fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewshorror book reviews Joe Hill 20th Century Ghosts20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. Good, now that’s out of the way. 20th Century Ghosts (2007) is a prime collection of short fiction. Some stories are horror, some are literary horror and some aren’t horror at all. Hill has a strong style, a distinctive voice, and a willingness to indulge in post-modernism. This means that the conclusions of some stories are left up to the reader. This is not the undisciplined writing of someone who can’t commit to a resolution, but a literary choice executed with intent and skill.  In “Best New Horror” and “In the Rundown,” readers must decide for themselves what comes after the final paragraph.

“Best New Horror” is a familiar tale, and a tasty mélange of tropes; bits of H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, The Hills Have Eyes, and even the Serial Killer Convention in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, all spiced with a sprinkling of sinister glee that makes the whole thing work.

“Pop Art” is one of the better stories about friendship and loss, with an original element perfectly introduced into the story. The story has resonance with the last novella in the book, “Voluntary Committal.” “The Black Telephone” is an exercise in desperation, with a palpable grounding in the real world.

“20th Century Ghost,” the title story, tells us a sweet tale about a decaying movie palace and a ghost that loves movies.

“You Will Hear the Locust Sing” blends Kafka with the 1950s vintage B-movie Them, about giant ants. I found the physical details to be spot-on, although I’m not sure I really understood the story.

By far the most surreal and disturbing work in the book is “My Father’s Mask.” I finished this story and thought, “Whoa, that’s shocking.” A day later when I was pulling weeds the story finally clicked for me and I thought, “Oh, my God! It’s going to happen again!” Because clearly, it is what always happens.

Terry Weyna recommended Joe Hill to me, and I have to thank her. I look forward to more of his work. I don’t know how well he manages the longer form, but Hill is a short-story master.

20th Century Ghosts — (2007) Imogene is young and beautiful. She kisses like a movie star and knows everything about every film ever made. She’s also dead and waiting in the Rosebud Theater for Alec Sheldon one afternoon in 1945… Arthur Roth is a lonely kid with big ideas and a gift for attracting abuse. It isn’t easy to make friends when you’re the only inflatable boy in town… Francis is unhappy. Francis was human once, but that was then. Now he’s an eight-foot-tall locust and everyone in Calliphora will tremble when they hear him sing… John Finney is locked in a basement that’s stained with the blood of half a dozen other murdered children. In the cellar with him is an antique telephone, long since disconnected, but which rings at night with calls from the dead…


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

    View all posts