Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: 20th Century Ghosts

After reading many rave reviews for Horns,and his comic work Locke and Key, I've been dying to sink my teeth into something written by Joe Hill.  I got a little taste a short while ago when I read his comic one-shot The Cape last month.  Needless to say, all that one did was perk up my appetite even more. 

20th Century Ghosts came my way via a belated Christmas gift and I moved it into the top position on my reading pile.  Every now and then I make smart decisions.  This was one of them.

20th Century Ghosts  is Hill's first published work, and is a collection of fourteen short stories and one forty-eight page novella.  The tales all fall under the realm of horror, and dark fantasy and were all great.  They ranged from scary, to disturbing, to weird and even heartwarming.  I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but I will say that The Black Phone, a story of a twelve year-old boy kidnapped by a serial killer,  kept me up past my bedtime and contributed to a mostly sleepless night of paranoia.  The opening story, Best New Horror, was a classic horror tale that delivered some good shivers up and down my spine.  Pop Art, the story of a young boy who is inflatable was funny, weird and awesome all at once.  That's just it though,  I could say something along the same lines about each and every story.  There wasn't one story that didn't manage to elicit some type of reaction or evoke some sort of emotion out of me.

I don't usually read much short fiction, as I tend to prefer a longer story with an expansive plot, and a greater amount of character development, but in many ways I think this was the perfect way to get my first Joe Hill reading experience.  For one, it proved just how versatile of a writer he is.  Yes, he stays within the fantasy/horror genre, but the stories cover a pretty big stretch of the genre landscape.  Furthermore, he managed to overcome the very reasons why I tend to shy away from short fiction.  His characters came to life on the page, and each story was plotted and paced masterfully.

I know I'm about to fall into blogger/reviewer cliche mode and laud this work as a "strong debut", but for real, this really is a powerful work of writing.  As I said earlier, each story got some sort of reaction out of me, and over the course of fifteen stories, that's a lot of reacting.  Hill shows great skill at character building, plot development, story pacing, and has a definite knack for the fantastic, and horrific.  This is stronger than most any other debut I've read in recent memory, and my fingers are crossed that Hill has a long and illustrious career in writing.

So, I got a little taste of his comic writing, and now I've gotten a taste of his fiction writing.  I'm done with tastes and samples, I'm ready for the full-course meal.  The next logical step is to get my hands on Horns.  You should do the same.

Grade: A


Justin said...

Can't wait to read this one. It's been on my list for a while now so it's good to hear you recommend it. "Heart-Shaped Box" is also worth checking out. The lead character is sort of a cross between Trent Reznor and Alice Cooper.

Ryan said...

Whoa, Alice Reznor! That sounds awesome.

Hill is a skilled writer. I was very impressed. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.