Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish, editors, October Dreams
(Cemetery Dance Publications, 2000: Roc printing 2002)

It's not unusual for me to read a book more than once. There are books in my collection that I've read dozens of times. It is unusual, however, for me to finish a book and then immediately turn around and read it cover to cover a second time. This anthology, put together by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish, is just that good.

Chizmar, the force behind the incredibly well done horror and dark fiction magazine Cemetery Dance and the publishing company of the same name, has certainly brought out some fine work over the years. Poppy Z. Brite, Ed Gorman, Douglas Clegg, Dean Koontz, Charles Grant, Steve Rasnic Tem, Peter Straub, Kristine Kathryn Rusch: these are just a smattering of the fantastic authors who've appeared in the magazine or in books put out by the publishing house. October Dreams is without a doubt one of the best works ever to come out of Chez Chizmar.

October Dreams includes some of the fine old tales from the genre: Ray Bradbury's chilling "Heavy Set," first published by Playboy in 1964; "Yesterday's Witch," by Gahan Wilson (a story I remember first reading in junior high and which I've thought of fondly ever since); Charles Grant's horrifying 1986 piece "Eyes." There are new stories, too -- stories that have appeared in Cemetery Dance, as well as stories that I suspect were written specifically for this anthology. Dean Koontz opens the collection with "The Black Pumpkin," a truly creepy tale of Halloween justice. Stephen Mark Rainey gives us a conductor who's really Hell to work for in "Orchestra." Tim Lebbon puts a new and even more horrifying spin on missing children in "Pay the Ghost." Brilliant story follows brilliant story in an absolute parade of the fantastic.

I believe my favorite sections of October Dreams, though, are the interludes entitled "My Favorite Halloween Memory." Some writers, such as Owl Goingback and Simon Clark, provide humorous memories. Others, like Jack Ketchum and Elizabeth Engstrom, write profoundly about life-changing experiences. And some are sad: find out what changed Halloween forever for the Grand Old Man himself, Ray Bradbury. Though some of the "memories" are most certainly, ahem, embroidered (and who would expect otherwise from the best minds in horror?), all are entertaining and wholly worth the read.

In addition, pay special attention to several superb essays scattered throughout these pages. "A Short History of Halloween" by Paula Guran provides a quick but thorough grounding in the basics of the holiday. In "First Of All, It Was October..." Gary A. Braunbeck provides a wonderful overview of Halloween films, and Stefan Dziemianowicz does the same for books in "Trick-or-Read."

This is a lovely collection, and I only wish I could say that it was flawless. Unfortunately, there is one story that mars the anthology, and it's not a minor flaw. I can't imagine why it was included. There are stories and memories in this book that are funny, tender, sad, haunting, wistful, chilling, creepy, terrifying -- and there is one, just one, that is merely gruesome, and perhaps a little bit spiteful. Obviously written with an agenda in mind far beyond frightening or entertaining readers, F. Paul Wilson's "Buckets" is as inappropriate to this classic and harmonious collection as lime green hot pants at a formal wedding. If this beautiful anthology is a wander through the wonder and terror of Halloween, "Buckets" is the moment that you realize you've stepped in something sticky left in the pathway by a stray mongrel. Consider yourself warned.

As I write this, night has fallen, a chill breeze is blowing, the stars are bright, and a single cloud drifts across the face of the waxing moon. This is the time of year for extra blankets on the bed, a steaming mug of cocoa, and an excellent book. October Dreams more than qualifies.

 

[Maria Nutick]