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Recommended Horror:
Good Stuff You Might Have Missed

August 3rd, 2019

Horror exploded in the 1970s. Following the runaway success of Rosemary’s Baby and fueled by the political turmoil of the time, horror publishing rode a wave that didn’t break until the late 1980s. That phenomenon is explored in Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell (Quirk 2017), which presents a road map to the horror that filled the bookracks of drugstores, supermarkets, and newsstands of the day. Some of those books were amazingly good. Most weren’t. And therein lay the dilemma —  separating the wheat from the chaff, the cream from the curds, the high-octane from the unprocessed crude. It wasn’t easy, and toward the end of the run, the glut of mediocre and outright-bad product led to a genre implosion by the early 90s. Something similar is happening today, but with digital platforms taking the place of those ubiquitous 20th-century bookracks.

So many titles. How does a reader find the good stuff? That was one of the questions explored at last week’s Confluence panel The Best of Recent Horror, where moderator Darrell Schweitzer led a discussion that identified some of the panelists’ favorite works from recent years.

First off, Darrell Schweitzer recommended a Japanese vampire novel that he reviewed in Dead Reckonings 23. A Small Charred Face (Haikasoru 2017) by Kazuki Sakuraba presents a fresh take on the familiar vampire trope, proving something that Ellen Datlow writes in The Best of the Best Horror of the Year, namely that “there’s a reason these tropes […] don’t go away. They are not tired, they are not worn out. And as long as writers take a fresh look at them and continue to create bracing takes on them, they never will be.” According to Schweitzer’s review, A Small Charred Face is such a novel. I’ve ordered my copy.

Another highly recommended novel is The Ritual of Illusion (PS Publishing 2013) by Richard Christian Matheson, which not only presents a frightening tale set against the backdrop of the Hollywood film industry but does so in a format perfectly suited for a story about movies. Told as a series of brief quotations, the novel might be considered a collection of flash fiction stories were it not for the compelling way the snippets link together — like single frames of film — to create a persistence-of-vision narrative.

I’ll be reviewing The Ritual of Illusion in more detail in an upcoming post. For now, I urge you to check it out. Highly recommended.

The panelists also talked about a few favorite short stories and novellas from the past decade or so, foremost among them “The Church on the Island” by Simon Kurt Unsworth, originally published in At Ease with the Dead (Ash-Tree Press 2007) and currently available in The Mammoth Book of the Best of Best New Horror (Robinson 2010). Benefiting from a rich sense of place and a whispering weirdness that recalls the best work of Robert Aickman, the story explores the place of evil in the world and the way that a single person might keep it at bay. Nominated for the World Fantasy Award, the story is worth seeking out, as is everything else Unsworth has written.

You can read more about Simon Kurt Unsworth’s work and hear a short audio interview here.

A few of the other noteworthy stories mentioned during the panel included “The Lowland Sea” (2009) by Suzy McKee Charnas, “Little America” (2012) by Dan Chaon, and “Black and White Sky” (2010) by Tanith Lee — all of which can be found in The Best of the Best Horror of the Year: 10 Years of Essential Short Horror Fiction edited by Ellen Datlow. Indeed, the many Best-Of collections currently available from established publishers are one of the best ways of finding clear signals amid the noise.

Some people claim that horror fiction is dead, that all the truly great novels and stories have been written. The author Saul Bellow once dismissed such of logic in a thoughtful review of Ralph Ellson’s Invisible Man. “Fine novels are few and far between,” he wrote. “But then fine anythings are few and far between.” The good stuff is out there. Seek it, and enjoy!

  1. This entry was posted on Saturday, August 3rd, 2019 at 12:46 pm and is filed under 21st-Century Scop. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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