20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill

Modern horror is not often subtle. Most of those who practice the art of the unsettling far too often go for the jugular, forgetting that the best predators are stealthy. Nothing wrong with going for the jugular, of course, but writers of genuine skill and talent have more than one trick in their bags.

…Joe Hill is one stealthy bastard.

~Christopher Golden

This is my second book by Joe Hill, the son of my number one author Stephen King. His full name is Joe Hillstorm King. Joe wanted to succeed as a writer without carrying his father’s great name, hence he cut his name into Joe Hill.

20th Century Ghost is a collection of his short stories, just like his father, he began his carrier from writing short stories for some magazines. 20th Century Ghost received several awards, they were Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection (2005), World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Collection (2006), Audie Award (2008), Tähtifantasia Award Nominee (2010), British Fantasy Award for Best Collection (2006)

Don’t let the title tricks you!! 20th Century Ghost is not merely about ghost and monster ready to scare you.

Joe Hill started his book with extra short story called Scheherazade’s Typewriter. It was about a typewriter that continued typing after the owner had died. The owner wanted to be a writer but his stories were never published. A week after he dies, the typewriter continued his stories. His daughter read all his stories and wanted them to be published because they were better than when his dead was still alive. I think this story is a good way to start a book.

Now, let’s summarize his 15 stories in this book.

Best New Horror is about the editor of American’s Best new Horror, a book filled with short stories from new horror writers. He was getting bored with his job because lately he hadn’t found good stories. One day, his friend sent him a story by Peter Kilrue called Buttonboy. The story was like fresh air to him. He wanted to publish the story and tried tracking peter Kilrue’s to ask his permission. Unfortunately, this first story is not as powerful as I expected it to be. I sort of guessed what will happen in the end…and a horror story that can be predicted is not going to be in my favorite list.

Fortunately, Joe made a wonderful love story in 20th Century Ghost. This second story is the most beautiful story in the book. When I said Love Story, I didn’t mean romance or something like that…It’s a kind of love that is not easy to describe.

Alec looked at her again and now she was slumped very low in her seat. Her head rested on her left shoulder. Her legs hung lewdly open. There were thick strings of blood, dried and crusted, running from her nostrils, bracketing her thin-lipped mouth. Her eyes were rolled back in her head.

That was the first time Alec Sheldon saw Imogene, the ghost that haunted Rosebud Theater. The meeting had led Alec to work at Rosebud and finally owned the theater. Her ghost story made her theater often visited by people and those people sometimes made up a story how they met Imogene, but Alec could tell the difference between the liar and the people who really met her. Then, his old theater was no longer had ability to compete with modern theater. He was afraid that he had to close down the theater, his concern was only of Imogene, where would she go if the theater is being torn down?

It’ll be too long to summarize all the stories like I did from the first two stories, I am going to do a short take on the next 13 stories.

Pop Art is also another lovely story with unusual imagination. Arthur is an inflatable boy. All sharp objects might pop him. The story was narrated by his best friend. I found You Will Hear the Locust Sing a bit too peculiar, not bad but peculiar. It was about a boy who turned into big locust and started a killing spree. Abraham’s Boys was also not my favorite, it was about Abraham Van Helsing’s boys. Better Than Home WAS NOT horror at all but I quite like it, it’s a life perspective from a special need boy with a temperamental father who always showed tenderness when he was with him.

The Black Phone is really interesting, it’s about a kidnapped boy who got an unexpected help to get away from his kidnapper who happened to be a serial killer. In the Rundown is actually quite interesting but it has that inconclusive ending that made me wonder what really happened there. I don’t like The Cape that much, I find it a bit boring and too long. Joe Hill showed his other rich imagination in Last Breath, who would ever come up with a story of a doctor collecting people’s last breath before they die? The ending is the best part of it.

His next three stories are NOT horror at all. Dead-Wood is a two pages story about thought over a dying tree. The Widow’s Breakfast is a nice story about a homeless man who suddenly found a nice woman who gave him food and clothes. She gave him some advices but the best part was the last line her daughter said to him. Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead is another love story which set on shooting location of Dawn of the Dead.

My Father’s Mask is by far the weirdest of all, I couldn’t grasp it the moment I finished it but slowly it took shape on my mind. I thought they were making deal with the devil (if you have read it, please share your opinion with me 🙂 )The book is closed with a novella that has King’s influence in it, Voluntary Committal has strong similarity with Joe’s father’s way of telling a story. It is a bout a man who was writing a confession about the disappearance of his best friend and his brother. They were lost in other world.

This short story collection really shows how vast Joe Hill’s imagination is! We could expect great novels coming from my number one author’s son…Hill has the ability to write non-horror as great as his horror ones. Looking forward to read more by him.

Book Details:

Title: 20th Century Ghost
Author: Joe Hill
Language: English
Pages: 389 pages
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group


  1. A typewriter that continues writing after the owner’s dead?? Iiiih, that is creepy! Intriguing story though but I’ll never sleep if I read it, I don’t have your nerves of steel, Nov.

  2. I never really came across his books not even in book stores but since you first mentioned him I was curious. I think I’d like to read him as well but I’m not sure if I should start with a novel or a collectio of short stories. Does he tell how he got the ideas? It’s something Neil Gaiman does in all of his collections and sometimes that part is as good as the story. It’s fascinating to read how a story was “found”.

    1. I think you should start with his shorts first because he wrote a wide variety of stories. I also think this one is better than the previous one I have read. I am curious with his latest novel, Horns which will be made into a film soon.

      No, he didn’t tell about his inspiration. So far, I don’t find him as chatty as his father. SK often writes long introduction that feel like he id talking to us. Maybe one day Joe will follow his father’s footstep in chatty-ness.

  3. I think it’s interesting that “stealthy” should become such high praise for an author. Yet I totally understand. Always going for the jugular can be so boring.

    1. You know…to be honest, i don’t really understand what Christopher Golden said…I mean which book is Jugular? It’s a new term for me.

      Maybe you can explain it a little Audrey 😉

      1. The jugular is the artery that carries blood from your heart to your brain – the big one in your neck. Cutting it is a sure kill. So the term “going for the jugular” invokes the directness and violence of an attacking wolf. He’s speaking metaphorically – referring to a kind of writing that tries to get a strong reaction out of the reader as quickly as possible, usually with graphic imagery and some kind of affront. The thing he’s overlooking is that it’s quite possible to sneak up on a reader, then go for the jugular in the last minute.

        1. Thank you for explaining it Audrey…now I understand what it means. I googled Jugular but couldn’t figure out the connection or metaphore. I think that’s a good metaphore.

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