Book Bytesby Marylaine Block
Books Too Good To Put Down: Horror Novels
The line between pure horror novels and thrillers can be a fine one, so take a look at the Thrillers page too. And if you want to get your hands on any of these books, and they're out of print, click here
- Terry Brooks. Running with the Demon. An unusually Stephen King-ish sort of book. The world is under continual assault by demons, but the demons are unleashed by the weakness and evil of human beings who listen to their siren voices. The world is at a crisis point, for they have acquired an unusual amount of power, and only a barely pubescent girl with magical powers and guardians of her own can save humanity from itself. Also its sequel, A Knight of the Word. Nest, now alone in the world, and a student at Northwestern, where she is a world class competitor in track, is approached by a tatterdemalion sent by the Lady, telling her she must go to Seattle to warn John Ross that he cannot leave the service of the Word. Ross has experienced too much horror, including one nightmare that he thought he was preventing, that simply happened differently instead, and in determined to do no more service to the Lady. But he and Nest both still have power, and the demons want it. They also have power to change their shapes as they will, so that Ross can never quite be sure what is real and what is not. He is now working for a man who is helping the homeless, and someone is planting evidence suggesting that the man is a fraud. Ross is haunted by a vision of Seattle in flames, and someone reproaching him for killing this man, and he doesn't even know whether that's a warning or his mission. Only the combined powers of Nest and Ross can cast out the demons who have come so close.
- Charles H. Grant. The Pet. Don is 17, old enough to confront the fact that his parents don't love him or trust him. His life is especially difficult because his father is the school principal; people who are angry at his father are taking it out on Don. Slights and hurts keep being piled onto him, and the only place he can pour out his pain is in his room with his wild animal posters. One of the posters comes to life and starts killing the people who have hurt him. Grant is good at immersing you totally in the consciousness of a 17 year old kid wrapped up in pain and a deep sense of injustice--you're rooting for the wild animal here.
- Stephen King. Of course. It's hard to choose the best one, since the best of his works do different things.
- The Stand is especially interesting in that, after having a military virus escape and wipe out most of the population, he shows society rebuilding itself. One community rebuilds along democratic lines (though King makes it clear that without determined and somewhat autocratic leadership, democratic institutions would not survive); the other society is driven by Randall Flagg--either the devil or his close kin. Inevitably, the society of evil feels compelled wipe out the democracy, and the democracy has to protect itself. The Stand contains some of King's most interesting characters, including the Trashcan Man, Randall Flagg, and Glenn, the sociologist/philosopher (who clearly is spouting Stephen King's own ideas). Critics scoff at the idea that King has anything serious to say, but this book presents a convincing argument that there are a few genuinely good people, a few genuinely evil people (or hideously damaged people), but the great majority of the human race is morally neutral, ready to go either direction depending on their surroundings.
- The Dead Zone is also about pure evil, and our responsibility to fight it. The hero, Johnny, has an accident that should have killed him. Instead, it puts him into a prolonged coma. When he wakes up from it, he has psi abilities--he can see the future, and he can read a people's past by touching them or their belongings. Confronted with a politician whose future capability for evil he can see clearly, Johnny has no choice but to prevent this future.
- It: Children are the chosen victims of a timeless monster, but they are also the only people capable of seeing and understanding the threat. King is one of those rare people who has never forgotten what it feels like to be a child. He understands more than most that children experience present reality in a way that adults, protected by their ideas of how the world is supposed to be, cannot; confronted by the same evil the children see, the adults deny the evidence of their senses. This means that the children must deal with an evil far too great for them, alone. And even then, they only thwart the evil--it's still there, lurking, so that many years later, they must go back and kill the monster forever. The children are well-drawn characters, each of them outcast and bullied (another of King's standard themes is how adults choose to ignore the bullying that makes children's lives miserable).
- Dean Koontz. Watchers; also Cold Fire. Koontz of late has lapsed into complete right-wing anti-government paranoia, so do avoid his most recent books (unless you like that sort of thing), but these are quite good. Watchers is about a dog who is the amazingly intelligent product of DNA experiments, as is the vicious monster that is stalking him. The dog, and the humans who befriend him, have to exterminate the monster. Cold Fire is another book about a man gifted, or cursed, with foreknowledge of events, who tries to prevent the horrifying ones from happening.
- Bentley Little. The Store. In which a new Wal-Mart style store, part of a chain, sets up near a small town in Arizona, aided by the town's city council which has offered all kinds of tax benefits and exceptions to local law. The downtown has already been troubled, but now the stores begin dying. Not fast enough to suit The Store, however, which aggressively moves to undercut each remaining local business. As the town finds it's losing local tax revenues, as people are losing their stores and laying people off, the Store insists it fund various improvements as promised, and the town has no money to fund services. No problem, says the store, as it takes over the police, the fire department, the schools and parks. But there's more here than simple ruthless business practices; this is conscious evil at work, aided by supernatural forces. Scary book. And he says we do it to ourselves by our willingness to care first and foremost about price.
- Matheson, Richard. Shock and Shock II and Shock III. Wonderfully eerie fantasy/horror stories. Stephen King's Needful Things is a 750 page version of Matheson's 8 page story, "The Distributor."
- Dan Simmons. Carrion Comfort and Summer of Night. The latter is the exact same story as Stephen King's It--children are the only ones capable of understanding an eternal evil that is stalking them, and are forced to rescue themselves, and their town, from it. It is told very differently, in a far more lyrical style, but it is equally compelling. The children are wonderful. In Carrion Comfort, the heroes are stalking vampires who feed on people's minds and compel them to do hideous, violent things. This book is long on action and gore, and not for the weak of stomach, but the psychological suspense is extremely gripping.
For all you fans of the old Alfred Hitchcock show, and Twilight Zone, keep in mind that many of the best shows were based on short stories by
- Richard Matheson
- Charles Beaumont
- Roald Dahl
- Stanley Ellin
- John Collier
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