In Author Top 5s I'm inviting a number of authors to share top 5 lists somehow related to the genre they write. They'll be discussing things they love and how they've been influenced by them. Should prove to be interesting and hopefully we'll all pick up a few recommendations of good stuff to check out.
First up we've got Alan Baxter, horror, dark fantasy and sci-fi author along with, kind of awesomely, a Kung Fu instructor. Alan's sharing with us his 5 indispensable horror novels. Perfect timing in the lead up to Halloween. Thanks Alan.
Justin asked if I’d like to contribute a “Top 5…” post for his blog. I responded that I simply can’t pick the 5 best of anything because my view will change from day to day. Hell, I can change my mind about items 1 to 3 by the time I get to item 4. But I said, “How about I give you a list of 5 indispensable horror novels? They may or may not be among the best, and it’s all subjective anyway, but they will be 5 horror novels that every fan of the genre absolutely should read.” Justin liked that idea, so here, in no particular order, are five horror novels you absolutely must read and why:
The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker
Barker has had more of an influence on me than any other writer. He’s probably my all-time favourite author. I received the highest praise ever recently when someone compared my latest novel, Bound, to Barker’s work. I preened about that for weeks. And this book is my favourite of his. It’s a tough call between this one and Cabal, in fact, but the story in this novel is epic. It’s an incredibly imaginative piece of work, with amazing ideas and scope and some truly frightening concepts at its core. Some might consider it a dark fantasy more than a horror, but for me those two genres bleed into each other so much that I rarely call a distinction between them.
At The Mountains of Madness by H P Lovecraft
Another author who has had a profound influence on my own writing, Lovecrcaft’s work is essential to the horror genre of today. This is actually a novella, but many of the best works in dark fiction are (like Cabal mentioned above and another Barker classic, The Hellbound Heart, which was made into the cult classic movie, Hellraiser.) At The Mountains of Madness is probably the most far-reaching of Lovecraft’s works in terms of its development of the man’s own mythos. It’s a tremendous example of something that is still directly influencing writers to this day. Lovecraft’s descriptive prose, while florid and overblown a lot of the time, is still among the best in the business. And he always makes us small and insignificant in the face of his horrors.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
This novel is a subject lesson in creeping, subtle horror. Jackson builds a situation with such amazing characters, not least of which is the house itself, and imbues it all with such a masterful sense of unease that you often forget you’re reading a horror story and wonder why you’re so unsettled. Her short fiction is also essential reading – she really is one of the best writers any genre has ever seen.
It by Stephen King
This is the book that made me sleep with the light on for a week as a teenager and confirmed my sure conviction that clowns are just fucked in every way. King displays his talents for characterisation better in this story than any other, I think, and builds a truly terrifying sequence of events. It has to be said that King almost always falls over with endings – he’s truly rubbish at them and the end of this book, the big reveal, is lamer than a duck with both legs cut off. Which is a bloody shame. However, everything until just before the end is so amazing, you need to read it anyway. King is an incredible writer, even if he does drop the ball at the end so often.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Still one of my favourite books ever. If you’ve only seen the film with Wil Smith, kick yourself hard in a soft spot right now. That film is a travesty and it craps all over what this book is actually about. The film utterly misses the point of the very title of the godsdamned story. This book (another that’s more novella than novel, really, by today’s standards) is simply brilliant. The world Matheson builds and the course the protagonist takes is so eloquently drawn that you don’t question a single word of it. And the ending is absolute genius. They’ve never done a good job of filming this (even with at least three attempts that I know of) so you absolutely must read the book.
So there you go. And I’ve already thought of five more indispensable novels, but thankfully Justin only wanted five, so I’ll stick with those above. I could probably do a list of fifty or more if necessary. The horror genre is amazingly diverse and enthralling. And don’t be fooled by the word horror and only think of blood and slasher movies. Of course there is blood and death in the novels above, but not one of them is cheap shock and gore. Every one is an amazing example of writing, character, story and varying degrees of creeping dread. I hope you enjoy them!
Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He is the author of the dark urban fantasy trilogy, Bound, Obsidian and Abduction (The Alex Caine Series) published by HarperVoyager Australia, and the dark urban fantasy duology, RealmShift and MageSign (The Balance 1 and 2) from Gryphonwood Press. He co-authored the short horror novel, Dark Rite, with David Wood. Alan also writes short fiction with more than 50 stories published in a variety of journals and anthologies in Australia, the US, the UK and France. His short fiction has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction (forthcoming), Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Postscripts, and Midnight Echo, among many others, and more than twenty anthologies, including the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror (2010 and 2012). He has twice been a finalist in the Ditmar Awards. He lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dog and cat. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – www.warriorscribe.com – or find him on Twitter @AlanBaxter and Facebook, and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.