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The Dark Descent Paperback – 6 Apr 1997

4.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 1011 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st Tor Trade Pbk. Ed edition (6 April 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312862172
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312862176
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 4.8 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 137,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

A gigantic, superlatively edited historical overview of horror fiction. "Chicago Sun-Times" For a sample of the current excellence and variety of horror, one could do no better. "New York Newsday" An important work which belongs in every library. "The West Coast Review of Books""

About the Author

David G. Hartwell, called "an editor extraordinaire" by "Publishers Weekly," is one of science fiction's most experienced and influential editors. As an editor with Berkley Books, Pocket Books, William Morrow, and Tor Books, he has worked with many of the field's best authors and edited many award-winning works. He is the author of "Age of Wonders," a nonfiction study of the science fiction field. Among his many anthologies is the bestselling "World Treasury of Science Fiction." He is the holder of a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Columbia University, a winner of the Eaton Award, and has been nominated for the Hugo Award twenty-four times.


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Format: Paperback
This book was published in 1987 and contained 56 short stories by 47 writers. There were 30 authors from the United States, 14 from Great Britain, plus Ireland's Sheridan LeFanu and Fitz-James O'Brien and Russia's Turgenev. Of all the writers, nine were women.

The pieces ranged from 1835 (Hawthorne) to the 1980s (Dennis Etchison, Michael Shea, Stephen King, Tanith Lee, Clive Barker), covering virtually each decade. Three-quarters of the stories were from the 20th century. Nearly a third were from the 1970s and 80s.

From the early or mid-19th century, there were Hawthorne, Poe, LeFanu, O'Brien and Dickens. From the late 19th century up to World War II, there were Turgenev, Bierce, Gilman, Chambers, James, Wharton, Lovecraft, Faulkner, Leiber, Bloch and Bradbury, among others. And from England, M. R. James, Hichens, Blackwood, Onions, De La Mare, Lawrence and Collier. Those after World War II included Sturgeon, Shirley Jackson, O'Connor, Matheson, Dick, Ellison, Oates, Disch, Shea and King. And from England, Aickman -- called the best English writer for that period -- Campbell, Lee and Barker. For Aickman and King, three stories each were included.

The editor's introduction discussed how horror fiction had been a vital element of English and American literature for at least 150 years. Three great traditional English writers -- M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood and Walter De La Mare -- plus the Anglo-Irish Lord Dunsany were cited; all but the latter were represented. In the 20th century, U.S. influences included Weird Tales, the magazine founded in 1923, which concentrated on the florid and antiquarian; H. P.
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Format: Paperback
Indispensable reading for fans and scholars of horror, and for anyone who wants to understand what all the fuss is about. Hartwell's lengthy introduction provides the most clear and lucid explanation of horror's primary concepts and terminologies that I have read anywhere, the organization of his material makes clear sense. The book contains some of the standard chestnuts that every good horror collection has to have, but also includes brilliant choices from little-known or little-represented writers. Joanna Russ's dreamy, heartbreaking, shuddering "My Dear Emily" is alone worth the price of the book: if you think you've heard or read every possible variation on the over-worked Vampire theme, this one will tear your head off. Every tale in this hefty collection is similarly disturbing, eerie and beautiful. Hartwell has another collection out on horror novellas, and while also superb, it is hard to top or even match this one. (The only one that might come close is Alberto Manguel's "Black Water," although it has a lot of fantasy in its mix.)
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Format: Paperback
This top-notch collection of stories cover a very large ground in the landscape of horror. There are (too) well-known stories from the old masters and a few pleasantly unpleasant shocks in terms of omissions, there are classics as-well-as bizarre choices from the present big-guys. Overall, a massive collection that has something for all. Recommended.
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Great Stories from a Master Anthologist year on year
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9aa7906c) out of 5 stars 38 reviews
70 of 72 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9abb67e0) out of 5 stars Certainly the finest horror anthology available 14 Oct. 2000
By Erik K - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This sprawling collection will keep the fan of weird fiction (and just plain good fiction) happy and spooked for a long time. The stories are broken into three sections, the boundaries between which are not terribly well explained by the editor (in my opinion, anyway). No matter, the quality of the stories is amazing throughout.
This is not just modern gore and sex horror. Victorian stories such as The New Mother show just how frightening a tale told with restraint. Clive Barker's Dread, perhaps his best short work, may have you sleeping with the lights on. The three Stephen King pieces are all career highlights, especially the Lovecraftian Crouch End.
I can't tell you how many marvellous writers I discovered in this collection. Robert Aickman, Oliver Onions, Robert W. Chambers, Russell Kirk. In some cases, this is the best source of fiction by these writers, as most of their work is out of print.
My edition clocks in at just over 1000 pages. That's 1000 pages of pure enjoyment. Not bad for the price.
51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ab942e8) out of 5 stars There are 2 anthologies every horror fan should own 3 Nov. 2000
By Chris McClinch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
One is Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, edited by Cerf and Wagner. The other is The Dark Descent. From Poe and J. Sheridan LeFanu to Stephen King and Shirley Jackson, this anthology covers the horror tradition like few others. The selections in The Dark Descent are a bit more in-your-face than the ones in Cerf and Wagner's elegant anthology--an attribute fans of late twentieth century horror will surely appreciate. At the same time, though, Hartwell has certainly not avoided the classic chillers. Even better, Hartwell has chosen to include some lesser-known tales by some heavy hitters within the genre--so while you won't see Jackson's "The Lottery," you will find two tales by her that you likely haven't read a dozen times before: tales that will hit you with the same force "The Lottery" did the first time you read it. Also not to be missed is Hartwell's introduction, which does a nice job of laying down a critical framework within which to read horror. It doesn't take the place of Danse Macabre or Dreadful Pleasures, but it's a nicely written piece that seems aimed toward readers who wouldn't otherwise read literary criticism.
73 of 82 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ab7a600) out of 5 stars Alone in the Library---with Spooks. 26 Oct. 2004
By Dark Mechanicus JSG - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Disaster! That super-secret hush-hush Project the military was supposed to have under control has torn a rift into another dimension just ten miles from town, and maniacal flesh-hungry monsters are pouring through by the score, tearing their shrieking victims apart and turning the world as you know it into a charnel house. You've got to pack up and get outta Dodge quick---but what to take? Clothes, boots, food, hunting knife, guns and ammo, extra fuel cans, chainsaw---oh, and if you're a horror junkie like me, you've gotta have reading material during the Siege, right? And since you'll be holing up a long time---maybe forever---the tome you choose had better be a good one.

Forced to haul one single volume off your horror shelf before you pack everything into the heavily armored civvie Hum-Vee, I would choose David G. Hartwell's masterful compilation "The Dark Descent." This Leviathan of a book is chock-full of more than one-thousand pages of the best horror ever written by some of the Grand-Masters of the genre (H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, Stephen King, M.R. James) and some of their lesser known adepts and apprentices. For such a modest price, having this much shivery, ghoulish goodness stuffed between the covers is nearly an embarrassment of riches.

Anthologies are often treacherous ground, and success hinges on an editor's style and judgment. Hartwell demonstrates his impeccable taste and considerable acuity in the selections he makes; best of all he begins the collection with a remarkably astute, entertaining---and mercifully concise---little essay tracing the evolution of the terror and horror tale. Certainly we are treated to the seminal classics of the genre, and a few of the tales are overly represented in many other collections---but as horror crown jewels, they have their place here. H.P. Lovecraft is represented by two ensanguined ambassadors: "The Call of Cthulhu", a sweeping account of global panic, terror and slaughter spread by the resurgence of a primitive cult of an obscure Squid-God, and the Poe-esque "The Rats in the Walls". M.R. James has a less auspicious presence, "The Ash-Tree" being one of his less powerful works and an inadequate introduction to the Master.

Hartwell's King selections are slightly puzzling; "The Reach" is too languid for its own good, while "The Monkey" is tacky and underawing---but then Hartwell knocks it out of the ballfield with the relatively rare Lovecraftian "Crouch End" which, serves up a viciously psychedelic and very different side of King, to say nothing of providing a little side-trip to a part of London (thankfully) not on any map.

Karl Edward Wagner's "Sticks" presages by a quarter-century the discovery of liches in the woods by "Blair Witch"'s unlucky film students, Clive Barker details an experiment in mortal terror gone horribly awry in "Dread", Joyce Carol Oates proves there is a fate worse than Death in "Night-Side", and Lucy Clifford chronicles what happens to naughty little children in "The New Mother".

There are at least ten riveting tales of vintage dread here, any one of which justifies the price of admission. If you haven't met late British terror-writer Robert Aickman, you have three opportunities in "Dark Descent", although "The Hospice" is by far the most ambiguous---and disquieting. "Seven American Nights", an apocalyptic travelogue written by a young Turkish man traveling through a wasted and genetically twisted future America, is by turns terrifying, acutely repulsive, and melancholy, a peculiarly potent spiked little horror-potion cloaked as travelogue by fantasy master Gene Wolfe. Taken together with Thomas Disch's disorienting "The Asian Shore", they might make you rethink getting away from the tour group the next time you spelunk through a strange land.

Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows" conjures up the horror of the spheres that's moved its haunts to remote islands in the Danube; Walter de la Mare's "Seaton's Aunt" is a rich, deliciously unhinged little crawlfest instantly recognizable to anyone who has forced himself through an unpleasant evening with an unctuous, intimidating in-law.

Hartwell includes a number of authors who rarely ventured into the horror genre: William Faulkner does Southern Gothic proud in "A Rose for Emily", Flannery O'Connor demonstrates the wisdom of never judging a book---even a Bible---by its cover in "Good Country People", and Edith Wharton whips up a kind of delayed-blast spook in "Afteward"---to say nothing of writing one of the finest ghost tales of all time.

Hartwell makes some missteps, perhaps unavoidable in such a massive collection. Bishop's "Within the Walls of Tyre" is pretentious and dull, and "The Roaches", "If Damon Comes", and Philip K. Dick's time-twisting "Little Something for us Tempunauts" may give you chills, but they left me cold and bored. But these are forgivable lapses in a collection so varied and rich.

One story in particular that I can't stop thinking about is Michael Shea's unexpected, grisly little delight "The Autopsy", about an aging, cancerous coroner called to a remote mountain town to conduct autopsies on the bodies of miners killed in a mysterious mine explosion---and who rapidly, terrifyingly shifts roles from examiner to subject. It's not a perfect story---not in style, nor even in its final revelation---but that said it's nasty, and remorselessly surgical, and you'll never forget it. Like most of the darksome little nuggets of terror in this vast volume, it's like a tooth you've had removed---you can't stop yourself from digging your tongue into the raw, fleshy gap.

So remember---as civilization collapses and the howls of the mutated and deranged grow closer to your hideaway, throw the bolts, load the rifle, and tuck yourself in with "The Dark Descent"---at least you'll have the ultimate grimoire containing the very finest tales of terror until those crafty army scientists come up with a solution to save the day. And if they don't? Well, you *do* have 1,000 pages to tide you over.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9abdf8a0) out of 5 stars Recommended 13 April 2009
By Reader in Tokyo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book was published in 1987 and contained 56 short stories by 47 writers. There were 30 authors from the United States, 14 from Great Britain, plus Ireland's Sheridan LeFanu and Fitz-James O'Brien and Russia's Turgenev. Of all the writers, nine were women.

The pieces ranged from 1835 (Hawthorne) to the 1980s (Dennis Etchison, Michael Shea, Stephen King, Tanith Lee, Clive Barker), covering virtually each decade. Three-quarters of the stories were from the 20th century. Nearly a third were from the 1970s and 80s.

From the early or mid-19th century, there were Hawthorne, Poe, LeFanu, O'Brien and Dickens. From the late 19th century up to World War II, there were Turgenev, Bierce, Gilman, Chambers, James, Wharton, Lovecraft, Faulkner, Leiber, Bloch and Bradbury, among others. And from England, M. R. James, Hichens, Blackwood, Onions, De La Mare, Lawrence and Collier. Those after World War II included Sturgeon, Shirley Jackson, O'Connor, Matheson, Dick, Ellison, Oates, Disch, Shea and King. And from England, Aickman -- called the best English writer for that period -- Campbell, Lee and Barker. For Aickman and King, three stories each were included.

The editor's introduction discussed how horror fiction had been a vital element of English and American literature for at least 150 years. Three great traditional English writers -- M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood and Walter De La Mare -- plus the Anglo-Irish Lord Dunsany were cited; all but the latter were represented. In the 20th century, U.S. influences included Weird Tales, the magazine founded in 1923, which concentrated on the florid and antiquarian; H. P. Lovecraft -- called the most important American writer of horror fiction in the first half of the 20th century; the pulp fantasy magazine Unknown, founded in 1939, which offered more contemporary settings and clearer prose and helped broaden the category of horror by crossing it with SF; a number of anthologies in the 1930s and 40s; and the trend toward SF horror in the 1950s that included Matheson, Sturgeon and Bradbury. The editor said that the dominant form of horror until the 1970s had been the short story and novella, but this had changed thereafter with the success of novels by Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty and Stephen King.

The editor argued that in horror fiction there were three types of emphasis, often interlinked but with one usually foremost: (1) the moral allegorical, the most popular type, which involved the intrusion of supernatural evil into reality, through things like haunting, possession, ghosts or witchcraft (typically, Lovecraft and Stephen King); (2) the study of aberrant human psychology, which might be either supernatural or psychological, as in The Heart of Darkness, Psycho and -- though he wasn't mentioned -- Poe; and (3) the fantastic, which generally avoided either a supernatural or psychological cause, emphasizing foremost the ambiguous nature of reality and encompassing the surreal (Poe, Kafka, De La Mare, Aickman). The editor's categories were a useful frame for many of the stories.

There were some great stories in the collection. Most enjoyed were the piece by Michael Shea that described a confrontation between two worlds in an original way, and one by Harlan Ellison that showed NYC in a new light. One of these contained the collection's only vampire story, imagined in a new way. There were also tales by Blackwood, De La Mare, Jackson, Aickman and Barker that powerfully suggested supernatural, psychological or other menace ("The Willows," "Seaton's Aunt," "The Summer People," "The Hospice," "Dread"). There was one of Lovecraft's best tales ("Rats in the Walls"). The best combination of supernatural intrusion and aberrant psychology, for this reader, was the one by Onions ("The Beckoning Fair One"). And finally, there was a good though non-horrific description by Disch of a stranger's alienation in a foreign land ("The Asian Shore"). The selections overall made clear the stylistic connections between writers like Blackwood and Lovecraft, and De La Mare and Aickman.

On the other hand, many of the stories after World War II, especially the most recent ones, contained more SF than real, atmospheric horror. Nothing was selected from writers like Irving, Twain, W. W. Jacobs, Lord Dunsany, Paul Bowles, Gerald Kersh, William Sansom, E. C. Tubb or Angela Carter. The editors included a ponderous story by Turgenev, claiming him as one of the few masters of supernatural horror fiction outside the English language in the 19th century, passing over writers like Hoffmann, The Brothers Grimm, Pushkin, Merimée, Gogol, Gautier, Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Maupassant and Garshin.

Other large anthologies of horror fiction include The Supernatural Omnibus (1931), A Century of Creepy Stories (1934), A Second Century of Creepy Stories (1937), Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (1944), Dark Forces (1980), The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural (1981), The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories (1984), The Penguin Book of Horror Stories (1984), Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural (1985), The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories (1989), The Mammoth Book of Terror (1991), The Omnibus of 20th Century Ghost Stories (1991), Final Shadows (1991), Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown (1993), The Oxford Book of 20th Century Ghost Stories (1996), The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories (2003), The Mammoth Book of Haunted House Stories (2005), The Mammoth Book of Modern Ghost Stories (2007), American Supernatural Tales (2007) and The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories (2008).

Smaller volumes -- below 300 pages or so -- include The Ghost Book (1926), Great Ghost Stories (1930), Great Tales of Horror (1933), Best Ghost Stories (1945), The Second Ghost Book (1952), The Third Ghost Book (1955), The Supernatural in the English Short Story (1959), The Pan Book of Horror Stories, Vols. 1-30 (1959-88), The Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, Vols. 1-20 (1964-84), The Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories, Vols. 1-17 (1966-84), The Thrill of Horror: 22 Terrifying Tales (1975), Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories (1984), Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror (1997) and Haunted Houses: The Greatest Stories (1997).
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9abb681c) out of 5 stars An essential collection and analysis of horror fiction. 20 Aug. 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As collections go, and horror collections in particular, this might be the best. The editor, David G. Hartwell, is obviously in love with the subject, which makes it so much more than just a collection. Hartwell begins by telling about a discussion of dark fantasy, during which he had the realization that "the good stuff is pretty much all short fiction."
Hartwell then traces the evolution of horror from its origins and into the wave of horror novels, which brought some of the best of all time "as well as a large amount of popular trash rushed into print." Along the way, he peppers his introduction with observations from Sigmund Freud, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and a slew of literary critics.
One reason this collection is essential is that it is so darn huge (1011 pgs.). Its list of contributors includes King, Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allen Poe, Michael Shea, Robert Aickman, Clive Barker, Joyce Carol Oates, D.H. Lawrence, and dozens of others. Enough to make this the most-referenced work in your horror library.
Hartwell's vast knowledge and esteem of horror will captivate even those who are not fans of the genre. I wasn't.
The only reason I didn't give "The Dark Descent" a 10 was that I reserve that rating for works which are entirely the creation of the author
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