20th Century Ghosts

20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill, Christopher Golden, David LeDoux I first heard of Joe Hill after winning a bundle of used hardcovers on Ebay. Among the books in the lot were several King, some limited edition Laymon, a Straub or two, and two first editions by an author of which I had never heard. Heart Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts were in fantastic condition, and seemed to have never been read. I threw these two books on my shelf and forgot all about them. Later that year, I found a book at my local BAM entitled Horns. The premise piqued my interest, so I bought the hardcover, devoured it over the course of three days, and then went to place the book on my shelf in alphabetic order by author. Low and behold, I laid eyes on two other books by the same writer, the aforementioned ones I'd won in the bundle, which I had forgotten all about. It wasn't until I finished Heart Shaped Box (which was in slightly less perfect condition in comparison to 20th Century Ghosts) and went in search of more Joe Hill goodness on Amazon that I found out that Hill is Stephen King's son. Surprise, surprise! The following year, Hill released NOS4A2 and cemented his place as one of my new favorite authors. Still, I hadn't read 20th Century Ghosts. You may be asking yourself why, and the answer is one that all book collectors can sympathize with: my hardcover copy is a first edition AND it is in pristine condition. I wouldn't crack that book open if you put a gun to my head. But I had to read it, of course I did, so I bought the ebook and added the audio book as a companion purchase. And let me tell you, the audio book is the way to go.

Notes on the Audible Edition: David Ledoux has a unique narrative voice. Every story herein is worth a read, but David's narration gives them that little something extra that just makes 'em pop. On the down side, the music, while thoroughly creepy, was produced at an entirely different volume than the spoken word. I had to turn down my device every time a story ended for fear of rupturing my ear drums when the musical intro for the next story began. Other than that, I recommend the Audible version.

Now, I will not be reviewing each and every story because they're all above average. I will warn that some of these tales have no ending. They are not open endings, or bad ending, but the stories of which I speak are completely devoid of any closing scene. They simply STOP. A perfect example of this is the opener, "Best New Horror", which is also one of the best stories in the collection. My absolute favorite story in the collection is "Pop Art", and that's because of the sheer originality of the tale. Going into 20th Century Ghosts, I knew nothing about "Pop Art", and I hope you have the same option. Even giving you a brief, vague synopsis would ruin the experience, so I will move on. Other notable tales are "20th Century Ghost", "The Black Phone", "The Cape" (which has one of the best endings I've ever read where short stories are concerned), and the uber imaginative "Voluntary Committal". The only story I disliked was "Abraham's Boys". Hill tried too damn hard to breathe new life into overused, out-of-date characters, and it resulted in the book's only failure. That one story slowed the book down and gummed up the collection's works so badly I was compelled to knock off a full star from the overall rating. Yes, it was that bad. If I had to rate "Abraham's Boys" on its own, I would give it two stars. Everything else gets fours and fives.

You should know that these are not short stories; not technically anyway. Hill suffers the same what-ails-him as his father. Neither man seems to grasp the concept of "short", but they write so damn well that you barely notice that their outings are more along the line of novelettes and novellas than they are short stories.

In summation: A terrific collection of longer short stories, and far more literary in scope than your average horror anthology. If you're a fan of Stephen King's Skeleton Crew or Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors, you should enjoy 20th Century Ghosts.

(A Note to Completionists: Hill hides a short story in the afterward, so make sure you don't skip the acknowledgment section. You're welcome.)