February 26, 2010

Fave Five: Horror Authors

It's been a while since I posted one of these favorites lists, so I think I'd churn one out just to say I did. The last few I've done have been about movies, so I thought I'd meander back into the realm of the written word. This is a book blog, after all.

I'm a fan of dark fiction, as you may well know, and last year I posted a list of my then five favorite horror novels. I've read more than a couple of titles this year, however, that have unofficially bumped around the titles on that list and the order in which they appear. And as I read even more dark fiction in 2010, particularly the heralded classics from years gone by, I have little doubt that the list will inevitably change again by next year.

I think a list that is not likely to change a whole lot any time soon is my list of favorite horror authors, which is the topic for this go-round. For the fellow fans of fright, the names below will come as no shock, but I figured I would put this list out there just to get it on record. So, let's hop to it.

#5: Jack Ketchum - I have only read two Ketchum novels, but the last one I read (The Girl Next Door) walloped me so hard last year, I'm convinced he deserves a place on this list. I've heard the synopses for a few of his other works and if he can write those novels half as good as he did with The Girl Next Door, then he definitely will stay on my favorite authors list until I'm dust in the wind.

#4: Dean Koontz - My favorite Koontz reference is from an episode of Family Guy where Brian the dog accidentally runs over with a van a man he thinks is Stephen King. But, when he discovers it's really Dean Koontz, Brian runs him over with the van again. I'm not sure where the King vs. Koontz factions come from--I guess everyone has a home team mentality for anything--but that kind of stuff is sometimes good for a laugh.

Unlike satirical references, Koontz's novels are no laughing matter. The man knows how to write a scary story. He doesn't hit the bullseye every time though, as he gets a hit-or-miss reaction from me each time I sit down to read one of his books. A couple I didn't care for at all (i.e., Sole Survivor), but a couple are absolute favorites for me (Velocity and Watchers). The Odd Thomas series seems to be another example of quality stuff from Koontz, as I quite liked the first book in the series and am gearing up to read the second soon.

#3: Richard Matheson - Here's a guy I really should have glommed onto as soon as I started reading again. It wasn't until two or three years ago, however, that I finally sat down with a Matheson novel, Hunted Past Reason. That was some messed up stuff, but it was a great thrill ride. And it's not even supposed to be one of his better novels. So, I started searching out more of his stuff, but for a guy as prolific as he is I had trouble finding titles on local shelves.

I eventually snagged I Am Legend as part of a short story collection, plus read Hell House which ranks very, very high as a favorite now. Then there are the film adaptations of his work like Stir of Echoes. He's even responsible for that classic Twilight Zone episode with William Shatner manically screaming, "There's something on the wing of the plane!" Tell me that's not a little bit awesome.

#2: Clive Barker - As a little kid, horror movies scared the bejesus out of me and I tended to steer away from them. Then I saw Nightbreed and despite my weak stomach churning at the sight of the monsters, the story being told was fantastic and hooked me. I later learned it was based on a book by Barker called Cabal. Oh, and he's also responsible for Hellraiser, so yeah. Pretty cool.

His books are the real meat of the meal, though. And he's not strictly horror, as his early success has allowed him to branch out into fantasy and children's literature--even a couple of video-games have a vicarious connection to him. I've read a half dozen or so of his books and have had my socks rocked each time. He's an author presently batting 1.000 with this reader, and I'm hoping the other novels on my bookshelf I've yet to read keep that streak alive.

FYI: My favorite Barker novel so far is The Great and Secret Show, which is a great blend of horror and fantasy.

#1: Stephen King - Bow down. That simple. When I got back into reading, Stephen King was the most readily available author on my sister's bookshelf that was not Norah Roberts. I read The Dark Half and loved it. From there, I started reading predominantly Stephen King novels as entertainment. And I still read his novels and get a great deal of enjoyment. That's due mainly to how prolific the guy is, and it's going to take me the rest of my life to work my way through his entire bibliography.

Two things that really stand out for me when it comes to King's work are:

  1. His short stories. Bite-sized fiction works well for me, especially when I'm out of the house. I'll carry a collection or anthology around and read a story or two at a time while sitting in a waiting room or on the bus. Plus, Stephen King knows how to get a lot of bang for the buck in a few thousand words. The novellas that appear in his collections are especially great. "The Mist" and "Secret Window" are two great examples that even managed to inspire a couple of very fun movies.

  2. The Dark Tower series. Someone suggested to me years back that I should find a copy of the first book in The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger. I thought, why not. Wow. I'm hooked on that series now. I'm not into epic fantasies, but if authors started belting out fantasy tales like this, I'd be a devotee. There are seven books in all, five of which I've read. I'm almost wistful in setting to read the last two books in the series this year because the journey will be over. As a consolation, however, I've since started into The Dark Tower graphic novels from Marvel. Whenever someone wants a Stephen King recommended to them, I usually go with The Gunslinger.

That's my list. What does yours look like?


  1. What a great list. I've only read Stephen King, but the other authors have books on my wishlist.

    I just love The Dark Half, its my second favorite King book, second only to the Dark Tower series.

  2. Love Clive Barker though my favorite book is his first foray into fable/fantasy "The Thief of Always".

    My favorite Koontz books are: Phantoms, Strangers, Lightning, and Watchers.

    I can't get into Stephen King for some reason. I used to read him a lot but when "Insomnia" came out I lost interest in his new writing.

    Great List!

  3. Bella - I hear ya. The Dark Half is fantastic, as is The Dark Tower. I actually have a couple of reviews coming up soon of Stephen King titles.

    Ryan - The Thief of Always is probably one of the best children's fantasy titles I've ever read. Great stuff. As for your aversion to King, I'll suggest The Gunslinger and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon just in case you haven't read them.

  4. Definitely Barker and King, but Lovecraft is almost certainly my favorite, perhaps the greatest horror writer ever. Shirley Jackson would be in my top 5 too; maybe Ramsey Campbell or Karl Edward Wagner to round the list out with masterful short story writers. But it's tough...

  5. I'm one of those blasphemous people who don't hold Lovecraft on a pedestal. I know, it's practically heresy. :)