Alone with the Horrors Paperback – Sep 15 1994
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“Some of the best short fiction written in the last half century.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Alone with the Horrors --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Ramsey Campbell has won more awards than any other living author of horror or dark fantasy, including four World Fantasy Awards, nine British Fantasy Awards, three Bram Stoker Awards, and two International Horror Guild Awards. Critically acclaimed both in the US and in England, Campbell is widely regarded as one of the genre's literary lights for both his short fiction and his novels. His classic novels, such as The Face that Must Die, The Doll Who Ate His Mother, and The Influence, set new standards for horror as literature. His collection, Scared Stiff, virtually established the subgenre of erotic horror.
Ramsey Campbell's works have been published in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and several other languages. He has been President of the British Fantasy Society and has edited critically acclaimed anthologies, including Fine Frights. Campbell's best known works in the US are Obsession, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, and Nazareth Hill.--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition. See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
I'm not sure any horror writer since M.R. James has gotten more productive mileage out of things glimpsed but not properly seen; no one has consistently described even the most normative of objects and landscapes in a manner which suggests both psychological trauma and the invasion of a world-altering Otherness completely inimical to human beings. Something is always on the verge of breaking through -- through the walls of the world or the world of the sane mind. Here, even a dress ("The Fit") or the noise between the radio stations ("Hearing is Believing") can become a source of terror. But there's a grandeur to much of the terror, as there really should be: Lovecraft would have approved.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Although "Alone with the Horrors" is an almost complete compendium of Campbell's short fiction from 1961 - 1991, such tales as "The Guide" are excluded as they were written in a style not entirely his own ("The Guide" was written after the manner of M.R. James.) The following is a sample of the included stories:
"The Tower of Yuggoth" (1961) - My advice to editors of short story collections is, for the new reader's sake, don't arrange the stories in order by date written. Campbell's first published story is a Lovecraft pastiche, complete with the scion of a decayed New England family tottering about the sinister, moon-lit swamps, and doing unspeakable business with the Elder Gods. He is driven mad by the sight of "the ebony void of space" and the creatures that crawl about there, but he lives long enough (naturally) to gasp out twenty pages of Lovecraftian drivel. I wish the rule-of-exclusion had been applied to "The Tower of Yuggoth" instead of "The Guide."
(There are so many humans doing business with the Elder Gods these days, you'd think They'd form a franchise and open outlets at the local malls.)
"The Interloper" (1968) - Two schoolboys visit "The Catacombs" during lunch break. It turns out not to be a music club. If Ramsey Campbell really had teachers like the ones he depicts in this story (be sure to read his introduction to this collection), I can understand where he gets the inspiration for his horror fiction. Don't let your kids read this story. They'll never go back to school.
"The Companion" (1973) - So much great horror takes place at carnivals, and this story is one of the best. It scared the bejaysus out of Stephen King (see his nonfiction book on horror, "Danse Macabre") and it did the same to me.
"The Chimney" (1975) - A young boy is afraid of what might come down the chimney in his bedroom on Christmas Eve. I thought I had wrung all of the terror out of this story once the boy grew up and became a librarian, but I was wrong. "The Chimney" saves its gut-punch for the very end.
"Hearing is Believing" (1979)--Have you ever had a dream with multiple awakenings, each one more horrible than the last? In a sense, this story epitomizes the whole book. It is "The Tower of Yuggoth" distilled by twenty-eight years of practice into something much more horrible than any tentacled thing that cracked open the sky above New England.
Mostly Campbell is influenced by H P Lovecraft rather than explicit gore or gratuitous violence - although there are always exceptions! So his writing style is completely different from say Stephen King, but both are masters of short horror fiction in their different ways.
The stories within are as scary as horror fiction can get. Amongst my favourites are "In the Bag", and perhaps best of all "The Companion". You know how with some novels (King on occasions is an example) after reading through hundreds of pages you get to the end and think - is that it? I.e. the ending never quite leaves you satisfied despite the brilliance of the story telling before (again King). Well you won't get this with Campbell's short stories, his end with a punch, metaphorically a knock-out one to your head...
Another splendid volumn to get if this one becomes unavailable is Dark Companions which contains many of the same stories. You'll probably only get this 2nd hand but its worth searching out.
Now: we're talking frankly. It's late. The bar is clearing out; the last call was heard an hour ago. You've drained your cup; the barge horn sounds, far away, on the river: it makes you lonely, makes you think of love lost, of options squandered. Now we're getting there, aren't we?
What scares you?
Let's walk down here by the river, let's talk in the damp and the fog. Let's talk about what the late, unlamented 20th century served up well-done and 24/7: alienation, doubt, fear, horror, and self-loathing.
That's what Ramsey Campbell writes about---or maybe "writes about" doesn't quite cut it, when we're talking about Campbell. Perhaps `conjures up' works better.
Terrorism, uncontrolled immigration, the neighborhood falling apart, your children stumbling in at 3 in the morning stranger and quieter with every furtive homecoming, basic civility torn to shreds, kids in hoodies whooping war-cries in the tube station while you keep your head down, hunker low, just trying to get home to save your strength for the next futile day.
Ramsey Campbell is a skald for this Age, with its vast slabs of ferro-concrete and cloned subdivisions and mass graves and ethnic cleansing and soul-numbing depersonalization.
He writes what he knows, and what he knows is 30 years of tilting back at stories that dug deep into the guts, the gruesome marrow, the bloody viscera, of a world bled white, drained of identity, stripped clean, standardized, strip-malled, paved, parking-lotted over.
And, oh yes, haunted.
Like "The Voice of the Beach", the story in which a writer's twitchy, nervous, newly divorced friend comes up to the beachside bungalow for a weekend, only to unleash a slumbering horror that threatens the writer's sanity---and has designs on the world. Or "The Show goes On" where a lonely shop-keeper discovers there are worse things than drunken derelicts in the decrepit theater next door. Or "Baby", where a vagrant finds the harmless little old beggar lady isn't so harmless at all, and what is that she's got in the pram?
"Alone with the Horrors" is, as much as a compendium of short, juicy, saucy, nasty horror tales can be. In short: Campbell is a kind of late 20th Century M.R. James, stripped of James's avuncular, scholarly coziness.
That in itself is not so surprising: James wrote in an England still at the height of Empire, whereas Campbell's Britain has been shorn of its global majesty and scalped of its illusions.
The result is this little, delicious, noxious compendium of 37 tales penned by a master of understated terror from 1961 through 1991. Campbell is a chronicler, without rival, of the creepingly atrocious, and his rare arts are on display front and center in this tasty collection.
Let's talk about that, for a bit: let's talk about the way Ramsey writes. The vile, diabolic witchery in his pen. The amazing thing about Campbell's stories is the way the narrative plays a nasty little game of hide-and-seek with the subtext, the effect of which is to leave the reader feeling a little drunk, addled, kept off balance.
There are key themes in Campbell's stories that keep cropping up: in his earlier works, there is the theme of the sleeping, ancient Horror stirred up by the adventurous, the power-hungry, or the merely unlucky.
Then there are the monster stories, the spook tales: our hero, through curiosity, avarice, or thuggery, stumbles upon the spectral or monstrous, and is either hunted down or trapped, with nasty results. Revenants are frequent callers in Campbell's tales, and vengeance comes calling often, whether in the high mist-haunted fells of "Above the World", the playing fields of a boys school in "In the Bag", or---best of all!--up from a dark, bloody basement in "Heading Home."
And finally, as Ramsey grew into his craft, there are, increasingly, tales of interior horror, born of diseased minds and fostered in an England blighted by twisted modernity and rotting from within. "Boiled Alive" and "The Depths" are tales in which the central horrors are fueled by alienation, urban blight, and loneliness.
Things are happening in the dark, in the shadows, literally between the lines: reading a Campbell story is a peculiar, almost schizoid thing, where the lunatic darkness behind the story gibbers and capers and stalks the story, like some shrunken think lurking behind the hedgerows and waiting for the light to fad before it makes its mood.
Oh yes: Campbell is all about dark, twisted, malformed things waiting for the cover of night, or anonymity, to make their move. Campbell's stories are juicy little nuggets of pure, shrill terror, all the better in that each works like a nasty trap.
The horrors never come head-on, but move at an angle and often---very often---under cover of loneliness, paranoia, and alienation. By the time our subject realizes the horror is upon him, the jaws of the trap have snapped shut.
"Alone with the Horrors" is like finding a cave filled with pirate treasure, loot and plunder and doubloons, perfumes and spices and intricate carpets from the East---and just as you're about to dig into your hard-won booty, realizing something that stinks of death and pain, something fish-belly pale that flaps and crawls and whines, is very close to your face.
Speaking of which, now that we're down here beneath the bridge, with the damp river fog---I've got something to show you. Something sharp, and bright. No, don't be afraid---after the first sting it won't hurt a bit.
This book is extremely well written and makes a worthy contender as a modern day M R James. The stories are both subtle yet grotesque and shadowy. I cannot think of a bad story in the collection (a problem which many of Kings anthologies suffer from). The stories do not only deal with horror but themes of lonliness and urban despair. Also the english town settings add a feeling of odd normalcy against which the suggested horrors are sharply contrasted. I highly recommend this collection (which incidentally is terrific value) and urge fans of cerebral horror to seek it out.
Personal Highlights include 'The Man in the Underpass', 'Mackintosh Willy' and 'Out of Print.'