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A Girl and her Bug by Rick Berry (Cover of issue 89 of the DC/Vertigo comic Animal Man)
Best

By Stanley Wiater (Originally Published: 1998)


[NOTE: If you are interested in horror literature recommendations or "best of" lists, you might want to read A Century of Horror and its follow-up A Century of Horror: Six Months Later as well as Horror 101: Back to the Basics. Robert Weinberg also lists some must read horror in his interview --PRLG]

book cover The following lists of recommended titles are from Stanley Wiater's definitive compilation, Dark Thoughts: On Writing, Advice and Commentary from Fifty Masters of Fear and Suspense (Underwood Books, 1998). The are used here with the author's permission

Modern Horror Fiction: A Selection of 113 Best Books

[Note: There are Although it's nearly impossible to judge an author on the basis of a single work, the fact remains that any new reader must nevertheless begin their exploration of this, or any genre, one title at a time. While the total of one hundred and thirteen seemed undeniably appropriate to a list of these modern works, regardless of whether the title had been originally marketed to the general public as "Horror" or "Dark Fantasy" or "Dark Suspense."

Admittedly it would have been a simple enough task to just recommend twelve popular works by Stephen King, eight by Ramsey Campbell, four by Clive Barker, and so on by following the mainstream bestseller lists.

Yet this would only have lead to the undesired exclusion of those less known--and yet no less highly skilled--practitioners of the art of literary terror. While the entire spectrum of the colors of darkness must be touched upon, with styles ranging from the most repulsively explicit to the most maddeningly subtle. Rest assured, even though you may not have heard of all of these authors, each and every one has received critical success or awards in his or her career.

Even so, where there has been a choice between a novel and a short story collection, I have almost always deferred to the collection to better serve as a "sampler" of that author's talents. As the reader can no doubt appreciate by now, the most difficult format for any writer to find success is in the short story, where every single word is absolutely crucial to the final, unavoidable, couldn't be any other way, conclusion.

And by the term "modern," this particular time-frame refers to books either written (with the exceptions of retrospective collections by such past masters as Beaumont, Bloch, Cave, Dahl, Long, Wellman, and seminal works by Bradbury and Jackson) or published since 1960.

I am indebted to noted author and critic Douglas E. Winter, who composed a similar listing of at least equal value in his own invaluable Faces of Fear.

  1. Robert Aickman: Tales of Love and Death (1977)
  2. Jonathan Aycliffe: The Vanishment (1993)
  3. J.G. Ballard: Crash (1973)
  4. Ian Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)
  5. Clive Barker: The Books of Blood (1984-1986)
  6. Charles Beaumont: The Howling Man and Other Stories (1992)
  7. Charles Birkin: The Smell of Evil (1964)
  8. Stephen R. Bissette: Aliens--Tribes (1992)
  9. William Peter Blatty: The Exorcist (1971)
  10. Robert Bloch: Selected Short Stories (1988)
  11. Micheal Blumlien: The Brains of Rats (1990)
  12. Ray Bradbury: The October Country (1955)
  13. Gary Brandner: The Howling (1977)
  14. Joseph Payne Brennan: The Shapes of Midnight (1980)
  15. Poppy Z. Brite: Swamp Foetus (1993)
  16. Ramsey Campbell: The Face That Must Die (1979)
  17. Jonathan Carroll: The Panic Hand (1996)
  18. Angela Carter: Burning Your Boats: Collected Stories (1995)
  19. Hugh B. Cave: Death Stalks the Night (1995)
  20. R. Chetwynd-Hayes: Shudders and Shivers (1995)
  21. Joseph A. Citro: Deus-X (1994)
  22. Alan M. Clark: The Pain Doctors of Suture Self General (1995)
  23. Douglas Clegg: The Children's Hour (1996)
  24. Nancy A. Collins: Nameless Sins (1994)
  25. Matthew J. Costello: Homecoming (1992)
  26. Peter Crowther & James Lovegrove: Escardy Gap (1996)
  27. Roald Dahl: Tales of the Unexpected (1979)
  28. Les Daniels: The Black Castle (1978)
  29. David Drake: From the Heart of Darkness (1983)
  30. Harlan Ellison: The Essential Ellison (1987)
  31. Elizabeth Engstrom: Lizard Wine (1996)
  32. Dennis Etchison: The Dark Country (1982)
  33. John Farris: Scare Tactics (1988)
  34. Neil Gaiman: Sandman (1988 to 1996)
  35. Stephen Geller: She Let Him Continue (1966)
  36. Ray Garton: Methods of Madness (1990)
  37. Ed Gorman: Moonchasers (1996)
  38. Charles L. Grant: Tales from the Nightside (1981)
  39. Stephen Gregory: The Cormorant (1986)
  40. Davis Grubb: 12 Stories of Suspense and the Supernatural (1964)
  41. Thomas Harris: Red Dragon (1981)
  42. Rick Hautala: The Mountain King (1996)
  43. James Herbert: Portent (1996)
  44. Eric C. Higgs: The Happy Man (1985)
  45. William Hjortsberg: Falling Angel (1978)
  46. Brian Hodge: The Convulsion Factory (1996)
  47. Nancy Holder: Dead in the Water (1994)
  48. A. M. Homes: The End of Alice (1996)
  49. Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
  50. George Clayton Johnson: Twilight Zone Scripts & Stories (1977)
  51. Jack Ketchum: The Girl Next Door (1989)
  52. Stephen King: Skeleton Crew (1985)
  53. Russell Kirk: The Surly Sullen Bell (1962)
  54. T.E.D. Klein: Dark Gods (1985)
  55. Dean Koontz: Strange Highways (1995)
  56. Kathe Koja: Strange Angels (1994)
  57. Joe R. Lansdale: The Nightrunners (1987)
  58. Stephen Laws: Darkfall (1992)
  59. Richard Laymon: Out Are The Lights (1991)
  60. Edward Lee: Succubi (1992)
  61. Tanith Lee: Dreams of Dark and Light (1986)
  62. Fritz Leiber: Our Lady of Darkness (1977)
  63. Ira Levin: Rosemary's Baby (1967)
  64. Thomas Ligotti: The Nightmare Factory (1996)
  65. Bentley Little: Evil Deeds (1995)
  66. Frank Belknap Long: The Rim of the Unknown (1972)
  67. Tim Lucas: Throat Sprockets (1994)
  68. Brian Lumley: Fruiting Bodies and Other Fungi (1993)
  69. Robert Marasco. Burnt Offerings (1973)
  70. Elizabeth Massie: Shadow Dreams (1996)
  71. Graham Masterton: Night Warriors (1985)
  72. Richard Matheson: Collected Stories (1989)
  73. Richard Christian Matheson: Scars (1987)
  74. Robert R. McCammon: Blue World (1990)
  75. Michael McDowell: Toplin (1985)
  76. Ian McEwan: The Cement Garden (1978)
  77. Patrick McGrath: Blood and Water and Other Tales (1988)
  78. Stanley McNail: Something Breathing (1965)
  79. Frank Miller: Sin City (1992 to present)
  80. Rex Miller: Slob (1987)
  81. Thomas F. Monteleone: The Blood of the Lamb (1992)
  82. Alan Moore: From Hell (1994-96)
  83. David Morrell: Testament (1975)
  84. Kim Newman: Anno-Dracula (1992)
  85. William F. Nolan: Things Beyond Midnight (1984)
  86. Joyce Carol Oates: Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque (1994)
  87. Norman Partridge: Bad Intentions (1996)
  88. Anne Rice: Interview with the Vampire (1976)
  89. Ray Russell: Haunted Castles (1985)
  90. Wayne Allen Sallee: With Wounds Still Wet (1996)
  91. John Saul: Suffer the Children (1977)
  92. David J. Schow: Seeing Red (1990)
  93. Lucius Shepard: The Jaguar Hunter (1987)
  94. Dan Simmons: Lovedeath (1993)
  95. John Skipp & Craig Spector: Dead Lines (1989)
  96. Peter Straub: Houses Without Doors (1990)
  97. Whitley Strieber: Evenings with Demons (1996)
  98. Theodore Sturgeon: Some of Your Blood (1961)
  99. S.P. Somtow: Vampire Junction (1984)
  100. Bernard Taylor: The Reaping (1980)
  101. Lucy Taylor: The Flesh Artist (1994)
  102. Melanie Tem: Prodigal (1991)
  103. Thomas Tessier: The Nightwalker (1979)
  104. Roland Topor: The Tenant (1964)
  105. Robert Turner: Shroud 9 (1970)
  106. Thomas Tyron: The Other (1971)
  107. Karl Edward Wagner: In A Lonely Place (1983)
  108. Manly Wade Wellman: Worse Things Waiting (1978)
  109. F. Paul Wilson: Sibs (1991)
  110. Chet Williamson: Reign (1990)
  111. J.N. Williamson: Don't Take Away the Light (1993)
  112. T.M. Wright: Strange Seed (1977)
  113. Chelsea Quinn Yarbo: Signs & Portents (1984)

The Best In Short Fiction: Anthologies (Series)

A sampling of contemporary anthologies which hopefully comprises much of the very best of modern horror fiction.

At minimum, the new reader should obtain any and all volumes of these ongoing series: The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling; England's Best New Horror, edited by Stephen Jones; Borderlands, edited by Thomas F. Monteleone and Elizabeth Monteleone; England's Narrow Houses series, edited by Peter Crowther. (The Datlow/Windling series is especially rewarding for scholars in that each volume -- with the assistance of critic Ed Bryant -- takes an in-depth look at the entire "Year in Horror," examining the publishing industry, awards, the small press, trends, obituaries; any and all relevent aspects of the field in popular culture.)

For those interested in the new erotic horror, seek out Jeff Gelb's always steamy and splattery Hot Blood series. A "classic" theme series, under the general editorship of Bryon Preiss, has unleashed several enjoyable volumes, including The Ultimate Dracula, The Ultimate Frankenstein, The Ultimate Werewolf, etc.

In completed series: The Year's Best Horror Stories, edited first by Gerald W. Page and later by Karl Edward Wagner; the Masques series, edited by J.N. Williamson; Night Visions (various editors); the Whispers series, edited by Stuart David Schiff; the Masters of Darkness edited by Dennis Etchison; the Taboo series edited by Stephen R. Bissette and Nancy O'Conner; and the Shadows series edited by Charles L. Grant.

The Horror Writers Association has an ongoing series of original anthologies, edited (to date) by such luminaries as Robert R. McCammon, F. Paul Wilson, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, and Whitley Strieber.

And Barnes & Nobles continues to publish a noteworthy series of "instant remainder" volumes which showcase the genre from a variety of aspects and themes. Many of these commendable volumes (which often showcase the short-short story) are edited by Stefan Dziemianowicz, John Gregory Betencourt, Marvin Kaye, and Robert Weinberg, among others.

In summation, if you come across an anthology with the names of any of the above editors on the spine or cover, you can be dutifully assured of a frighteningly worthwhile experience.

Recommended Non-Series Titles

As with the previously noted titles by individual authors, the following editors are listed with only one anthology (or limited series) to their credit. This is somewhat misleading, as several of the previously mentioned editors (Datlow, Crowther, Jones, Grant) have extensive and remarkable credits as editors. Indeed, Martin H. Greenberg's credits, in various genres, literally number in the several hundreds! Robert Weinberg has some 100 non-fiction titles and anthologies to his credit, with clearly no intention (forgive me just this once) of giving up the ghost. Few few of the anthologists mentioned below (expect, perhaps for the legendary Peter Haining) are as prolific. The title in question is therefore this author's opinion of that editor--or editors--most critically acclaimed or popular effort to date.

  1. Baker, Mike: Young Blood (1994)
  2. Bloch, Robert: Psycho-Paths (1991)
  3. Brite, Poppy Z. Love: In Vein (two volumes) (1994)
  4. Campbell, Ramsey: New Terrors (two volumes) (1980)
  5. Chizmar, Richard T.:The Best of Cemetery Dance (1997)
  6. Collins, Charles M.: A Feast of Blood (1967)
  7. Collins, Nancy, Kramer, Edward, and Greenberg, Martin H.: Dark Love (1995)
  8. Dozois, Gardner: Killing Me Softly (1995)
  9. Freeman, Lucy: Killers of the Mind (1974)
  10. Gorman, Ed, and Greenberg, Martin H.: Stalkers (1989)
  11. Greenberg, Martin H., Morgan, Jill M., Weinberg, Robert: Great Writers & Kids Write Spooky Stories (1995)
  12. Haining, Peter.: The Unspeakable People (1969)
  13. Hartwell, David G.: The Dark Descent (1987)
  14. Knight, Amarantha: Sex Macabre (1996)
  15. Lansdale, Joe, and Lansdale, Karen: Dark At Heart (1992)
  16. Maclay, John: Voices from the Night (1994)
  17. McCauley, Kirby: Dark Forces (1980)
  18. Manguel, Alberto: Dark Arrows: Great Stories of Revenge (1987)
  19. Masterton, Graham: Scare Care (1989)
  20. Nolan, William F., and Greenberg, Martin H.: Urban Horrors (1990)
  21. Olson, Paul F., and Silva, David B. Post Mortem (1989)
  22. Pelan, John.: Darkside: Horror for the New Millenium (1996)
  23. Pronzini, Bill, Malzberg, Barry, and Greenberg, Martin H.: The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural (1981)
  24. Ptacek, Katherine: Women of Darkness (two volumes) (1988)
  25. Raisor, Gary: Obsessions (1991)
  26. Roche, Thomas S.: Noirotica (two volumes)(1996)
  27. (Russell, Ray?): The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural (1967)
  28. Ryan, Alan: Halloween Horrors (1986)
  29. Sammon, Paul M.: Splatterpunks (two volumes) (1990)
  30. Schow, David J.: Silver Scream (1988)
  31. Silva, David B.: The Best of The Horror Show (1992)
  32. Skipp, John, and Spector, Craig: Book of the Dead (two volumes) (1989)
  33. Slung Michele: I Shudder At Your Touch (two volumes)(1991)
  34. Tuttle, Lisa: Skin of the Soul (1991)
  35. Wiater, Stanley: After the Darkness (1993)
  36. Wilson, Gahan, and Collins, Nancy A.: Gahan Wilson's Ultimate Haunted House (1996)
  37. Winter, Douglas E.: Prime Evil (1988)
  38. Wolfe, Sebastian: The Little Book of Horrors (1992)
  39. Wright, Lee and Sheehan, Richard G.: Wake Up Screaming (1967)


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