The Best of Richard Matheson

If you are a fan of classic TV and current movies, you are familiar with Richard Matheson without having read his works. Matheson wrote sixteen episodes of the original TWILIGHT ZONE television series (several adapted from his own short stories); his story “Duel” was the basis of an early Steven Spielberg feature; and his novels have been brought to the big screen as far back as 1957’s THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (the word “Incredible” added to the title of his novel), and no less than three official versions of his novel I AM LEGEND.

Yet while a few of Matheson’s novels remain in print, collections of his many short stories are difficult to find. Now contemporary horror author Victor LaValle, one of the many authors influenced by Matheson, has selected 33 of Matheson’s short stories for Penguin Classics’ collection THE BEST OF RICHARD MATHESON.

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Anthologies tend to be theme-based: Vampires, UFOs, zombies, even “best of”’s… Usually when you pick up an anthology, you know what you’re getting. Personally, I like a good werewolf, time travel, or superhero anthology. But that’s enough about me.

Editor Brian James Freeman gives a short (one-page) introduction and explains what the theme is for DETOURS, the new anthology from Cemetery Dance. It’s “rare and lost material” written by his favorite writers, “along with a couple of original pieces that have never seen the light of day before now.”

Okay, so the theme is: There is no theme. Just obscure or unpublished stuff that couldn’t find a home anywhere else. And in some cases, probably shouldn’t have found a home. Not everything your favorite writer composes is gold, folks. Some things are better left in a drawer or in a folder on a hard drive. Anyway …

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Sacculina / Behold the Void

I tend to befriend lots of writers. It’s the nature of the business. We do it to network, but we also do it because we generally have a lot in common, which is:

All writers share a love for the written word.

One of the perks of being friends with lots of writers is that you discover other writers the general public hasn’t heard about. We tend to talk about someone new we’ve discovered, one of those “overnight sensations” (who’s been toiling at it for years, but it seems like they exploded onto the literary scene overnight because…well, just because it appears that way).

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Black Mad Wheel

The Danes are former WWII Army musicians turned mildly successful civilian band. It’s 1957 Detroit, and with several mid-list hits under their belt, the band is feeling a stagnation they strive to overcome by drinking too much, and producing albums by less experienced, less talented groups. Then one day, the Army comes calling with an offer: travel to the African desert and try to locate the source of a mysterious sound. Not just any ordinary sound, however, as this particular one can render weapons useless and incapacitate men.

It sounds a little like “Indiana Jones and the Lost Horn of Jericho.” But no, BLACK MAD WHEEL by Josh Malerman is better than that hackneyed premise.

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Gwendy’s Button Box

GWENDY’S BUTTON BOX sounds like it should be a soft-core porn story, but then you see Stephen King’s name on it and you know it’s something much more sinister.

Tired of being teased about her weight, 12-year-old Gwendy Peterson is spending the summer of 1974 by climbing the stairs from Castle Rock up to Castle View. Nicknamed the “Suicide Stairs,” the trek up the cliffside is a tough one, but Gwendy is starting to see some results. Then one day at the top of the stairs while attempting to catch her breath, Gwendy is greeted by a man in a black coat and hat. The man is one of those mysterious strangers that pop up quite a bit in King’s literary universe, and much like the other strangers King writes about, this one is quick to offer his name: Richard Farris.

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Remember a few years back when Seth Grahame-Smith’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES hit the book scene, and suddenly it seemed like every hack writer was submitting classic novels interspersed with horror sections to publishers? Unfortunately, some of those “novels” (I use the term loosely) actually made it into print. What should have been a one hit wonder (and it kind of was) sparked imitations.

It’s similar to when Hollywood has a hit movie and hack screenwriters rush to their laptops and attempt to copy the winning formula of what they just saw on the screen rather than come up with something original. They type up a by-the-numbers script instead of being inspired by what they saw and attempt to create something with heart and soul.

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The Lovecraft Squad: All Hallows Horror

THE LOVECRAFT SQUAD: ALL HALLOWS HORROR is the first in a promised trilogy of novels using a concept created by prolific horror and dark fantasy editor Stephen Jones. While it has its moments of effective horror – thanks mostly to John Llewellyn Probert’s prose style – this debut suffers from an derivative plot structure that dulls its overall intentions.

Bob Chambers is a member of the Human Protection League, often nicknamed “The Lovecraft Squad,” an FBI-sanctioned group that investigates and prevents occult occurrences throughout the world. Or, as Chambers himself explains, “Occasions when dark powers have tried to break through, evil forces that exist just on the other side of our reality and want to make this world their own.”

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FERAL by James DeMonaco (writer/director of THE PURGE movies) and B.K. Evenson (aka “Brian Evenson,” IMMOBILITY, THE WARREN) avoids the mistakes of a lot of post-apocalyptic, zombie-esque plague stories:

It gives you a little bit of set-up, then immediately jumps to the post-plague scenario. Because really, that’s what the reader wants. Not page after page of characters wandering around pontificating about “What’s happening?” No, we want to jump ahead to the action. We want characters struggling to survive in a new, harsh, and violent world. Screw the “whats” and “whys.” But I’m getting ahead of myself…

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Hekla’s Children

James Brogden’s book HEKLA’S CHILDREN is a deeply unsettling and complicated work, layering an intriguing mystery with a thoughtful fantasy topped by a screeching horror tale that may or may not be allegorical, but is chilling and memorable.

The mystery begins when young Nathan Brookes is leading a small troop of four adolescents on an orienteering hike through a large British park. There should be no danger involved and so Brookes lets his charges roam on ahead and he takes a shortcut to meet up with them. He sees the group in flashes and then they disappear. They are not where they are supposed to be. All four youngsters have vanished.

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Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales

Prolific, insightful and often surprising editor Ellen Datlow chooses birds as the topic of BLACK FEATHERS: DARK AVIAN TALES, her latest anthology of mostly new stories.

Birds often connote beauty, freedom, and song. But as Datlow points out in her stylish Introduction, “there’s a dark side to the avian.” She notes the many birds of prey; that birds often kill other bird’s eggs; and some are also known to kill small animals. These and several other foreboding avian characteristics, along with several species of birds themselves, are the basis of the works featured in this anthology.

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