Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Baker's Dozen of Over-Looked Horror Novels

There has been a lot of hub-bub surrounding recent events in the horror publishing field, with Dorchester in a reorganization that may lead to them publishing only e-books, or possibly going under completely, and various small press that have disappeared, been absorbed by others, or have faced various problems. A lot of fans of horror fiction have taken to rending their garments and wailing about not being able to find anything to read in the future. This is an over-reaction, there will be spooky stories published by someone, but even if true, there is an alternative.

It’s probably a function of getting older, but it seems to me a lot of horror readers’ view of the genre extends only as far as the release of Brian Keene’s The Rising, which set off the most recent horror mini-resurgence. I’m sure there are exceptions, but a lot of people don’t seem to realize there are many good-to-great novels published in the recent past that could satisfy the appetite. Also: I like making lists.

So here is a list of 13 horror novels I think are of high-quality that might not be too familiar to newer readers. I tried to list books that are currently out of print (I’m sure I made a mistake or two) but can easily be found. If I have to spell it out for you, you can find them on ebay, through Amazon’s resellers’ program (my on-line choice) or at your local used book store (if you have one). The criteria are just what occurred to me at the moment. There are many, many books that simply didn’t pop into my mind when I wrote this, and all choices are based on my personal preference. Some are more obscure than others, and I’m sure someone will swiftly post “I’ve read all of those. You suck.” I also tried to omit largely foreign (to the U.S.) authors who I think are still in print elsewhere, such as Joe Donnelly.

They are presented in no particular order, merely numbered to keep them apart.

1. Less Than Human, by Gary Raisor. In the pre-Twilight era, vampires were still badasses, and here is a vampire story as something of a modern western.

2. The House Next Door, by Anne Rivers Siddons. Siddons is known more as a literary novel or something of a chick-lit writer, but early in her career, she wrote this very good novel in the haunted house tradition.

3. Curfew, by Phil Rickman. Rickman has gone on to more fame as a writer of light mysteries with a supernatural shading, but his early novels (Candlenight and December are the others) are great horror stories set in Wales, and featuring legends not as familiar or over used to American audiences.

4. Our Lady of Darkness, by Fritz Leiber. Leiber doesn’t get the credit he deserves today, and anyone who wants to talk knowledgably about horror owes it to themselves to give it a read. There is a recent compilation called Dark Ladies, which pairs this novel with an earlier book called Conjure Wife, also worth your time.

5. Fear, by Ronald Kelly. Any of Kelly’s output in the late 80s to early 90s would fit this list, but this is generally regarded as his best. Hopefully, Kelly’s books will be reprinted some time next year by an as-yet undisclosed publisher.

6. The Manse, by Lisa Cantrell. Another Southern horror writer, she moved on to other things when the horror boom imploded, but before she went, she wrote several good horror novels, mostly Halloween-themed.

7. Vampires, by John Steakley. This novel by the less-than-prolific Steakley is the basis for the film of the same name.

8. The Ceremonies, by T.E.D. Klein. Klein is another writer who isn’t very prolific, but if you want to know what Lovecraft would have written if he’d been around in the 1980s, try this one. His collection of four novellas, Dark Gods, is also recommended.

9. Summer of Night, by Dan Simmons. I guess this is the most well-known author on the list, but nowadays Simmons writes sci-fi, and very, very long historical novels, while back in the day he was considered a horror author for a time. This is the closest to a Stephen King novel ever written by someone who wasn’t Stephen King. Also check out his book Carrion Comfort.

10. The Hour of the Oxrun Dead, by Charles L. Grant. The late Mr. Grant, who was also one of the great editors, was the foremost proponent of “quiet horror.” Just because it lacks exploding eyeballs doesn’t mean a book can’t be unsettling, and this is a good example from his many fine novels.

11. Green Eyes, by Lucius Shepard. Long before the zombie craze, this book offered an unusual take on reanimated corpses. Shepard is a great writer, and that is evident in this book.

12. Midsummer, by Matthew Costello. It’s something of an unsanctioned take on the movie The Thing, where the shapeshifters escape Antarctica. Please ignore the terrible and misleading cover.

13. The Portent, by Marilyn Harris. I don’t know anything about the author, and have never read anything else by her, but this is a great book, an early example of eco-horror.

There you have it. Any thoughts?


Kent said...

Some great titles there. MIDSUMMER by Costello is an excellent one that doesn't get mentioned nearly often enough.

Peter said...

I gobbled up all those Costello titles he was putting out for a couple years (was it early '90s?).
Beneath Still Waters was one of my favorites.

Nice list, Joe.

I got to get my butt in gear and read the T.E.D. Kline book one of these days.

The Doctor said...

The Costello is one of a few there I missed out on that I'd be keen to read one day.
"Green Eyes" is a good pick. It's a genre crossing novel, one that I've always considered to be primarily SF. "The Ceremonies" is excellent, and I'm surprised by the number of well-read horror afficianados I come across who haven't read it.
"Curfew" is known as "Crybbe" for the UK release.

Rabid Fox said...

Indeed, a nice list. Fear is considered one of Ron Kelly's best? Hmmm. I'll have to give it a second chance some time, because I got fifty pages through it and quit.

The Doctor said...

"Fear" is on my to-read pile along with about half a dozen other Ron Kelly novels that I very recently liberated from the second hand market. Kelly's recent digital releases impressed me enough to make me want to explore further :)

KentAllard said...

There's a lot of stuff out there that isn't well known to current audiences. I think anyone who has come to the genre in the last ten years or so would get a kick out of a lot of the stuff.

Will Errickson said...

I've read a few of these, and appreciate more titles to add to my to-read list! THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR and OUR LADY OF DARKNESS are pretty terrific; as for T.E.D. Klein I actually preferred the short novels in DARK GODS. Oh well. Still, great to see someone else pimping vintage horror fiction!