20th Century Ghosts
PS Publishing (UK). 360p. £15/$25
ISBN: 1904619460 (Also hardcover and limited editions)
This may be your first encounter with a writer named Joe Hill, but it most certainly will not be the last. This remarkable, not-to-be-missed debut collection may well herald the beginnings of a notable career. Christopher Golden, in his introduction, refers to Hill's stories as "subtle", but they are more noteworthy for their perfectly eloquent lucidity than understatement. Often laced with nostalgia reminiscent of Bradbury and graced with the irresistible imaginative tug of Stephen King at top form, Hill's stories are more skewed and surreal than either writer's and usually fall further into weird. "The Cape" even lulls you with Bradburyian charms then gleefully skewers you with Kinglike wickedness. Hill also has a knack for reviving the jaded sensibilities of the veteran horror reader. The title tale is a ghost story that delivers the unexpected for those who have read plenty of ghost stories and think they know what to expect. The burned-out editor of an annual anthology discovers an astonishing story and its distressing author in "Best New Horror". The ending may be inevitable, but the tale still entrances. In the accomplished novella, Voluntary Committal, two teenage boys deal with the reality of a terrible accident. Reality may be mutable and memory can be sealed "behind a wall of carefully laid mental bricks," but such a wall may not last forever. In the fabulist "My Father's Mask", a family visits Masquerade House, a place where it's always Halloween, surrounded by a deep dark woods "where grown-ups cannot go." "Pop Art" can be labeled as "magic realism", but it is also a moving yet humorous story about friendship and death. Joe Hill. Read him.
(-- First published in Fantasy Magazine #1, November 2005)