A Book of Horrors

Stephen Jones, Editor

St. Martin's Griffin

Introduction

Whatever Happened to Horror?

WHAT THE HELL happened to the horror genre?

Whatever happened to menacing monsters, vicious vampires, lethal lycanthropes, ghastly ghosts and monstrous mummies?

These days our bloodsuckers are more likely to show their romantic nature, werewolves work for covert government organisations, phantoms are private investigators and the walking dead can be found sipping tea amongst the polite society of a Jane Austen novel.

These are not the iconic figures of fear and wonder that we grew up with. These are not the Creatures of the Night that have scared multiple generations over the centuries and forced countless small children to hide under the bedclothes reading their books and comics by torchlight.

Today we are living in a world that is ‘horror-lite’. This appalling appellation was coined by publishers to describe the type of fiction that is currently enjoying massive success under such genre categories as ‘paranormal romance’, ‘urban fantasy’, ‘literary mash-up’ or even ‘steampunk’.

Although it cannot be denied that there is an audience for these types of fictions, for the most part these books are not aimed at readers of traditional horror stories. The audience for this type of fiction has no interest in being deliciously scared by what they read, or left thinking about a particularly disturbing tale long after they have finished a story and closed the book. And that would not be a problem if publishers and booksellers were not usurping the traditional horror market with an avalanche of disposable volumes aimed at the middle-of-the-road reader.

Well, the time has come to reclaim the horror genre for those who understand and appreciate the worth and impact of a scary story.

With A Book of Horrors we hope that we have lived up to that title and all that it implies.

As anybody who has ever read any of my other books knows, my own definition of what makes a superior horror story is pretty inclusive. Obviously not every tale is going to appeal to every reader, but what I have attempted to do is bring you a wide range of original stories, by some of the finest writers working in the field today, that explore the many monstrous facets of the genre that we like to call ‘horror’.

That is not to say that there is no room for humour – check out Ramsey Campbell’s grimly gruesome ‘Getting it Wrong’ and Robert Shearman’s unsettling yet hilarious ‘Alice Through the Plastic Sheet’ – and our other horrors range from the more traditional monsters (Stephen King’s ‘The Little Green God of Agony’ and Peter Crowther’s ‘Ghosts with Teeth’) and the classic ghost story (John Ajvide Lindqvist’s ‘The Music of Bengt Karlsson, Murderer’ and Reggie Oliver’s ‘A Child’s Problem’), through the modern supernatural thriller (Lisa Tuttle’s ‘The Man in the Ditch’ and Michael Marshall Smith’s ‘Sad, Dark Thing’) and a pair of very different mythological menaces (Caitlín R. Kiernan’s ‘Charcloth, Firesteel and Flint’ and Brian Hodge’s ‘Roots and All’) to more lyrical and literary tales (Angela Slatter’s ‘The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter’, Dennis Etchison’s ‘Tell Me I’ll See You Again’ and Elizabeth Hand’s remarkable novella ‘Near Zennor’). Finally, we close with Richard Christian Matheson’s disturbingly dark epigram – the appropriately titled ‘Last Words’.

Many of the contributors to this volume are experimenting with form and structure and length to bring the horror story bang up-to-date, while others are working in the age-old practice of presenting their terrors in the most straightforward – and effective – manner possible.

Whatever your fears, we hope that you will find them within these pages. This is what modern horror fiction is all about and, if you enjoy the stories assembled within these pages, then you can say that you were there when the fight back began.

Welcome to A Book of Horrors – it’s time to let the nightmares begin…

—Stephen Jones
London, England
June 2011