A Treasury of Modern Fantasy edited by Terry Carr and Martin Harry Greenberg (1981, 588 pages) – In the spirit of full disclosure, this volume is not what one usually thinks of with the terms like “modern” (stories written from the twenties and seventies) and “fantasy” (no wizards, dragons, or fairies). This tome almost reads like a textbook of Who’s Who with some of the greatest short story writers of the century and some of the scariest stories of my childhood.
Here are some of the classics included in this collection:
The Rats in the Walls by H.P. Lovecraft, 1924 – An American rebuilds his ancestral castle only to discover it’s overrun with rats only he can hear and they hide a blood-thirsty ancient family secret.
The Woman in the Woods by A. Merritt, 1926 – Wonderful, original tale of a man helping nature fight back against men intent on destroying the heart of the wood.
The Trouble with Water by H.L. Gold, 1939 – Terribly clever yarn about a man who’s cursed and cannot touch water and his efforts to break the hex.
Thirteen O’Clock by C.M. Kornbluth, 1941 – I didn’t find this to be the romp it was advertised, but I’m sure it was quite unique in the early forties. It’s a satire about a hero who finds himself attracted to a inept witch in another dimension. They battle a pushy wizard who looks familiar.
The Coming of the White Worm by Clark Ashton Smith, 1941 – I read this in high school and was creeped out just as much then as now. As we all these tales, I’m amazed at how crisp and atmospheric the writing is after all these decades.
Yesterday Was Monday by Theodore Sturgeon, 1941 – We’ve all seen this movie or TV show or read the book or short story. A man who “steps behind the curtain” of reality finds he and everyone are actors on a stage. With excuses to Shakespeare, this is probably the tale that started it all
They Bite by Anthony Boucher, 1943 – Another tale I read as a youngster that has stayed with me all these years. It’s an excellent example of the bad guy getting his just deserts, and makes the reader wary of seeing things out of the corner of their eyes.
Call Him Demon by Henry Kuttner, 1946 – When a large family doesn’t realize that they have a new uncle staying in the house, the children – who do know he’s The Wrong Uncle – are forced to feed the uncle raw meat while thinking of plans to destroy him and save the family.
Daemon by C.L. Moore, 1946 – A powerful tale of a shanghaied simpleton who can see souls, including the blood-red, hungry soul of the captain who wants to kill him.
The Black Ferris by Ray Bradbury, 1948 – A scene that probably inspired Something Wicked This Way Comes about two boy adventurers fighting a malignant carnival worker who uses the Ferris wheel to change his age.
Displaced Person by Eric Frank Russell, 1948 – Short punchline story that would have made a great Twilight Zone episode.
Our Fair City by Robert A. Heinlein, 1949 – I was amazed when I read this Heinlein story – it’s funny, witty, and satirical. A parking lot attendant has a pet whirlwind called Kitten. A local newspaperman uses it to embarrass the crooked mayor and his equally crooked police force. Does that sound like Heinlein to you?
Come and Go Mad by Frederic Brown, 1949 – An odd story and an excellent piece of writing. Napoleon goes to sleep in 1769 and wakes up as a reporter in 1944. Feigning amnesia to explain why he knows nothing of his new life as reporter George Vine, he’s assigned to investigate an insane asylum while posing as Napoleon!
There Shall Be No Darkness by James Blish, 1950 – Ten Little Indians Meets the Wolfman. Great story of a group of British houseguests trapped with a werewolf, but they don’t know which one of them is the creature.
That Hell-Bound Train by Robert Bloch, 1958 – Nice take on the old “deal with the devil” trope (with trains!).
Nine Yards of Other Clothes by Manly Wade Wellman, 1958 – A great tale of a guitar-playing hero, a damsel in distress, and a deal with a fiddle-playing devil.
The Montavarde Camera by Aram Davidson, 1959 – A mysterious camera causes the subjects of images it takes to decompose or die, but its new owner is not the first to discover its deadly secret.
Man Overboard by John Collier, 1960 – A nice man with a yacht searches for a sea serpent but takes on the World’s Most Obnoxious passenger and moves to Wyoming.
My Dear Emily by Joanna Russ, 1962 – A classic gothic tale of vampires and damsels in distress told from the damsel’s point of view.
Descending by Thomas Disch, 1964 – A layabout uses the last of his credit card limit to buy food and books at a fancy department store only to be trapped by escalators that only go down.
Four Ghosts in Hamlet by Fritz Leiber, 1965 – An acting troupe does Hamlet with a renounced actor playing the Ghost, possibly after the actor died! Some fine Fritz Leiber writing.
Divine Madness by Rogre Zelazny, 1966 – A man lives his life forward and backward, initiated by the loss of the love of his life. Can he remain sane long enough to prevent her bloody death in a car accident?
Narrow Valley by R.A. Lafferty, 1966 – An old Indian casts a makeshift spell on his land, making it too narrow for taxmen and squatters to find. When a family of traveling actors claim the land with the Homestead Act, they face a strange and possibly deadly situation. Silly and fun.
Timothy by Keith Roberts, 1966 – Anita, the bored witch girl, creates a friend from the neighbor’s scarecrow. When Timothy expresses his love for her, she’s faced with a painful decision – how to get rid of her new toy.
Longtooth by Edgar Pangborn, 1970 – Why do all the missing links hang out in Maine? A young wife is snatched from a homestead in the backwoods and her older husband, the sheriff’s only suspect, tracks the beast who took her.
Through a Glass-Darkly by Zenna Henderson, 1970 – Another excellent Twilight Zone episode. An older woman complains to her optometrist when she starts seeing Tucson from a hundred years earlier superimposed over modern Tucson.
Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Richard Cowper, 1976 – A wonderful medieval tale of the future where legend and prophecy intertwine for a new religion.
Jeffty is Five by Harlan Ellison, 1977 – Haunting tale of a man whose best friend remains five-years-old while everyone else grows older.
Within the Walls of Tyre by Michael Bishop, 1978 – A frightening and sad tale of a woman who delivers a stone baby and the brother searching for him.