Recently I’ve written about a few outstanding weird fiction novels, such as John Langan’s The Fisherman and Peace by Gene Wolfe. After this, one of the readers asked me to prepare a list of interesting horror books in general. So here we are. I’m sure that the list will lack some novels that are worth reading, so if you come up with some good positions, please let me know in the comments section. Enjoy.
PS. The books are ordered randomly; it’s not a ranking.
1. The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty
In 1973, William Peter Blatty received an Oscar for the screenplay used in the film The Exorcist and thus revolutionized, to some extent, the image of horror in pop culture, at the time bombarded with occult pulp stories. Why is the book also considered to be a classic of the genre? Well, The Exorcist is a terrifying story showing us not only how fragile and sensitive beings we are, but also that we are capable of inhuman cruelty. Timeless classic.
2. Teatro Grottesco – Thomas Ligotti
Weird fiction stories by Thomas Ligotti are perfect examples showing, that horror, often associated with light entertainment, can be ambitious literature. In my opinion, Teatro Grottesco is a masterpiece that I can honestly recommend to any book lover, who is ready to plunge into a disturbing, surreal world of nightmares created by the author.
3. The Secret of Ventriloquism – Jon Padgett
The Secret of Ventriloquism is a real gem of weird fiction genre. The constant feeling of anxiety accompanying the reader throughout the whole book and unique description of the fallen Dunnstown will surely stay in the readers” memory long after putting the short story collection back on the shelf. I must admit that Jon Padgett joined my favorite weird fiction authors, and I’m looking forward to read his next works. Great read.
4. Agents of Dreamland – Caitlin R. Kiernan
Agents of Dreamland gave me exactly what I expected from it – great entertainment mixed with the kind of anxiety, you can get only from good weird fiction works. If you have ever wondered how would a crossover between The X-Files and Lovecraft’s short stories look like – Caitlin R. Kiernan’s book, in my opinion, is as good an answer as you can get.
5. Ghost Story – Peter Straub
Peter Straub’s novel is undoubtedly a real gem when it comes to horror literature. The multifaceted, complexed story forces its readers to actually think through the presented events and look for intertextual references hidden in Ghost Story. The atmosphere created by Straub is definitely unique and if you are a patient reader willing to dedicate some time to really appreciate the author’s masterpiece – don’t hesitate and just read it.
6. The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories – Arthur Machen
Another great weird fiction short story collection. Some of Machen’s masterpieces such as The Great God Pan or The White People inspired many other authors, among others, H.P. Lovecraft. A must-have for every weird fiction fan wanting to get to know the beginnings of our favorite genre.
7. The Motion Demon – Stefan Grabiński
Stefan Grabiński, often called Polish Lovecraft, wrote many interesting, weird fiction short stories, such as The Motion Demon or White Wyrak. His works usually confronted people working as railwaymen or firefighters with otherworldly powers lurking under the veil of reality as we know it. If you liked short stories by M.R. James or Algernon Blackwood, you will also not be disappointed with Grabiński.
8. The Fisherman – John Langan
The Fisherman is one of the best weird fiction novels I have ever read. The wonderful, fluid narrative, surreal visions, and disturbing atmosphere make reading John Langan’s book pure pleasure. A real treat for the fans of horror literature.
9. Dracula – Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker’s novel is certainly an impressive record of changes happening in the 19th century, as well as a source of pop culture references. If you are one of those lucky people who still haven’t read Dracula, I strongly encourage you to do it. A true horror classic.
10. The Terror – Dan Simmons
It’s almost impossible to find a better novel to read during a long winter evening. The author really makes us feel the cold constantly harassing the participants of the Franklin’s Expedition. If you like Lovecraft’s story In the Mountains of Madness or John Carpenter’s excellent movie The Thing, there is a high chance that The Terror will join your favorites.
11. Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories – Algernon Blackwood
H.P. Lovecraft called Blackwood’s The Willows the best weird fiction story ever, and while I would put some other texts in front of this one, it’s undoubtedly true that we are dealing with a masterpiece of horror. The author makes us wonder how mysterious and powerful nature really, by often confronting his protagonists with the unknown. The Wendigo, Sand, and other stories included in this collection are all worth reading.
12. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
Danielewski’s novel is, in fact, a literary experiment that is often included in texts concerning the best and most disturbing horror books. Peculiar construction, frequent narrator changes, references to non-existent books, and many others make reading House of Leaves a real challenge. Actually the plot in itself is one big puzzle. If you are looking for a demanding horror novel, I think that you should give this one a shot.
13. Peace – Gene Wolfe
Peace is a unique novel, requiring its reader to devote enough time and energy needed to discover the truth hiding behind Weer’s story. If you are looking for an ambitious ghost story that will make you feel uncomfortable and stay in your memory long after finishing it – don’t hesitate and plunge into the weird world of Alder Weer’s memories.
14. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is without a doubt one of the best weird sci-fi novels ever written. By sending us into a world harrassed by Palmer Eldritch’s disturbing visions, Philip K. Dick makes us question the reality as we know it and ask ourselves a lot of questions regarding faith, God and possible first contact with other civilization. If you are looking for a good, ambitious novel – this one shouldn’t disappoint you.
15. The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft
Any list concerning best horrors, of course, could not be missing stories by H.P. Lovecraft. In most of his works you can see the author sublime, beautiful writing style and his infatuation with 18th-century. Another characteristic of Lovecraft’s work is his fear of human nature and the vastness of the universe. Apart from some exceptions, protagonists here are usually enlightened people such as antiquarians or scientists, who are confronted with some otherworldly power.
16. The Ghost Stories of M.R. James
Works written by M.R. James are true classics of horror literature. The author always carefully reveals exactly enough to interest the reader, but at the same time, hides some part of the story to stimulate his imagination. The descriptions are suggestive and detailed – I guarantee that some of them will come back long after finishing the book to haunt you in your nightmares.
17. Best Ghost Stories of J.S. Le Fanu
Another classic of horror literature. Some of his works even became a part of pop culture as we know it – for example, vampire Carmilla. Definitely worth taking a closer look at.
18. The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane – Robert E. Howard
Many Robert E. Howard’s works can be regarded as horror literature, and I think that those dedicated to Solomon Kane are the best in this aspect. His stories are dynamic, full of twists and turns, exciting fights, and blood-chilling moments. If you are looking for an entertaining horror – give Solomon Kane a chance.
19. Looking for Jake and Other Stories – China Mieville
Mieville’s short story collection included really good examples of weird fiction, gore, ghost story, and even Lovecraftian horror. In my opinion, Looking for Jake is a great start for every reader who would like to start his adventure with books written by this author.
20. Blindsight – Peter Watts
While usually associated with hard sci-fi, Blindsight is also an excellent sci-fi horror. The story presented by Peter Watts will stay with you for a long time putting the book back on the shelf. One of my favorites.
21. Red Snow – Ian MacLeod
Red Snow is a melancholic, atmospheric novel, concerning topics such as the fall of ideals, human cruelty and loneliness. Although the ending of the book was kind of disappointment for me, I think that MacLeod’s book is worth the effort.
22. In Heaven Everything is Fine: Fiction Inspired by David Lynch
In Heaven Everything is Fine is a very solid collection of short stories, including such gems like Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti, Hadley by Ben Loory or Finding yourself as someone else by Matthew Revert. All works are somehow corresponding with the works of David Lynch – if you are a fan, it should be a real treat.
23. The King in Yellow – Robert W. Chambers
This legendary collection of stories has recently gained in popularity thanks to the excellent TV series True Detective, where we can find many references to Chambers’ book. The unique, mysterious atmosphere and feeling of anxiety makes The King in Yellow an instant classic.
24. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
The novel started to become popular again thanks to the tv series loosely based on The Haunting of the Hill House, which some time ago appeared on Netflix. Three extremely different people enter the aforementioned haunted house – how will it end? Like many other books on the list, this one is also widely considered to be a weird fiction masterpiece.
25. Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
When it comes to horror literature, I, of course, had to mention at least one book by Stephen King. While I like a lot of his stories, Salem’s Lot is my favorite one. The novel is full of pop-cultural references and scenes which will be remembered long after Stephen King finishes his career.
26. The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies – Clark Ashton Smith
The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies is full of hauntingly beautiful while also disturbing stories, written by a member of the so-called “Lovecraft Circle”. A real gem of weird fiction and horror literature as a whole.
27. The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All – Laird Barron
The first short story collection by Laird Barron I’ve read, which made me instantly fall in love with his works. Nowadays, the author is one of the most popular weird fiction writes, often put in the same sentence as H.P. Lovecraft or Thomas Ligotti. If you would like to check if his stories are a good match for you – give Blackwood’s Baby a shot, you won’t regret it.
So, that would be it for now. With time I will try to update the list with new interesting horror books. How many of the mentioned works have you read and which ones are your favorites? How would your list look like? Please let me know in the comments.