but worth it.
12) The Widow's Breakfast - Not even close to horror, but I really liked this story. A man loses his way, becomes a hobo, loses his friend, and is helped by a woman who has also lost.
13) Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead - A love story on the set of Dawn of the Dead. Very well done.
14) My Father's Mask - Another extremely odd story about the masks we all hide behind.
15) Voluntary Committal - This has to be my favorite of the bunch. Special needs people, may have special powers. This is a story of two brothers and what one would do to protect the other, and himself.
Bonus story - Scheherazade's Typewriter - Joe added this story in the middle of his acknowledgements. He mentioned that Neil Gaiman does the same thing in his introduction and that he wanted to be the first to do so in the acknowledgements. I think it should have been included in the above list - I'm sure a lot of readers don't read the acknowledgements and will miss out on this great story. What happens when you have a routine - say writing for three hours a day - and that's disrupted by death? Can that routine continue on?
So, there you have it. Most of the stories were fantasy or just plain fiction. Very few are what I would consider horror. But still, it was well worth the read. Joe obviously has two great mentors (Tabitha King as a great writer as well), and it shows in his writing. Check it out, but be warned, he has much better stuff out there so don't judge him on this on book.
Most recent customer reviews
However, I will say that, like I mentioned in my review of "Axiomatic",...Read more
I've read all of Joe Hill's books - I love everyone.... so far.