Books: Short Stories for the Halloween Season
There are plenty of Halloween-themed movies and TV shows, but I'm taking a more cerebral approach to enjoying this year's autumnal festivities: brushing up on my horror and fantasy reading list. If you grow tired of watching "Beetlejuice" and "Dracula" for the Nth time, why not curl up with one of these thrilling short story collections?
Richard Matheson - Button, Button
The jacket cover proudly proclaims that "Button, Button" will soon be made into a major motion picture starring Cameron Diaz, but don't hold that against it. "Button, Button" (and the other stories in this recent collection) are classic Matheson; the writing is spare, with a dry observational tone that doesn't intrude. Invariably, though, this hands-off approach neatly ratchets up the suspense until you're turning pages in a headlong rush.
The style naturally lends itself to film and television adaptations, which demand a smooth narrative run to the climax unencumbered by rhetorical flourishes. The other stories in this collection, including "Dying Room Only" and "No Such Thing as a Vampire," have probably been collected elsewhere, but they're still great thrillers that are perfect for Halloween.
Rudyard Kipling's Tales of Horror and Fantasy
The legendary British author didn't just write "The Jungle Book," and this ginormous collection of Kipling's best supernatural tales displays an oft-overlooked part of his work. Running the gamut from poetry to short fiction, many are set in Kipling's most renowned stomping ground, India. That setting was exotic and mystical back in the 19th century, so you can see how effective these stories would have been to a staid European audience.
The best thing about the collection is that since the stories are in the public domain, you can preview them for free online. "The Mark of the Beast," the most famous story from the collection, almost feels like a Cronenberg bio-horror movie. Clearly, even a century later, Kipling's influence is still felt.
The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
H.P. Lovecraft had a well-documented friendship with the Conan the Barbarian creator, and some of Lovecraft's stylistic weirdness must have rubbed off on Robert E. Howard. Yes, there are certainly some stories here involving the Cthulhu Mythos, but there are even more dealing with Celtic mythology or other supernatural oddities.
Del Rey (which has published the excellent Conan collections) plunges into REH's horror tales in this anthology. There are some omissions based on what Del Rey has anthologized before ("Worms of the Earth" is a good one, but is understandably covered in the Bran Mak Morn collection), but the volume feels pretty complete nonetheless.