So, there are several people lurking about who might be participating in R.I.P. VII. I’m not one of them simply because I’ve got way too much on my plate at the moment, but I am in a position to help anyone in need of a book suggestion.
Because I’ve read a lot of horror. A lot. Tons. Most of it schlock, and forgettable schlock at that, but there are titles that remained either on my shelves or in my memory by virtue of their, well, virtues, I guess.
And so, as a public service, I bring to you — in no particular order — the best horror novels I’ve ever read.
- Robert McCammon‘s entire horror backlist. He’s written stuff other than horror in recent years, but his creepy scary novels are the reason I found him in the first place. Of particular note: The Wolf’s Hour, about a werewolf spy on the side of the allies in WWII; They Thirst, in which vampires eat L.A. These two are average, knock it out in a weekend length. If you have time to indulge, try the magnificent Swan Song, an enormous tome, and a riff on the end-of-the-world trope. Some folks call this McCammon’s version of The Stand, which I suppose in some respects it is — in that both feature a handful of survivors battling apocalyptic evil — but the end of the world comes about in a completely different fashion and and its resolution follows a totally different path.
- Faerie Tale by Raymond Feist. What happens when the faerie world intersects with the human world. Hint: it’s not sweetness and light.
- Anything, and I mean anything by Neil Gaiman. In fact, you should read Neil Gaiman regardless, if not for this book challenge, than for the sheer pleasure of his writing. Apparently he’s best known for his Sandman series of graphic novels, which I’ve never read. (One day I’ll get to them. I think there’s a boxed set of the entire series scheduled for print in the near future. Sounds like a birthday or Christmas present to me…) My introduction to Mr. Gaiman came through a chance encounter with Neverwhere, which jumped off a bookstore shelf into my hands one day, and never looked back. Neverwhere is about a young man who follows a young woman into the London underground and the whole new world he finds down there. American Gods is the other Gaiman title I keep shoving under people’s noses. Here, Gaiman takes classic mythology and folk tale figures through a contemporary United States on a road trip you’ll never forget.
- Speaking of road trips, try Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box. A haunted suit, an aging rock star, and a desperate flight south in search of salvation. Oh, and dogs. Wonderful, wonderful dogs.
- Stephen King, of course. Some of his stuff is plain crap (The Tommyknockers, anyone?) but some is pure gold. My favorites are The Shining, The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, the Dark Tower series, and the two books he wrote with Peter Straub, The Talisman and Black House. I haven’t read much of his work in recent years, although Under The Dome is sitting on my shelf glaring at me with baleful red eyes.
- Peter Straub by himself is no slouch in the horror department. Try Ghost Story or Shadowland for starters.
- Clive Barker scared me silly with any number of his novels. My favorites are The Great and Secret Show and its sequel, Everville; Imagica; and Weaveworld.
- I just realized there are no women on this list. Women don’t generally write horror, I suppose, at least not real horror. You have Laurell K Hamilton and her ilk — although the first few Anita Blake novels were actually pretty good, they quickly became more about Anita’s sex life than her job, and her job was what I found interesting — and not much else. So I went back a few years to find Shirley Jackson. You probably read her short story, “The Lottery”, in high school. Creepy, huh? Try The Haunting of Hill House, which has what might be the most frightening opening paragraph of any novel ever:
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
- Dan Simmons can’t write a bad book, no matter what genre he chooses. And he’s written in most genres: SF, crime fiction, mystery, horror. As an introduction, I suggest Summer of Night and its sequel, A Winter Haunting.
- And no list would be complete (not that this one is, by any stretch) without Richard Matheson. If you haven’t read him, you must. Period. End of story. I Am Legend and Hell House are without parallel.
If I sat here long enough, I could come up with dozens more. I haven’t even mentioned H.P. Lovecraft (oops, I just did!) or Bram Stoker (did it again) or Mary Wollestonecroft Shelley (I just can’t help myself) and any number of other authors, classic, contemporary, and all points in between.
So, consider this a sampler, a nudge along the path, a dark lantern casting a dim light to guide your feet. Explore the darkness, if you dare, and come back to tell us what you find.