20th Century Ghosts
Introduction by Christopher Golden
(PS Publishing, £15/£25/£65, 304 pages, paperback,
also available as hardback and deluxe hardback, published September
Hill seems to have progressed a long way in a short time, with fine
stories published over the last few years, and with a novel -- Heart
Shaped Box -- due out in 2007. But Hill has been around longer than
that, with his earliest stories published in smallish venues. The oldest
one here dates from 1999, though the first Hill story I read was published
two years earlier than that: the impressive but harrowing "The
Lady Rests" in Palace Corbie 7.
20th Century Ghosts collects fourteen stories. Two of them are
originals, but as many of the reprints -- including some of the best
ones -- were published in particularly obscure places, they will be
fresh to most people reading this collection. One of these is "20th
Century Ghost" (note the singular) itself, originally published
in The High Plains Literary Review, in which a man looks back
on the cinema he has run for years, and its resident young girl. It's
a beautifully written piece that says as much about the romance of the
movies and of old movie houses than it does of ghosts, and shows that
Hill can touch the heart as well as he can harrow. That's also true
of "Pop Art" (originally from a Jewish-themed anthology Of
Signs and Wonders) which takes a silly premise -- a boy's best friend
is, due to a rare condition, an inflatable balloon -- with a punning
title and creates something genuinely heartbreaking. "My Father's
Mask" (original to the book) is a surreal tale that can't be "explained"
but certainly makes its impact.
It's clear from these stories that Hill is a later-generation writer
of horror and dark fantasy: he's steeped in the genre, is aware of what
came before him, and uses its conventions with a knowingness rather
than the clumsy naivete that could have been the case. "You Will
Hear the Locust Sing" tips its hat at Kafka and at 1950s nuclear-age
monster movies in its story of a boy who wakes up to find himself transformed
into a giant bug. The same can be said of "Best New Horror",
which relies in part on its readers' familiarity with the genre conventions
it exploits. Boys and young men, especially ones who are in some ways
socially dysfunctional, figure largely in Hill's stories, notably in
"In the Rundown" and "Voluntary Committal". Many
of the stories are in the longer-short/short-novelette length range
(roughly 6000 to 10,000 words) but "Voluntary Committal" shows
that Hill can expand up to novella length without any loss of effect.
There are some fillers in the book, but 20th Century
Ghosts is a fine collection showcasing a newer author of considerable
20th Century Ghosts has an introduction by Christopher Golden.
It is available in three editions: an unsigned trade paperback, a signed
hardcover and a deluxe slipcased hardcover which includes an additional
story, "The Saved", plus the deleted chapter from "The
Black Phone" and notes on each story by the author.
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