20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (Book Review)

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (short story collection)

What It’s About: (via Amazon)

Imogene is young, beautiful . . . and dead, waiting in the Rosebud Theater one afternoon in 1945. . . .

Francis was human once, but now he’s an eight-foot-tall locust, and everyone in Calliphora will tremble when they hear him sing. . . .

John is locked in a basement stained with the blood of half a dozen murdered children, and an antique telephone, long since disconnected, rings at night with calls from the dead. . . .

Nolan knows but can never tell what really happened in the summer of ’77, when his idiot savant younger brother built a vast cardboard fort with secret doors leading into other worlds. . . .

The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past. . . .

My Thoughts:

I absolutely loved this short story collection from Joe Hill. I’ve read several Joe Hill books now & commented on my review for Heart-Shaped Box that, while I’m really enjoying his books, they still weren’t quite living up to his father’s (Stephen King – my favorite author). But I was determined that one day I’d read a Joe Hill book that I really do love. I’d say that 20th Century Ghosts is finally the one!

This collection is fantastic and the very best stories live up to King’s short stories. What was also great was that there were plenty that weren’t even within the horror genre, including some with brilliantly original ideas (such as in the story Pop Art – I’ve never read anything quite like that one). So I’ll review this one in the same way I reviewed his dad’s short story collection The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams – I’ll give a very brief opinion on each story then an overall rating & what my five favorite stories were. So here we go!

My Quick Thoughts On Each Story:

Best New Horror:

Yikes. This one was genuinely disturbing and one for true lovers of “horror”. I was a little worried, as this was the first story, that the rest of them would be as horrific (which wasn’t the case at all). But this is a brilliant piece of writing & one of the stories that I know I’ll remember the most from this collection years from now. Atmospheric & creepy, this story shows that Hill can write very effective horror.

20th Century Ghost:

I ADORED this story. I can tell you right now that this was my favorite but, of course, it was likely to be as it involved something very dear to me: a love of movies. I won’t get into details on the story to avoid spoilers but, as the title may suggest, it’s about a ghost haunting a movie theater. This story is perfect. I loved it so much! And what a relief to read this one, which made my heart happy, after the thoroughly disturbing one that started the book…

Pop Art:

Wow. This story is truly brilliant and utterly unique. It’s about a boy named Art. And he may pop. Why? Because he’s inflatable. This is some good shit. How is Joe Hill not a household name after writing this one?? Well, maybe it’s too weird for the mainstream but those who appreciate something a bit left of center may love this one.

You Will Hear The Locust Sing:

Another piece of amazing writing, this is Hill’s ode to Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Not my personal favorite but admittedly one of the better stories in this novel overall.

Abraham’s Boys:

Again, not a personal favorite of mine but this was an intriguing alternative take on vampire-hunter Van Helsing’s life.

Better Than Home:

This was a beautiful story about a loving father & son relationship. I can’t say I really related to it, especially as there’s a lot of baseball talk (Hill & his father clearly love baseball) but it’s a sweet & not overly-sentimental story I’m sure a lot of people would like.

The Black Phone:

A very King-like story about a kidnapped boy & the mysterious phone in the basement where he’s being kept. Loved the supernatural vibe. Fans of Hill’s dad will like this one.

In The Rundown:

A good story about a late teen/early twentysomething(?) boy beat down by life and about a woman going to desperate measures. But I have to admit I had to grab the book just now to remind me what this one was about so it’s clearly not one that stuck with me.

The Cape:

Definitely one of the strongest stories in the book, I thoroughly enjoyed this story of two brothers and a magic cape that allows one of them to fly. And I loved the turn the story took at the end. Another one that really displays Hill’s storytelling talent.

Last Breath:

A very short story but, again, a truly original & unique idea. I’d love to see this one & a few others adapted for some kind of anthology film/TV show. This story would work really well on screen.

Dead-Wood:

This is another one where I just had to refresh my memory. Didn’t take long as it’s only just over one page! A good, weird little story that actually reminds me of a Tales Of The Unexpected episode I saw once involving plants “screaming”. Man I loved that show. I guess it’s a bit like The Happening too, though. Ugh – Sorry! I didn’t mean to compare that movie to Hill’s work. Hill’s work is much better…

The Widow’s Breakfast:

Another lovely story that doesn’t fall at all within the horror genre, this is about a kind widow & a homeless man in the 1930s. I easily remembered this one – I preferred it to the father/son story in Better Than Home. But both are great for non-horror lovers.

Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead:

Joe Hill, you’re truly after my heart with your choices of settings in these stories! First we had the brilliant movie theater ghost story then, with this one, we have a “love story” on the set of George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn Of The Dead! An all-time favorite film of mine (and by far the best zombie flick ever)!!! Loved this story. Loved it! Hill & I clearly like the same sort of stuff. Other than baseball…

My Father’s Mask:

A bizarre story with a fantastic vibe. Sort of made me think of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut for some strange reason. But, like, a good version of that…

Voluntary Committal:

BRILLIANT story! The best in this book (and also my favorite alongside 20th Century Ghost, which has a slight edge for me only because it’s movie-related). I always feel bad comparing Hill to King but, yes, this one is very King-like and King’s fans will love it. It’s my favorite sort of story – one with a supernatural edge and very strong writing. I’d hazard a guess that this story is the favorite of most who read this collection. After this story and the four others I’ve listed below, I’m now indeed a firm fan of Joe Hill’s writing.

Scheherazade’s Typewriter:

A sneaky little story hidden within the Acknowledgments at the end of the book. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you that… It’s meant to be a surprise! Well, don’t miss out on this fun 3-page story – it’s well worth your time. As is this entire book. Fantastic work from Joe Hill! Now I can’t wait to read my new copy of The Fireman.

My Overall Rating For 20th Century Ghosts: 4.5/5

My Top Five Stories (in book appearance order):

20th Century Ghost
Pop Art
The Cape
Bobby Conroy Comes Back From The Dead
Voluntary Committal

**Hope you all have a great weekend and, for those who celebrate it, a very Merry Christmas! I’ll be back next week with a review of my final Blind Spot Movie (Akira), followed by four end-of-year lists of my favorite books & movies this year. I love end-of-year lists!!!! Hope to see all of yours too. 🙂

Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin (Book Review)

At the end of the year, I did a post with mini-reviews of every book I read in 2015. I’m re-posting & adding to those short reviews of some of my favorites. Tuf Voyaging, my first George R.R. Martin book, was a close third-favorite after Ready Player One & The Martian. Here’s my updated review:

Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin

What It’s About: (via Wikipedia)
Tuf Voyaging is a 1986 science fiction fix-up novel. It is a darkly comic meditation on environmentalism and absolute power. The novel concerns the (mis)adventures of Haviland Tuf, an exceptionally tall, bald, very pale, overweight, phlegmatic, vegetarian, cat-loving but otherwise solitary space trader. Due to the venality and cutthroat tactics of the party chartering his one-man trading vessel, Tuf inadvertently becomes master of Ark, an ancient, 30-kilometer-long “seedship”, a very powerful warship with advanced ecological engineering capabilities. Tuf travels the galaxy, offering his services to worlds with environmental problems, and sometimes imposing solutions of his own.

My Thoughts:

This is the first and only George R.R. Martin book I’ve ever read and I loved it! I got the Game Of Thrones book for Christmas 2014 but haven’t yet had the energy to embark on that massive journey. So when a woman I work with brought in a bunch of books that she was getting rid of, I was excited to see this standalone Martin book so I could see what his work was like.

I can only compare this to the Game Of Thrones TV show but I’d have to say it’s quite different from that. This is sci-fi comedy! I’ve read very few books in this genre but one happens to be my all-time favorite book (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) so this one was perfect for me and I enjoyed it immensely.

I’ll say that, although Martin’s books are clearly popular, I had no idea of what a great writer this guy really is and it has me definitely wanting to read more of his stuff. I’ll also admit this: I’m a casual reader & clearly like light & easy entertainment. My vocabulary is limited (as evidenced by my so-called “reviews” 😉 ) and I’ve never had to look up so many words for their definitions while reading a book as I did while reading this. (Not tons, maybe six or seven words). But that’s awesome – I don’t have to do that with my YA books!

Martin truly has a great way with words and his characters (especially Tuf) felt so alive. And it was actually funny! After watching Game Of Thrones, full of so much tragic death, I wasn’t sure what to expect of a sci-fi comedy from the same author. Plus the story itself had me hooked. Loved it. Can anyone recommend any of his other work?

More Thoughts On Tuf Voyaging:

That was all my initial mini-review but I’ve read up on this book a bit now & would like to add a little more. First of all, I had to look up what a “fix-up” novel was. Ah HA! This book is actually a collection of previously published stories about Haviland Tuf (and his voyages) all brought together into one novel. That makes sense as, yes, it’s a series of several stories involving the character of Tuf but it didn’t feel at all weird while reading it as they all tie together nicely. I actually really liked that there were several stories, meaning that everyone reading it will have different favorites. Luckily, what I liked most was a story they kept coming back to as it had the strongest character (other than Haviland Tuf) and it was fun to watch their relationship develop. 

Speaking of Haviland Tuf, he’s such a well-developed character and I can still picture exactly how I saw him in my mind. He reminded me of how strong the characters are in the Game Of Thrones TV show so apparently Martin is fantastic when it comes to character development. Tuf changes quite a bit through the novel but his odd quirks (and love for his cats and no one else) were a lot fun. I found it funny to read the following tidbit at Wikipedia as this Game Of Thrones actor was indeed the EXACT person I pictured the entire time I was reading Tuf Voyaging:

“In a February 2013 post, Martin wrote on his website that, from time to time, he is asked by fans about writing more Tuf stories; he continued, saying that he hopes to do so again someday. He also hinted that he thought Irish actor Conleth Hill, who plays Varys on HBO’s Game of Thrones, based on his bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, would be a good choice to play Tuf for a pay cable TV series.”

I’d love to see this made into a TV series! And the guy playing Varys is the perfect choice. 🙂

Well, I struggle with book reviews so I probably haven’t done this justice but I do hope some of you will check this one out if it sounds like the sort of genre that interests you. It’s not a book I’d go around recommending to everyone as it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. It’s a little silly & bizarre at times but that’s why it was so enjoyable. Plus, it’s hard to not like Haviland Tuf by the end even though he’s truly awkward when it comes to interacting with people. It touches on some quite deep themes so it’s not as silly as it seems on the surface but it was nice to get a break from all the dreariness in Game Of Thrones

My Rating: 4.5/5