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October Dreams:: A Celebration of Halloween Paperback – September 3, 2002
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A winner of the International Horror Guild Award, October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween is undoubtedly the grandest horror anthology ever compiled on the genre's signature holiday, and unlikely to be supplanted in that position. Weighing in at almost 650 pages, this intelligently selected compendium contains work from nearly every contemporary bestselling author, cult favorite, and hot up-and-comer in horror. The volume mixes a generous amount of well-written new fiction with classic reprints, several "Favorite Halloween Memories," an informative "Short History of Halloween" by Paula Guran, a well-chosen "Overview of Halloween Films" by Gary A. Braunbeck, and an equally useful "Reader's Guide to Halloween Fiction" by Stefan Dziemianowicz. Many of the authors contribute both a story and a Favorite Memory, and Ray Bradbury, to whom the volume is rightfully dedicated, contributes these and a poem.
No review can do justice to an anthology whose table of contents crowds three pages. But perhaps a taste of three stories will suggest the breadth and depth of the whole. Ray Bradbury's subtle "Heavy Set" considers what it might be like to be the mother of a muscular, disturbed, and exceptionally attached son. In the West Coast gothic "A Redress for Andromeda," Caitlin R. Kiernan presents a beautifully written consideration of the costs of a hidden secret. Artist Gahan Wilson proves himself also talented at fiction with "Yesterday's Witch," in which trick-or-treaters find the neighborhood witch isn't any such thing ... or is she?
October Dreams is highly recommended to all fans of horror and dark fantasy. --Cynthia Ward
About the Author
Richard Chizmar is the World Fantasy Award-winning editor of Cemetery Dance magazine and numerous anthologies. He is also the author of more than forty published short stories, as well as the recent hardcover collection Midnight Promises.
Robert Morrish is a writer whose work has appeared in Cemetery Dance magazine.
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Top Customer Reviews
I've been working at this one for over a month and not due to disinterest either (for a change). This sucker is HUGE and its anthology format makes it the perfect book to pick up and put down whenever the mood strikes. I feared I'd overdose on Halloween stories if I read a big chunk of it in one sitting so I've been savoring it. Fortunately, the stories were, for the most part, strikingly different. Since the list of stories alone is three pages long a blow by blow synopsis of them by me simply isn't going to happen. Instead I'll do my best to highlight the stories that lingered in my memory for one reason or another. Most of the stories range from good to excellent but there were a small handful that bored me enough to give up halfway through (a rare thing considering the size of this tome). The tone of the stories runs the gamut from mournfully sad to laugh out loud funny but the thing that the majority of these stories have in common is the lack of gore and sex and the reliance on atmosphere and good old fashioned storytelling to chill the bones. Here goes:
Dean Koontz story "The Black Pumpkin" begins this tome and is a creepy little tale about a decent and good little boy and his Eeeevil big bully of a brother. The two come across a spooky old man who has a talent for carving pumpkins into malevolent creations. Big brother picks out the ugliest scariest pumpkin in the bunch (naturally) and brings home much more than a spooky pumpkin. This story is a spooky-ooky but not terribly original tale about bad folks getting their comeuppance. I liked it.
"Mask Game" by John Shirley is about people and their nasty little secrets and it had me reading way past the point of exhaustion the other night. Unfortunately it got a bit cluttered and more than a bit confusing towards the end and, well, I fell asleep.
"Gone" by Jack Ketchum takes a look inside the life of the weird woman who lives down the road, the lady all of the neighbors whisper about. It's an affecting and sad tale about a woman's attempt to celebrate Halloween after a long stint of hiding away from the world and anything involving children.
Two other standouts for me were Richard Laymon's "Boo" and Douglas E. Winter's "Masks". "Boo" tells the tale of a young group of trick or treaters in the mood for a little fright. They end up getting much more than they bargained for when a stranger joins their merry little group. It's the stuff nightmares are made of and reminded me a bit of a warped Twilight Zone episode. Delightfully dark ~ I loved it. "Masks" is both an emotionally gripping and terrifying glimpse into the life of a young boy struggling with personal loss and a step-mother from hell. Written with a relentless sense of impending dread this story shook me up.
Sandwiched between the works of fiction are true life stories of the author's Halloween memories. Most of these I enjoyed even more than the fictional tales. Might it be because I'm nosey and enjoy indulging in a bit of literary rubbernecking? Probably. But knowing that all of this creepy, odd and sometimes very funny (or very sad) stuff really happened made these pages fly. Growing up shy and traipsing from house to house in my cheesy store bought costume with my dad and (also shy) younger sister made my Halloween outings a relatively boring affair. These true life walks back in time about tricks gone awry or funky handmade costumes fascinated me and have inspired me to be a bit more creative this year.
Also included is an informative short history of Halloween and its origins, a handy list of must see Halloween movies with interesting synopsis for each that had me rushing to Blockbuster to find the gems I've missed (few of which they carried I might add) and then there's a guide to Halloween reading for those who feel the need for more after gobbling up this book.
Overall this is one of the best collections I've come across and it comes highly recommended to those looking for the ultimate in Halloween reading.
October Dreams is subtitled "A Celebration of Halloween" and it takes this task seriously. Interlaced with classic Halloween stories--and new ones written especially for this collection--are "My Favorite Halloween Memory" reminiscences from the authors, as well as a reading list, a film list, and a history of Halloween that focuses more on the modern cultural aspects (as opposed to the pagan aspects).
October Dreams has to be the most consistent collection of stories I have ever read. Usually, I've found a few disappointments by the time I've read five stories, but I didn't find anything to criticize until about the middle of the book. Editors Richard Chizmar (editor of the horror magazine Cemetery Dance) and Robert Morrish have really done their work here. Of course, with a selection of authors like Dean Koontz, Poppy Z. Brite, Ray Bradbury, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, and F. Paul Wilson, how could they go too far wrong?
A few stories stand out from the pack, and these were the ones I chose to read out loud on Halloween night. First was "The Circle" by Lewis Shiner which is a Twilight Zone-style tale of a group of people who gather to read stories on Halloween who get a surprise when one of their members decides to absent himself but sends in a story to read anyway. Viewers of the series will probably detect the twist before the end, but it is still an enjoyable read because it follows the formula so well. The other stand out is "Mask Games" by John Shirley, where a family invites a mysterious cousin over for a Halloween party and she brings a strange game for everyone to play. This one was disturbing and creepy and kept me riveted throughout its thirty-five pages.
That "Mask Games" is one of the longer offerings in October Dreams is also a bonus, as a story can generally be read in one sitting. The one exception is "Porkpie Hat" by Peter Straub, which is a seventy-odd page novella and another disappointment. The length, I think, is the main problem. Straub--known for being long-winded at times--takes far too long to relate the central story within the story and made me wish he would just get on with it. The beginning and end were of much tighter form and contained an idea I would like to see expanded upon, that of an interview with a reclusive jazz legend.
Other reviews have mentioned that F. Paul Wilson's story "Buckets"--about an abortion doctor who is terrorized by the spirits of his pre-natal victims--does not belong in this collection, due to its obvious agenda. I disagree. I think that Wilson, as a practicing physician, is simply tapping into his own fears--sort of a "what if?"--which makes the terror that much more palpable. Terror is an emotion that is not rampant in these tales, most of which are walk along the fun side of fear, while others aim merely for disturbing. Surprisingly, "Heavy Set" by Ray Bradbury is one of these. The ending does not spell out the actions of the character in question, which makes us project our own ideas--and my imagination can run wild. I would have been more comfortable with being told, but perhaps that's just an example of Bradbury's genius.
October Dreams is certainly worth the cover price (although the last time I checked it was available for much less from Book Closeouts.com, where I bought my copy along with Chizmar's other collections, The Best of Cemetery Dance, Volumes One and Two). It is perfect reading for the week before Halloween (I know, that's when I read it) as it really gets the reader in the spirit of the holiday. Plus, the reading list ("Trick-or-Read" by Stefan Dziemianowicz) and film list ("'First of all, It Was October...'" by Gary Braunbeck) give other suggestions for holiday entertainment to be relished after you've finished with this wonderful book.