Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Horror Times Ten -- Alden H. Norton, Editor

I was in a short-story reading mood a while back and picked up this little volume. It had some stories I wasn't familiar with, and I thought I'd enjoy the "chilling tales of horror." Maybe I'm old and jaded, but I didn't have as much fun with them as I'd hoped.

One that disappointed me was Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Captian of the 'Pole Star.'" I knew where this one was going long before the end, and it was far from chilling. The same goes for H. P. Lovecraft's "Cool Air." Maybe there was a time when these would have been shocking or surprising, but no longer.

Robert E. Howard's "The Dead Remember" was another "surprise ending" story that didn't work so well, but I liked it anyway, maybe because Howard wrote it.

I didn't know Max Brand wrote horror, but I should have suspected it. He wrote just about everything else. However, "His Receding Brow" isn't exactly a horror story. And once again, I didn't find a single surprising thing about it. Still, no story about apes can be all bad.

The most bizarre story in the book is "His Unconquerable Enemy" by W. C. Morrow. If you can overlook the fact that it's kind of ridiculous, this story of revenge by a legless and armless man is pretty effective.

No doubt that when I was a kid, I'd have enjoyed these stories more than I did now. I've read too much to be easily surprised, and some of the effects the writers are going for just don't work for me. Still, I'm not sorry I read the book, and I'm sure I'll try some similar anthologies in the future.


James said...

I don't know how many writers could, even now, truly surprise a reader with some amazing twist. Certainly many try, but often their effort to pack a bang into the climax just makes the whole story seem like it's trying too hard.

As long as I'm not bored by the writing, I'm fine with having a sense of where things are going. This is where craft comes into play, and really makes all the difference.

Anonymous said...

And Alden Norton was perhaps not the best choice as editor for a collection of horror, if indeed he actually edited the book and didn't farm it out as Leo Margulies was apparently in the habit of doing with "his" books of similar vintage...I remember a Damon Knight anecdote which ended with a line crediting Norton as an earnest and gentlemanly sort who killed the SF magazine under discussion...while in the same anecdote, Knight noted that Norton was a great sports-fiction editor, not least in his continued patronage of William Campbell Gault's sports fiction, a lifelong enthusiasm of mine, as well. Even one of the weaker YA sports novels by Gault, which I picked up recently, has a grit to it that sets it apart from much of the YA writing of the time or since.

Meanwhile, some of these folks collected here have struck me as overrated since I read them in childhood...though perhaps it's not the twist ending that makes the strongest impression, so much as the slightly uglier ending than even what we might've been expecting, in a Lansdale, an Etchison, a Ramsey Campbell or a Lisa Tuttle...

Unknown said...

Gault is a neglected writer in a couple of fields.