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Spotlight on: October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween,
edited by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish

To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.

October Dreams by Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish (editors), October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween

Anthologies are usually, simply by their nature, uneven. When you depend on many different brains to come up with quality stories, you're bound to get some duds. It is this expectation that makes October Dreams so surprisingly well-executed. In fact, there are so many good pieces in here, that it's easier to pick out the minuscule number of bad ones (Hugh B. Cave and Dominick Cancilla, you know who you are).

October Dreams is subtitled "A Celebration of Halloween" and it takes this task seriously. Interlaced with classic Halloween stories -- and new ones written especially for this collection -- are "My Favorite Halloween Memory" reminiscences from the authors, as well as a reading list, a film list, and a history of Halloween that focuses more on the modern cultural aspects than Isaac Bonewits' (which focuses on the pagan aspects).

October Dreams has to be the most consistent collection of stories I have ever read. Usually, I've found a few disappointments by the time I've read five stories, but I didn't find anything to criticize until about the middle of the book. Editors Richard Chizmar (editor of the horror magazine Cemetery Dance) and Robert Morrish have really done their work here. Of course, with a selection of authors like Dean Koontz, Poppy Z. Brite, Ray Bradbury, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, and F. Paul Wilson, how could they go too far wrong?

A few stories stand out from the pack, and these were the ones I chose to read out loud on Halloween night. First was "The Circle" by Lewis Shiner which is a Twilight Zone-style tale of a group of people who gather to read stories on Halloween who get a surprise when one of their members decides to absent himself but sends in a story to read anyway. Viewers of the series will probably detect the twist before the end, but it is still an enjoyable read because it follows the formula so well. The other stand out is "Mask Games" by John Shirley, where a family invites a mysterious cousin over for a Halloween party and she brings a strange game for everyone to play. This one was disturbing and creepy and kept me riveted throughout its thirty-five pages.

That "Mask Games" is one of the longer offerings in October Dreams is also a bonus, as a story can generally be read in one sitting. The one exception is "Porkpie Hat" by Peter Straub, which is a seventy-odd page novella and another disappointment. The length, I think, is the main problem. Straub -- known for being long-winded at times -- takes far too long to relate the central story within the story and made me wish he would just get on with it. The beginning and end were of much tighter form and contained an idea I would like to see expanded upon, that of an interview with a reclusive jazz legend.

Other reviews have mentioned that F. Paul Wilson's story "Buckets" -- about an abortion doctor who is terrorized by the spirits of his pre-natal victims -- does not belong in this collection, due to its obvious agenda. I disagree. I think that Wilson, as a practicing physician, is simply tapping into his own fears -- sort of a "what if?" -- which makes the terror that much more palpable. Terror is an emotion that is not rampant in these tales, most of which walk along the fun side of fear, while others aim merely for disturbing. Surprisingly, "Heavy Set" by Ray Bradbury is one of these. The ending does not spell out the actions of the character in question, which makes us project our own ideas -- and my imagination can run wild. I would have been more comfortable with being told, but perhaps that's just an example of Bradbury's genius.

October Dreams is certainly worth the cover price (although the last time I checked it was available for much less from Book Closeouts.com, where I bought my copy along with Chizmar's other collections, The Best of Cemetery Dance, Volume One and The Best of Cemetery Dance, Volume Two). It is perfect reading for the week before Halloween (I know, that's when I read it) as it really gets the reader in the spirit of the holiday. Plus, the reading list ("Trick-or-Read by Stefan Dziemianowicz) and film list ("'First of all, It Was October...'" by Gary Braunbeck) give other suggestions for holiday entertainment to be relished after you've finished with this wonderful book.

Happy Halloween!

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