21 October 2010

20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill

  • Author: Joe Hill
  • Title: 20th Century Ghost
  • Publisher: PS Publishing (2006)
  • ISBN: Dunno, look it up later.
On the subject of Joe Hill, I quote Horrorscope :
  • "I'd never hear of Joe Hill before. Now I want EVERYONE to hear about him."
My sentiments exactly. Joe Hill is a name that had been popping up in the anthologies and a few magazines, always with a pretty good little story. This prompted me to get this book, which has turned me into a raving evangelist on the subject of Joe Hill. There is no god of heaven, but there is a god of horror fiction. His name is Stephen King, but I gotta say, this kid is a serious contender, a Heracles to Kings Zeus.

In this collection of his short fiction, Hill will blow your mind, repeatedly, and with a casual ease that will frighten you. Seriously, this guy is good. He combines the everyman voice of Stephen King with an ability to end a story when it ends, not based on a page count but on the story itself. This guy is THE horror writer for the 21st century. Rarely have I been surprised as often as I was when reading this book.

The collection contains an incredibly diverse range of stories. From nostalgia to tribute to childhood fantasies, Hill manages to tweak every single emotional button I have. Freak. Not all the stuff in the book is horror, and not all of the horror is grotesque. Hill has a range as broad as the sky, and a colour palette that must look like technicolour vomit when in use.

The title story, "20th Century Ghost" will absolutely break your heart. Other stories like Buttonboy and The Black Phone will make you question the mind that came up with these stories. I quote Horrorscope again :
  • "Together, these tales combine to create a collection that balances perfectly between intelligent, mature dark-fantasy and unflinching horror. Easily as accomplished as Clive Barker's "Books of Blood", "20th Century Ghosts" is also much more subtle. Its stories are lingering, disturbing creatures - even the 'mainstream' ones - that reminded me in many ways of Margo Lanagan's "Black Juice", or Dale Bailey's "The Resurrection Man's Legacy"
Get this book. Even if you don't like horror, you should read this guy. He has a massive future in fiction, and is well on his way to being one of the all time greats. I constantly compare him to Stephen King, and a lot of other people do to, although I am trying to stop this terrible habit. He's better than Clive Barker. He's better than Michael Swanwick. Fuck, he's better than just about everybody, ever.

Now here's the thing. I am loath to mention this, because Joe Hill has to my mind become great on his own merits. All of the opinions expressed in this gushing review were formed before the following detail came to light. I only found this out, in fact, just a few days ago. Joe Hill is a pseudonym for Joseph Hillstrom King, the second child of Stephen & Tabitha King. Yeah, the famous writer Stephen King.

I wish nobody knew. I don't want anyone to read Joe Hill because of his parents. I mean, Tabby has written great novels, and Steve has written enough to deforest a continent. It's easy enough to think that this guy has writer parents, so he's got it easy, cause he made his name by being their kid.

WRONG!! Joe Hill has and will continue to make his name because he is brilliant. He has worked really fucking hard to produce fiction of a standard that is rarely met. He deserves to be recognised for this on the basis that it is his work, not his name, that makes him stand out. And in many ways, Hill has a distinct disadvantage in being the son of someone as well known as Stephen King. It  must be immensely difficult for Hill to get people to acknowledge his work without reference to his father. Indeed, before discovering this detail, I had continually stated that I though Joe Hill was the new Stephen King, a King without the baggage and a talent for ending his stories that Stephen King sometimes lacks.

I guess those comparisons are interesting once you know the familial relationship, but I really believed that Joe Hill would play a similar role to the one King played in the 20th century in genre fiction into the 21st. I think Hill is destined to become a best-seller superstar of genre, and I hope that he can continue to produce to the standard that this collection suggests he can.

Joe Hill. Remember that name.