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20th Century Ghosts

20th Century Ghosts

3.9 101
by Joe Hill, Christopher Golden (Introduction)

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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


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. . . .

Editorial Reviews

Evening Herald (Ireland)
“Irresistible stories.”
Coventry Telegraph on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS
“Subtle and disturbing in equal measure.”
Daily Mail (London) on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS
“Each of these chilling tales arrests you from the opening sentence and leads you — trustingly, thanks to the simple mastery of the story-teller — into a place of gulping fear.”
Elizabeth Hand
20th Century Ghosts, the melancholy and very fine story collection by Joe Hill, comes with an impeccable literary pedigree and a great backstory. Hill was born Joseph Hillstrom King, son of the writers Tabitha and Stephen King, and developed his chops the old-fashioned way, publishing work in literary magazines and anthologies here and in England. When he began shopping his first collection around, it was turned down in the United States and finally appeared in 2005 from a small British press. That edition garnered numerous awards, including the William Crawford Award for best first fantasy book, and won its author a contract at Morrow, which earlier this year published his bestselling horror novel, Heart-Shaped Box. Now Americans finally get a chance to see what all the noise was about: This new edition of 20th Century Ghosts includes a previously unpublished story, and the collection should establish its author as a major player in 21st-century fantastic fiction.
—The Washington Post
Terrence Rafferty
There are…fine stories in 20th Century Ghosts. "Pop Art," "You Will Hear the Locust Sing" and "Voluntary Committal" are all terrific, and the rest are, at a minimum, solid, swift and craftsmanlike. But "Best New Horror" seems to me the most thrillingly original of Hill's weird tales, a daredevil performance that keeps some complex ideas suspended in the air along with, of course, our usual disbelief. It's brave and astute of Hill to acknowledge that some part of the appeal of horror fiction—of any genre fiction, really—is its very predictability: the comfort of knowing, at least, what kind of story we're reading.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

After the release of Hill's acclaimed novel Heart-Shaped Box, this collection of his short fiction, originally published in Britain two years ago made its way to the United States. Hill, the son of horror master Stephen King, runs a diverse gamut that includes some unapologetic chillers along the lines of the book's title story. Yet the essence of his material could best be described as a hybrid that connects the ironic twists from episodes of The Twilight Zonewith the angst and vulnerability of childhood and adolescence. David LeDoux, whose previous audiobook credits include Douglas Coupland's Hey Nostradamus!and Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, demonstrates an especially keen knack for capturing the cadence of teen and young adult male speech patterns, with equal parts deadpan cool and quivering tension. Hill's novella "Voluntary Committal" provides a sublime experience of jarring suspense and compelling family drama. Admittedly, a few of the briefer works may leave listeners longing for more fully developed story lines, but Hill consistently manages to evoke emotional responses and provoke unsettling questions, which makes for a worthwhile experience. Simultaneous release with the Morrow hardcover. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

When Hill's first novel (Heart-Shaped Box) was published, there was much buzz when it was revealed that he was the son of Stephen King. Before that was widely known, however, Hill published a collection of short stories in Britain, which won the Bram Stoker Award, and his novella Best New Horrorbeat out his father's "The Things They Left Behind" in the Long Fiction category. Ghosts, which had a limited print run in Britain, is finally being released here, and it is astounding. Though most of the stories have elements of horror, the overall mood of the collection is one of heartbreaking wonderment, especially evident in the beautiful story "Pop Art" about a young delinquent's friendship with an inflatable boy. Other standouts are "In the Rundown," a Raymond Carveresque tale about a loser who peaked in high school; "Better Than Home," about a disabled boy's relationship with his father; and "Voluntary Committal," in which a child's cardboard fort becomes a solution to his big brother's problems. This edition includes the new story "Scheherezade's Typewriter" hidden in the acknowledgments. Highly recommended for short story and horror fiction collections.-Karl G. Siewert, MLIS, Tulsa City-Cty. Lib., OK

—Karl G. Siewert
School Library Journal

Adult/High School-This collection of short stories will appeal not only to fantasy and horror fans, but also to those who appreciate drama and suspense. The book was originally published in the United Kingdom in 2005; the U.S. edition contains 14 short stories, two of which are new to it, and a novella. Selections vary from "My Father's Mask," a bone-chilling tale of a family on the run, to "The Widow's Breakfast" and the kindness of a stranger. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this anthology is the author's ability to engage readers by eliciting a broad spectrum of emotions, in many cases all within the same story. Teens will find themselves disturbed, amused, and touched by the various conclusions to these tales. And while the plots and characters vary greatly, each story challenges readers to use their own imaginations while appreciating the tales' twists and turns. With their cliff-hanger endings, quick pacing, and three-dimensional characters, many of these selections will spark interesting classroom and book-club discussions. Recommend this title to teens looking for a book that will both challenge and entertain.-Lynn Rashid, Marriots Ridge High School, Marriotsville, MD

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A collection of pleasantly creepy stories follows Hill's debut novel (Heart Shaped Box, 2007). Published in a number of magazines from 2001 to the present, most of the stories display the unself-conscious dash that made Hill's novel an intelligent pleasure. In addition to the touches of the supernatural, some heavy, some light, the stories are largely united by Hill's mastery of teenaged-male guilt and anxiety, unrelieved by garage-band success or ambition. One of the longest and best, "Voluntary Committal," is about Nolan, a guilty, anxious high-school student, Morris, his possibly autistic or perhaps just congenitally strange little brother, and Eddie, Nolan's wild but charming friend. Morris, whose problems dominate but don't completely derail his family's life, spends the bulk of his time in the basement creating intricate worlds out of boxes. Eddie and Nolan spend their time in accepted slacker activities until Eddie, whose home life is rough, starts pushing the edges, leading to real mischief, a big problem for Nolan who would rather stay within the law. It's Morris who removes the problem for the big brother he loves, guaranteeing perpetual guilt and anxiety for Nolan. "My Father's Mask" is a surprisingly romantic piece about a small, clever family whose weekend in an inherited country place involves masks, time travel and betrayal. The story least reliant on the supernatural may leave the most readers pining for a full-length treatment: "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead" reunites a funny but failed standup comedian with his equally funny ex-high school sweetheart Harriet, now married and a mother. Bobby has come back to Pittsburgh, tail between his legs, substitute teachingand picking up the odd acting job, and it is on one of those gigs, a low-budget horror film, that the couple reconnects, falling into their old comedic rhythms. Not just for ghost addicts.
Denver Rocky Mountain News
“Each tale is unique, and the collection proves that Hill’s talent is not limited to horror, but extends well into the mainstream.”
Village Voice
“[A] lovely, earnest collection of short fiction.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“The selections range from the mundane to the surreal, with a strong emphasis on the kind of horror tale perfected by Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub and Stephen King.”
Daily Mail (London)
“Each of these chilling tales arrests you from the opening sentence and leads you — trustingly, thanks to the simple mastery of the story-teller — into a place of gulping fear.”
New York Times
“This solid, inventive, scary collection of stories reveals a writer who has thought hard about the problematics of horror.”
Coventry Telegraph
“Subtle and disturbing in equal measure.”
Parade (a "Parade Pick")
“Alternately sad, scary, strange and at times even sweet, these tales will haunt you long after you’ve read them.”
New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)
“[An] inventive collection . . . brave and astute.”
“[O]ne of the best [horror] collections of the year. Hill is a relative newcomer who consistently creates creepy, very disturbing stories.”
New York Times on 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS
“This solid, inventive, scary collection of stories reveals a writer who has thought hard about the problematics of horror.”
"Alternately sad, scary, strange and at times even sweet, these tales will haunt you long after you’ve read them."
(Editor's Choice) - New York Times Book Review
"[An] inventive collection . . . brave and astute."
The Sun Herald (Sydney
“[A] new take on the fantasy-horror genre...Highly recommended.”
The Sun Herald (Sydney))
"[A] new take on the fantasy-horror genre...Highly recommended."
The Sun Herald (Sydney)
"[A] new take on the fantasy-horror genre...Highly recommended."

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

20th Century Ghosts

Chapter One

Best New Horror

A month before his deadline, Eddie Carroll ripped open a manila envelope, and a magazine called The True North Literary Review slipped out into his hands. Carroll was used to getting magazines in the mail, although most of them had titles like Cemetery Dance and specialized in horror fiction. People sent him their books, too. Piles of them cluttered his Brookline townhouse, a heap on the couch in his office, a stack by the coffee maker. Books of horror stories, all of them.

No one had time to read them all, although once—when he was in his early thirties and just starting out as the editor of America's Best New Horror—he had made a conscientious effort to try. Carroll had guided sixteen volumes of Best New Horror to press, had been working on the series for over a third of his life now. It added up to thousands of hours of reading and proofing and letter-writing, thousands of hours he could never have back.

He had come to hate the magazines especially. So many of them used the cheapest ink, and he had learned to loathe the way it came off on his fingers, the harsh stink of it.

He didn't finish most of the stories he started anymore, couldn't bear to. He felt weak at the thought of reading another story about vampires having sex with other vampires. He tried to struggle through Lovecraft pastiches, but at the first painfully serious reference to the Elder Gods, he felt some important part of him going numb inside, the way a foot or a hand will go to sleep when the circulation is cut off. He feared the part of him being numbed was hissoul.

At some point following his divorce, his duties as the editor of Best New Horror had become a tiresome and joyless chore. He thought sometimes, hopefully almost, of stepping down, but he never indulged the idea for long. It was twelve thousand dollars a year in the bank, the cornerstone of an income patched together from other anthologies, his speaking engagements and his classes. Without that twelve grand, his personal worst-case scenario would become inevitable: he would have to find an actual job.

The True North Literary Review was unfamiliar to him, a literary journal with a cover of rough-grained paper, an ink print on it of leaning pines. A stamp on the back reported that it was a publication of Katahdin University in upstate New York. When he flipped it open, two stapled pages fell out, a letter from the editor, an English professor named Harold Noonan.

The winter before, Noonan had been approached by a part-time man with the university grounds crew, a Peter Kilrue. He had heard that Noonan had been named the editor of True North and was taking open submissions, and asked him to look at a short story. Noonan promised he would, more to be polite than anything else. But when he finally read the manuscript, "Buttonboy: A Love Story," he was taken aback by both the supple force of its prose and the appalling nature of its subject matter. Noonan was new in the job, replacing the just-retired editor of twenty years, Frank McDane, and wanted to take the journal in a new direction, to publish fiction that would "rattle a few cages."

"In that I was perhaps too successful," Noonan wrote. Shortly after "Buttonboy" appeared in print, the head of the English department held a private meeting with Noonan to verbally assail him for using True North as a showcase for "juvenile literary practical jokes." Nearly fifty people cancelled their subscriptions—no laughing matter for a journal with a circulation of just a thousand copies—and the alumna who provided most of True North's funding withdrew her financial support in outrage. Noonan himself was removed as editor, and Frank McDane agreed to oversee the magazine from retirement, in response to the popular outcry for his return.

Noonan's letter finished:

I remain of the opinion that (whatever its flaws), "Buttonboy" is a remarkable, if genuinely distressing, work of fiction, and I hope you'll give it your time. I admit I would find it personally vindicating if you decided to include it in your next anthology of the year's best horror fiction.

I would tell you to enjoy, but I'm not sure that's the word.

Harold Noonan

Eddie Carroll had just come in from outside, and read Noonan's letter standing in the mudroom. He flipped to the beginning of the story. He stood reading for almost five minutes before noticing he was uncomfortably warm. He tossed his jacket at a hook and wandered into the kitchen.

He sat for a while on the stairs to the second floor, turning through the pages. Then he was stretched on the couch in his office, head on a pile of books, reading in a slant of late October light, with no memory of how he had got there.

He rushed through to the ending, then sat up, in the grip of a strange, bounding exuberance. He thought it was possibly the rudest, most awful thing he had ever read, and in his case that was saying something. He had waded through the rude and awful for most of his professional life, and in those fly-blown and diseased literary swamps had discovered flowers of unspeakable beauty, of which he was sure this was one. It was cruel and perverse and he had to have it. He turned to the beginning and started reading again.

It was about a girl named Cate—an introspective seventeen-year-old at the story's beginning—who one day is pulled into a car by a giant with jaundiced eyeballs and teeth in tin braces. He ties her hands behind her back and shoves her onto the backseat floor of his station wagon . . . where she discovers a boy about her age, whom she at first takes for dead and who has suffered an unspeakable disfiguration. His eyes are hidden behind a pair of round, yellow, smiley-face buttons. They've been pinned right through his eyelids—which have also been stitched shut with steel wire—and the eyeballs beneath.

20th Century Ghosts. Copyright © by Joe Hill. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Joe Hill is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Horns, Heart-Shaped Box, and NOS4A2. He is also the Eisner Award-winning writer of a six-volume comic book series, Locke & Key. He lives in New Hampshire.

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20th Century Ghosts 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 101 reviews.
SavageBS More than 1 year ago
"20th Century Ghosts : Stories" is not a book of horror fiction or ghost stories! The title seems to draw some readers in and push others away. This is a book of outstanding short fiction, where one of stories just happens to be called, "20th Century Ghost" and Joe Hill decided to use it for the title. Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King, still that doesn't guarantee that his writing will be as good as his fathers, but in my opinion his short stories are just as good. Joe doesn't have quite an impressive list of novels written yet, unlike his father, but he is off to a great start. Joe has written two full length novels, "Horns" & "Heart-Shaped Box", which have both been successes. I have read "Horns" and I enjoyed it, I'm definitely looking forward to "Heart Shaped Box". Read this collection and you will certainly see for yourself that Joe Hill can really write and that this collection belongs near the top! The collection includes a total of 15 stories and one bonus story at the back of the book, after the acknowledgements. 5 star stories: "Pop Art" - a great story, great original concept "20th Century Ghost" "Abraham's Boys" "The Black Phone" "Voluntary Committal" - a story to get lost in when reading, great creative writing "You Will Hear the Locust Sing" The rest: "Best New Horror" "In the Rundown" "Better Than Home" "The Cape" "Deadwood" "Last Breath" "The Widow's Breakfast" "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead" "My Father's Mask" "Scheherazade's Typewriter" (Bonus story) All in all a great collection of short stories, with topics varying from ghosts to killers to sibling rivalry to old flames re-united! Highly recommended! Enjoy~
DPManwell More than 1 year ago
Joe Hill is the son of horror master Stephen King. Knowing that, it's impossible not to compare the two, so... Hill's writing is as good as King's, if not (gasp) better. It's more concise and with less archaic slang. As for the merits of this collection itself, it's a brilliant collection of short stories. They aren't all horror stories, so if you're looking for a thrill ride, you may want to look elsewhere... but most of them do have a horror element. "Dead-Wood" is an amazing piece of flash fiction or prose poetry, and "The Cape" is one of the best uses of the short story form I've ever seen. That's all I can say about it. If you're a Stephen King fan, get it. If you're a literary horror fan, get it. If you're a fan of short fiction generally, get it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ordered it for 1.99 but was charged 9.99... be careful!
Guest More than 1 year ago
More than enough has already been said about Joe Hill's genetics. What counts is the quality of his work, which is quite strong indeed. Though this collection is a bit uneven, the best pieces are so good they elevate the whole book to a very high plane. A must-read for fans of the genre, or anyone who loves imaginative short stories.
Pugs11 More than 1 year ago
I read Heart Shaped Box, Horns, and NOS4A2 first. Wanting more, I decided to take a chance on the short stories. Don't miss out! I'm eager for the next book.
KatyScarlettDT More than 1 year ago
In Joe Hill's book 20th Century Ghosts you will find 15 short stories that are so thrilling they will have you on the edge of your seat until the amazing conclusion. All of the stories are unique and scary and will have you captivated, then terrified, happy, then crying, and are all tinged with an underlying romanticism. I loved curling up on the couch with this book during a thunderstorm, even though late at night in bed I would be searching into the shadows for the fictional characters that Joe Hill painted vividly into my head. If you loved Joe Hill's novel Heart Shaped Box, or like to read in short bursts, this book is perfect for you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have a word to descrive this book, addictive, every history will grab your attention and time until you finish it and you'll be wanting more.Some of the stories are twisted and sordid but they do show 'the other side' that other stories refuse to look at... Love it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
And enough substance to leave you chewing.
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Next res..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This collection of storles is rather bizarre,but interesting!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pad in andwaits. Glad she can post again. Silverpaw.
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Most of the stories stop abruptly. They arent dramatic, they are poorly wriitten.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good short stories that are well written. Stephen King must be very proud of his son who authored this collection. ER
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good book. Liked most of the stories, especially the last one.
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