Since I've got a few short stories coming out over the next couple months, I thought I'd do a feature on the collections that have struck a resonant chord with me over the years.
Clive Barker - Books of Blood
The Books of Blood are a six-volume collection of long-short tales published between 1984 and 1985. The first three are available in America as a single volume, with the following three released as In the Flesh, The Inhuman Condition, and Cabal. These are the books that launched Barker's career and established him as one of the twentieth century's most important voices in macabre fiction. Unspeakably horrific and beautifully imagined.
Ray Bradbury - The Golden Apples of the Sun
The short story was Bradbury's true domain, and this book serves as a fine introduction. Despite a few political problems I've developed with him over the years, my favorite thing about his work is that it's written in a manner so simple that a child can follow it, yet the stories are so profound that they can still knock you on your ass as an adult. I first read "The Fog Horn" when I was thirteen, and I remember thinking I hadn't known a story about a sea monster could be so deeply moving.
J.G. Ballard - War Fever
Beautifully surreal tales of war, science, and technology. Ballard's work bears the mark of a true visionary: he expands your scope of what it's possible to write about.
Stephen King - Night Shift
King's early work remains my preference, and the stories in this one stand the test of time. I remember reading "The Boogeyman" in the back of my parents' car during a nighttime drive back from a ski trip, and being frightened out of my wits. In a series of happy accidents, most of the movies made out of the Night Shift tales ended up deviating so far from the source material that even if you've seen them, you'll still get plenty of scares from this book. Perfect examples are "Graveyard Shift," "Children of the Corn," and "Sometimes They Come Back."
Richard Matheson - Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
It still baffles me that Richard Matheson isn't as much of a household name as Ray Bradbury. His influence is broad, and his images are deeply embedded in our collective subconscious (even if you've never seen that episode of The Twilight Zone, you've heard a joke about the gremlin on the jet's wing.) We lost Matheson earlier this year. The upside to the death of a great writer is that their passing usually sparks a rediscovery on behalf of the reading public. I'd like to contribute to that if I can, so take my advice and check out this book.
Neil Gaiman - Smoke and Mirrors
Gaiman should be considered mandatory reading for young writers. Besides being really damn good, he offers transparency to the mechanics of writing. Each of the wonderfully diverse stories in this book is accompanied by a blurb about the story's conception, gestation, and birth. He wears his influences on his sleeve, and shows you how he digests, processes, and shapes them into something uniquely Gaimanesque.