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My Favorite Horror Story
Mike Baker & Martin H. Greenberg
DAW Books, 320 pages

My Favorite Horror Story
Martin H. Greenberg
Martin H. Greenberg is the most prolific anthologist in publishing history. He has won the Milford Award for Lifetime Achievement in Science Fiction Editing and was Editor Guest of Honour at the 1992 World Science Fiction Convention. He lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

ISFDB Bibliography
Martin H. Greenberg anthologies - 1st of 4 pages

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

Martin H. Greenberg deserves a lot of credit for the many science fiction and mystery anthologies he helps create. There was a time when short stories were an important part of popular American fiction, but that no longer seems to be true. Within the science fiction and fantasy field, the short story has somewhat more stature than in other fields, but even here there are fewer magazines than in the past, and even established writers have trouble finding publishers for collections of short stories.

This book follows similar volumes titled My Favorite Science Fiction Story and My Favorite Fantasy, also edited by Greenberg. Popular writers in these fields were asked to select and introduce a favourite story. What a great idea for a book! Not only does it pull together classic and influential stories, but stories that have had particular influences on important writers, with comments that help define the nature of the influence.

Ed Gorman, for instance, who writes with convincing characterization, presents Philip K. Dick's "The Father Thing," and cites Dick's strong characterization, an aspect of his work that is often overlooked. This strong story will remind many readers of the movie The Body Snatchers and the Jack Finney story on which the movie was based. In this regard, it is useful to look at the chronology: "The Father Thing" was published in 1954, Finney's story was published in 1955, and the movie appeared in 1956.

It is interesting to note that Robert Bloch is represented by two short stories; that Dennis Etchison is represented both as a presenter and a contributor of story; and that two generations of Mathesons are represented: a short story by Richard Matheson, and a story suggested by the younger Richard Christian Matheson.

H.P. Lovecraft is also represented by two stories: "The Colour Out of Space" and "The Rats in the Walls." Lovecraft was talented, important and influential but his stories tend to be somewhat over-wrought. While the racism that occasionally surfaces in his work is clearly historically consistent with the time period in which he wrote, it is often irritating, as it is in "Rats" where the protagonist's pet cat is unfortunately named. This story is as exaggerated as any of Lovecraft's work, and it also has one of those truly chilling, understated moments of implied horror, when the characters realize that "a descending passage seemingly chiseled from solid rock... according to the direction of the strokes, must have been chiseled from beneath."

The stories range from traditional, classic horror tales to more visceral modern stories. Classic horror is represented with subtle stories from M.R. James, Arthur Machen, and while more contemporary none the less subtle, Robert Aickman.

Traditional, classic, but perhaps not so subtle, Edgar Allan Poe is represented by "The Tell-Tale Heart." One of the most effective stories in the collection is "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by another great American writer, Ambrose Bierce. Bierce is not as often read these days as is Poe or Lovecraft, judging by what is available in print. This story combines both of Bierce's main interests, the Civil War and, well, horror. It is probably his best remembered story, since it was a great episode of the original The Twilight Zone. Interestingly, this film was not originally produced for Rod Serling's series, but was an award-winning French film.

Harlan Ellison presents the last story in the book, "The Human Chair" by Edigawa Rampo, a Japanese writer of mystery. Ellison makes a strong case for the importance of this writer. However, as he recalls how frightened he was when he first read this story as a youngster, alone at night in a tree house, Ellison's build-up is so dramatic I was surprised to read a story that was merely creepy, and more than slightly droll. This isn't a complaint, mind you; in fact the story had a personal resonance for me, as I come from a family of furniture makers. It is just that Ellison's remarks seemed a little overboard for this particular story. It did, however, motivate me to look for other stories by "the Japanese Edgar Allan Poe."

In many ways, my reaction to the Ellison presentation is typical of what this book, and Greenberg's other My Favorite... books can do -- suggest authors and types of stories that a recreational reader can pursue, and provide a background and context in which to appreciate and enjoy those stories.

Copyright © 2001 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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