Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Century of Horror 1970-1979 - A Review

A Century of Horror 1970-1979 has been in my collection for at least 15-20 years but, to my knowledge, I have never read any of the selections. It is (rather obviously) an anthology of short stories in the horror genre from that decade by such names as T.E.D. Klein, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, and others - including less well-known authors of the period. Many were better known for their work in other genres, such as the aforementioned Leiber, but these selections are their forays into dark fantasy and horror from the Swinging Seventies.

The book launches with Matheson's seminal The Duel, which was the basis for Steven Spielberg's directorial debut. It's a gripping story that is ultimately satisfying but fails on many points for me largely because of Matheson's choice of tense and use of passive voice. I also bemoaned the absence of onomatopoeia which would be the way I would have written it so that may simply be my personal view. Still, the descriptive phrases of the sounds slowed the pace of the work which is primarily an extended chase scene and negatively reinforced the passive voice in the narrative.

Sticks, by Karl Edward Wagner, was a perfectly adept piece that should satisfy every Lovecraft fan. It is so steadfastly Lovecraftian that only the absence of an overly-cumbersome vocabulary will convince you that Lovecraft himself did not write it - and there is a handful of passages scattered throughout, particularly at the beginning, that satisfy even that criterion. Even the ending is solid Lovecraft and, like most of that author's work, a bit anticlimactic. However Sticks is a brilliant piece that demands inclusion into the Cthulhu canon and I was not only unaware of this story but also this author. A more fantastic introduction could not be imagined.

Fritz Leiber's contribution is a singular delight because it deals with subject matter that is suitably removed from most readers' lives - namely an overwhelming fear of the Gestapo and concentration camps of WWII - in such a way that many readers will immediately connect it with Islamic "terrorists," and perhaps even the Mexican drug cartels, of today. Of all the stories I've read so far from this collection, this one inspired the most palpable fear in me. It is also the most well-written of all the pieces I've thus read.

Something Had to be Done by David Drake, the editor of the work, deserves special mention as one of the most understated, and clever, stories from the most worn-out horror sub-genre (especially these days) you have almost certainly never heard of.

I admit I have not completed the book but I have read many of the stories and while the works reviewed above stand out to me, there is yet a selection that fails entirely. Some work better than others, as to be expected, but A Century of Horror 1970-1979 is an absolute must-read for horror fans.

© C Harris Lynn, 2013

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