20th Century Ghosts

20th Century Ghosts

by Joe Hill


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From the New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2 and Horns comes this award-winning collection of short fiction.

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. . . .


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061147982
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/16/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 56,578
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Joe Hill is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Fireman; NOS4A2; Horns, which was made into a major motion picture starring Daniel Radcliffe; Heart-Shaped Box, which won the Bram Stoker Award and the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel; and the prizewinning story collection 20th Century Ghosts. He is also the Eisner Award–winning writer of a six-volume comic book series, Locke & Key. He lives in New Hampshire. 

Read an Excerpt

20th Century Ghosts

By Joe Hill

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Joe Hill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061147975

Chapter One

Best New Horror

A month before his deadline, Eddie Carroll ripped open a manila envelope, and a magazine called The True North Literary Review slipped out into his hands. Carroll was used to getting magazines in the mail, although most of them had titles like Cemetery Dance and specialized in horror fiction. People sent him their books, too. Piles of them cluttered his Brookline townhouse, a heap on the couch in his office, a stack by the coffee maker. Books of horror stories, all of them.

No one had time to read them all, although once—when he was in his early thirties and just starting out as the editor of America's Best New Horror—he had made a conscientious effort to try. Carroll had guided sixteen volumes of Best New Horror to press, had been working on the series for over a third of his life now. It added up to thousands of hours of reading and proofing and letter-writing, thousands of hours he could never have back.

He had come to hate the magazines especially. So many of them used the cheapest ink, and he had learned to loathe the way it came off on his fingers, the harsh stink of it.

He didn't finish most of the stories he started anymore, couldn't bear to. He felt weak at thethought of reading another story about vampires having sex with other vampires. He tried to struggle through Lovecraft pastiches, but at the first painfully serious reference to the Elder Gods, he felt some important part of him going numb inside, the way a foot or a hand will go to sleep when the circulation is cut off. He feared the part of him being numbed was his soul.

At some point following his divorce, his duties as the editor of Best New Horror had become a tiresome and joyless chore. He thought sometimes, hopefully almost, of stepping down, but he never indulged the idea for long. It was twelve thousand dollars a year in the bank, the cornerstone of an income patched together from other anthologies, his speaking engagements and his classes. Without that twelve grand, his personal worst-case scenario would become inevitable: he would have to find an actual job.

The True North Literary Review was unfamiliar to him, a literary journal with a cover of rough-grained paper, an ink print on it of leaning pines. A stamp on the back reported that it was a publication of Katahdin University in upstate New York. When he flipped it open, two stapled pages fell out, a letter from the editor, an English professor named Harold Noonan.

The winter before, Noonan had been approached by a part-time man with the university grounds crew, a Peter Kilrue. He had heard that Noonan had been named the editor of True North and was taking open submissions, and asked him to look at a short story. Noonan promised he would, more to be polite than anything else. But when he finally read the manuscript, "Buttonboy: A Love Story," he was taken aback by both the supple force of its prose and the appalling nature of its subject matter. Noonan was new in the job, replacing the just-retired editor of twenty years, Frank McDane, and wanted to take the journal in a new direction, to publish fiction that would "rattle a few cages."

"In that I was perhaps too successful," Noonan wrote. Shortly after "Buttonboy" appeared in print, the head of the English department held a private meeting with Noonan to verbally assail him for using True North as a showcase for "juvenile literary practical jokes." Nearly fifty people cancelled their subscriptions—no laughing matter for a journal with a circulation of just a thousand copies—and the alumna who provided most of True North's funding withdrew her financial support in outrage. Noonan himself was removed as editor, and Frank McDane agreed to oversee the magazine from retirement, in response to the popular outcry for his return.

Noonan's letter finished:

I remain of the opinion that (whatever its flaws), "Buttonboy" is a remarkable, if genuinely distressing, work of fiction, and I hope you'll give it your time. I admit I would find it personally vindicating if you decided to include it in your next anthology of the year's best horror fiction.

I would tell you to enjoy, but I'm not sure that's the word.

Harold Noonan

Eddie Carroll had just come in from outside, and read Noonan's letter standing in the mudroom. He flipped to the beginning of the story. He stood reading for almost five minutes before noticing he was uncomfortably warm. He tossed his jacket at a hook and wandered into the kitchen.

He sat for a while on the stairs to the second floor, turning through the pages. Then he was stretched on the couch in his office, head on a pile of books, reading in a slant of late October light, with no memory of how he had got there.

He rushed through to the ending, then sat up, in the grip of a strange, bounding exuberance. He thought it was possibly the rudest, most awful thing he had ever read, and in his case that was saying something. He had waded through the rude and awful for most of his professional life, and in those fly-blown and diseased literary swamps had discovered flowers of unspeakable beauty, of which he was sure this was one. It was cruel and perverse and he had to have it. He turned to the beginning and started reading again.

It was about a girl named Cate—an introspective seventeen-year-old at the story's beginning—who one day is pulled into a car by a giant with jaundiced eyeballs and teeth in tin braces. He ties her hands behind her back and shoves her onto the backseat floor of his station wagon . . . where she discovers a boy about her age, whom she at first takes for dead and who has suffered an unspeakable disfiguration. His eyes are hidden behind a pair of round, yellow, smiley-face buttons. They've been pinned right through his eyelids—which have also been stitched shut with steel wire—and the eyeballs beneath.


Excerpted from 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill Copyright © 2007 by Joe Hill. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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20th Century Ghosts 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 132 reviews.
SavageBS More than 1 year ago
"20th Century Ghosts : Stories" is not a book of horror fiction or ghost stories! The title seems to draw some readers in and push others away. This is a book of outstanding short fiction, where one of stories just happens to be called, "20th Century Ghost" and Joe Hill decided to use it for the title. Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King, still that doesn't guarantee that his writing will be as good as his fathers, but in my opinion his short stories are just as good. Joe doesn't have quite an impressive list of novels written yet, unlike his father, but he is off to a great start. Joe has written two full length novels, "Horns" & "Heart-Shaped Box", which have both been successes. I have read "Horns" and I enjoyed it, I'm definitely looking forward to "Heart Shaped Box". Read this collection and you will certainly see for yourself that Joe Hill can really write and that this collection belongs near the top! The collection includes a total of 15 stories and one bonus story at the back of the book, after the acknowledgements. 5 star stories: "Pop Art" - a great story, great original concept "20th Century Ghost" "Abraham's Boys" "The Black Phone" "Voluntary Committal" - a story to get lost in when reading, great creative writing "You Will Hear the Locust Sing" The rest: "Best New Horror" "In the Rundown" "Better Than Home" "The Cape" "Deadwood" "Last Breath" "The Widow's Breakfast" "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead" "My Father's Mask" "Scheherazade's Typewriter" (Bonus story) All in all a great collection of short stories, with topics varying from ghosts to killers to sibling rivalry to old flames re-united! Highly recommended! Enjoy~
DPManwell More than 1 year ago
Joe Hill is the son of horror master Stephen King. Knowing that, it's impossible not to compare the two, so... Hill's writing is as good as King's, if not (gasp) better. It's more concise and with less archaic slang. As for the merits of this collection itself, it's a brilliant collection of short stories. They aren't all horror stories, so if you're looking for a thrill ride, you may want to look elsewhere... but most of them do have a horror element. "Dead-Wood" is an amazing piece of flash fiction or prose poetry, and "The Cape" is one of the best uses of the short story form I've ever seen. That's all I can say about it. If you're a Stephen King fan, get it. If you're a literary horror fan, get it. If you're a fan of short fiction generally, get it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ordered it for 1.99 but was charged 9.99... be careful!
Guest More than 1 year ago
More than enough has already been said about Joe Hill's genetics. What counts is the quality of his work, which is quite strong indeed. Though this collection is a bit uneven, the best pieces are so good they elevate the whole book to a very high plane. A must-read for fans of the genre, or anyone who loves imaginative short stories.
Pugs11 More than 1 year ago
I read Heart Shaped Box, Horns, and NOS4A2 first. Wanting more, I decided to take a chance on the short stories. Don't miss out! I'm eager for the next book.
KatyScarlettDT More than 1 year ago
In Joe Hill's book 20th Century Ghosts you will find 15 short stories that are so thrilling they will have you on the edge of your seat until the amazing conclusion. All of the stories are unique and scary and will have you captivated, then terrified, happy, then crying, and are all tinged with an underlying romanticism. I loved curling up on the couch with this book during a thunderstorm, even though late at night in bed I would be searching into the shadows for the fictional characters that Joe Hill painted vividly into my head. If you loved Joe Hill's novel Heart Shaped Box, or like to read in short bursts, this book is perfect for you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have a word to descrive this book, addictive, every history will grab your attention and time until you finish it and you'll be wanting more.Some of the stories are twisted and sordid but they do show 'the other side' that other stories refuse to look at... Love it.
gward101 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like a latter day Roald Dahl, Joe Hill keeps his readers by turn horrified, thrilled and charmed with this collection of 15 short stories which it is almost impossible to pigeonhole. Don't allow yourself to be fooled by the book's title. There are stories here with a supernatural theme it's true, but there are also stories which are horror-based, stories with a plot straight from a science fiction movie, stories that are surreal and even stories that are downright sweet with no supernatural connection at all. My personal favourite is Pop Art, the touching tale of a lonely young lad who just happens to have been born as an inflatable balloon! Recommended for anyone who likes their short stories to make them think.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a collection of short stories, many of them just fair, that run the gamut from horror to mainstream to the surreal. Only a few stood out for me. One was about an autistic child who built fabulous mazes out of cardboard boxes in the basement, which were actually portals into the unknown. The other was about a young boy who was literally an inflatable doll and the trials of his brief existence. Overall, I'd say that -- as with many authors -- I prefer Hill's longer works of fiction to his stories.
smammers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This short-story collection is absolutely excellent. There is a wide variety of story genres, ranging from creepy ("Best New Horror") to grotesque ("You Will Hear The Locust Sing") to quirky (the excellent "Pop Art"). Each of the stories has stuck vividly in my mind until more than a year later, and I'm itching to re-read them now. If you've read Hill's other books, or are a fan of Stephen King's short stories, or generally like oddball fantasy/horror tales, this is a book for you.
ow1goddess on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although there were a couple of duds in here, overall I really enjoyed this collection. Not all of these are horror- Pop Art was my favorite and it's more of a fantasy story- but a few are really unsettling. Voluntary Committal affected me like nothing I've read in quite a while, with a nice subtle Lovecraftian twist. Hill's style has many of the strengths of King but he's definitely his own writer. The hardcover is also very attractive, if you like books for their own sake.
lovesrequiemo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A unique collection of short stories, some classified as horror, others not. Many of the 'not' category left me, the reader asking questions like, "What the heck.." which is a good thing because I enjoy reading works that make you go hmmm.....
paghababian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's not often that a book of short stories grabs me so firmly, but from the very beginning, 20th Century Ghosts had me captivated. While there were a few stories that I didn't much enjoy, there were others that kept me guessing until the last paragraph. Some stories, like Abraham's Boys, The Cape, and Voluntary Committal, are going to stay with me for quite a while.Quite a few times while reading 20th Century Ghosts, I found myself saying "Joe Hill writes like his father (Stephen King), but in his own way." Hill does more than hold his ground with these short stories and proves that he is a great writer in his own right.
ocgreg34 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joe Hill's collection of short stories runs the gamut of both horror and fantasy. They range from the utterly horrific, such as "Best New Horror" about an editor who makes the mistake of tracking down an incredible new author to his home in order to convince him to publish more stories, or "You Will Hear the Locust Sing" which adds a horrific riff on Kafka's "Metamorphosis" when a young boy turns into an insect -- one that's still human sized and very hungry; to the downright creepy, including "The Black Phone" in which a young man is kidnapped and locked in a basement with a disconnected phone that rings at odd hours of the day, and "Last Breath" about a man who collects the dying words of people and keeps them in bottles. The horror fan in me absolutely loved these and the other creep-inducing jaunts into the darker corners of imagination. What I found surprising and quite a nice touch were a few stories that while on the surface may have touched on those dark corners, they actually carried a nice amount of sweetness and poignancy.Take the story "Pop Art", for example. When a young boy is severely picked on for being inflatable rather than flesh and blood, another outcast sticks up for him, forging a unique friendship that the author Joe Hill uses to delve into how people react to differences in others. In "20th Century Ghost", a woman who haunts a movie theater shows the owner and others who've seen her what love and caring are all about. And in one of my favorite stories -- "Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead" -- two people find love in the midst of filming a zombie movie.The stories collected in "20th Century Ghosts" are all wonderfully crafted tales, filled with delight, terror, creepiness, gore, and love. A highly recommended read.
silversurfer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful stories, imaginative, chill inducing and thought provoking.
webgeekstress on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully imaginative stories. Not all ghost stories, but most are at least odd, in a Twilight Zone kind of way.
jonesli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought Heart Shaped Box was really good, but 20th Century Ghosts is great. While some of the stories have a sweet or perhaps sad undertone, all our good in their own way. My three favorites from this collection are 20th Century Ghost, Last Breath and Abraham's Boys.Without giving too much away, 20th Century Ghost manages to tie in a love of movies with a ghost, Last Breath is a creepy story about a musuem owner who manages to extract the last breaths of the dying, and Abraham's Boys is a tribute to Dracula. Also good were Voluntary Comittal and The Cape.
BookMistress8 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joe Hill has made his way onto my all-time favorite author list with the publication of this collection and his novel, ¿Heart-Shaped Box.¿ The short-story is a genre in which an author can prove his/her true talent, inducing the intended emotion with as few carefully chosen words as possible. There are few great short-story writers in existence: Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Roald Dahl, and Stephen King, of course, is always at his best in his short-stories. Hill must have paid attention to his father, because he fits right in on this list, living up to, possibly even exceeding, King¿s legacy.20th Century Ghosts is not just horror stories, though. It is, in turns, frightening, weird, and even touching. ¿Best New Horror¿ shows that Hill is able to poke fun at the very genre that he grew up in, and it will leave you knowing that you have indeed just read the freshest scary stuff out there. The astonishing and strange ¿Pop Art¿ will haunt me forever, even though I thought it was my least favorite story in the collection. That should tell you something- even my least favorite story is better than most author¿s best.This is a must-read for any fan of horror, and it is a pretty good bet for the general public as well, since many of the stories reach far beyond scary.
schatzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had no idea that Joe Hill was Stephen King's son until after I read Heart-Shaped Box; even though I didn't know that, his style reminded me so much of King's that I made a note of it in my reading journal. This book is no exception; in fact, I think I see more of King's influence in this book than in HSB.That isn't to say that Joe Hill isn't his own writer, because it's obvious that he is. He tends to be more "grounded" than his father in his short stories; although he does stray into complete fantasy-land a few times ("Pop Art" being my favorite of that genre in this book), many of his stories at least seem somewhat feasible.The book itself is a bibliophile's dream; cloth-bound with a haunting photograph on the front, it draws the reader in from the start. If you can push past the first two stories (which I think were some of the weakest in the collection), you're in for a treat.
tapestry100 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think it's a rare thing to be able to find a collection of ghost stories that have true heart and soul behind them, but that's exactly what you'll find with Joe Hill's collection, 20th Century Ghosts. Don't get me wrong, you'll find your typical, run-of-the-mill ghost story here, but there still seems to be something in the background of each story that makes it more than just that typical ghost story.My favorite of the lot would have to be the title story, '20th Century Ghost'. It is such a unique and honestly touching ghost story, that I actually went back and reread that particular story a couple of times over as I read through the other stories. Joe Hill has proven himself as a solid writer who doesn't have to use his father's celebrity at all to propel himself (his father is a writer a few of you may have heard of before, Stephen King). I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.
pmtracy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Joe Hill is quickly becoming one of my new favorite writers. After reading Heart Shaped Box, I was looking forward to going back and trying some of his short stories that were compiled into 20th Century Ghosts.While mainly a horror writer, 20th Century is interesting to read because you can tell Hill was testing his writing skills using many different styles. Some of the stories are traditionally ¿spooky¿ while others are merely literary snippets.For me, two stories stand above the rest. ¿Better Than Home¿ doesn¿t really offer a complete story, but I really enjoyed the characters and I¿d like to see Hill bring them back in a full novel. The narrator is a highly functional autistic child and his father ¿deals with his issues¿ in a positive and nurturing manner. Hearing the story from the son¿s viewpoint, some portions of the narration are well thought and meticulously described and others are manic and confused. The internal dialogue is a great mechanism for showing how an autistic mind might function. Both father and son would make great heroes in a horror novel.The second notable work was ¿My Father¿s Mask.¿ With shades of Poe and Lewis Carroll, it was a psychological twister. This story is, once again, narrated by a young boy whose parents undergo a transformation while wearing masks at their weekend cabin. Their odd behavior, surreal elements and the brutal ending makes this an overall disturbing tale that¿s going to stay with me for some time.If you¿re interested in Joe Hill, I¿d recommend that this not be your introduction as it isn¿t a fair representation of the level of writing he¿s doing now. However, if you¿ve already decided you like his writing then this is an interesting look at how he got to where he is today.
cassiopia_cat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What an amazing book to creep you out-weird you out and disturb your sleep. Although not all the stories are typical horror, they all contain elements of Joe Hill's vivid imagination, which seems to be unlike any normal person's ravings! I highly recommend.
stefferjo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fantastic. I enjoyed Hill's short story collection better than Heart-Shaped Box. My personal favorite stories are The Cape, Last Breath, Pop Art, Dead-Wood, My Father's Mask and Voluntary Committal. That's a lot, I know, but each is wonderful in its own way. The bonus story hidden within the book is also a gem. I'm looking forward to more from Joe Hill.
swl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Aside from multi-author anthologies, not too many short story collections are being pubbed these days, especially in genre. That's too bad. There is something to be gained from reading a wide swath of an author's work in the form, IMHO.In JH's case, it's an appreciation of his astonishing range on the one hand and the consistency of the unifying elements on the other.Range: the book includes gross-out horror (no judgment intended, I just mean traditional gore), light-to-medium supernatural, and pure literary, as well as a couple of standards - the serial killer victim in the basement and the boys-at-play-discovering-something-awful-in-the-woods. It's not my place to say which JH does best; I suspect that would come down to a reader's preference. Unifying elements: JH's control of the story is a combination of a beautifully light touch and an unflinching attention to whatever represents the horror in the work. There's never a lecture, unwieldy dialog, or clunky narrative (an occupational hazard, I'm afraid, of the horror writer who envisions a separate reality only to falter when trying to describe it). Many of the stories are told from a child's point of view. It's safe to say that JH's inner child is alive and well. I loved the often-sweet characters, who are all "other" in some way. In fact, otherness is the closest thing to a universal theme for the book - otherness and its attendant ills: bullying, isolation, loneliness, detachment from reality, and, in some cases, violence.I agree with Christopher Golden, who wrote the forward, that "Pop Art" is a truly exceptional work.I wish that horror-haters would read this book, as I think it represents what the genre can be at its best.
cefeick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book though I didn't "get" every story here. Hill, like his father, has a way with words that makes even the most incomprehensible situation sound poetic.