Top 5 Horror Reads of 2018
The best part of being an internet commentator is to willfully force your perspective on others. This is the heart and soul of the year-end list, tastemaking imperialism at its finest. So, see me here, gaze firmly centered on my navel, I come bearing gifts.
The horror landscape is as strong ever, and this year I found a great number of novels and short stories that I thought were exciting, literary, and yes, scary. More encouraging still, a lot of my best reads this year were from new (or at least new to me) authors. With so many great works coming out by so many incredible voices, a handful will inspire a new generation also; these are foundational texts we have yet to see grow from basements to condos—and we are surrounded by them.
The varied richness of the genre is a marvel in itself, but in the spirit of brevity, I’ll limit myself to my five absolute favorites.
This may seem like a cop-out for some, but this is the first year where I actually indulged in a Datlow collection. How did I go so long with so little? I see now why her seasonal roundup of horror is so well respected: Datlow has exquisite taste. Stories like “Furtherest,” by Kaaron Warren; “Whatever Comes After Calcutta,” by David Erik Nelson; “Lost in the Dark,” by John Langan—all highlight different, but resoundingly successful approaches to horror. These varied, but almost all high-quality stories paint the year in textured brush strokes. In The Best Horror of the Year, I felt I was truly reading the best.
The Auctioneer came out in 1976. By all definitions: not a book that was written in 2018. But, it was re-released by Valancourt, and for me, it is an intriguing artifact unearthed for my enjoyment. Samson’s story is tragic, but The Auctioneer has solidified her legacy. It’s a story of urban-flight, of country folks beset by city folks. The story revels in subtlety, of limp transgressions that gather weight. It’s a hard book to pin down: the villain asks for more and the people give until they have nothing. It’s Kafkaesque, but not particularly weird. It’s central character is larger than life, but not necessarily supernatural (although, an argument could be made). The Auctioneer is the great, forgotten social horror novel, and even today, it strikes a chord.
I’m a sucker for stuff that feels stuck in a time and place. Miskowski’s I Wish I Was Like You is planted firmly in 90s Seattle; here, the setting is so crisp that it becomes the looming second-lead in the book, the all-knowing, ever-changing metropolis to compliment our all-knowing, tough-talking protagonist. Greta is the hard-headed, would-be punk narrator and we follow her through her attempts to become a writer—with the twist, that at the beginning of the book, she’s dead. Her voice is as sharp and funny as Phillip Marlowe’s, and in true noir tradition, she’s an alphabet of Hail Marys from being a good person. I Wish I Was Like You is pure genre fiction, elevated through intent. This is horror, a genre based in fear, used to tell the story of a person, and a city.
I first came into contact with Fawver through his story in issue one of Vastarien. “The Gods in their Seats, Unblinking,” immediately caught my attention. Here was an effortlessly Ligottian story, told as a stage play, that was brimming with creativity. It’s philosophical ideas were melded tightly with its narrative. I laughed aloud at the tricks Fawver managed to pull off. I could tell right away, this was a dude to keep an eye out for. The Dissolution of Small Worlds is his collection, and it delivers on the promise of his aforementioned short. Fawver writes Ligottian weird horror, but he’s a lot better at it most. I’ve taken to calling this movement of literary pastiche-artists the Very Long Titles of Clinically Effusive Prose sect, but Fawver delivers a lot punchier fiction than his brethren. At the center of his stories, there is always a strong hook; a well considered reason to be. “The Cone of Heaven” might very well be the most unsettling story I’ve read in recent years, combining pessimistic philosophy with the high concept conceit: what if heaven was different than we thought? Well written, page-turning, and unnerving: The Dissolution of Small Worlds is one of the best collections of the year.
Hamantaschen is the sort of writer who makes me jealous. He writes with more verve, more confidence, more sheer individuality than almost any of his peers. He’s also a self-published author, a rare bird in the world of best-of lists. A Deep Horror That Was Very Nearly Awe is without a doubt my favorite read of 2018. The stories are long and idiosyncratic, told with an incredible observational eye for human voice and behavior. The horrors within them are whimsical daydreams, rendered as nightmares. Think: a mad scientist creating robots in bathroom stalls, a revenant hell-bent on the affections of an ex, a sex pandemic that kills a percentage of first-timers mid-coitus. A Deep Horror… struck me immediately as inimitable. It is unapologetically personal, but also elusive, ironic, and just plain weird. This was the sort of book, where I felt palpable excitement upon finishing it; I had to go out into the world and shake the people in my life and tell them: you have to read this book. So here, I am, rattling cages and screaming into the night. Please, please, please: read this book.