The Contemporary Era - Volume 2: The Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries

Unutterable Horror - A History of Supernatural Fiction - S. T. Joshi 2014

The Contemporary Era
Volume 2: The Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries

The collapse of the horror boom of the 1970s and 1980s did not mean an abrupt end to horror publications in the mass market, but it did see a decline in the popularity of horror writing, as even the big-name writers of the past struggled to maintain their readership. It is noteworthy that, in the past two decades, certain writers who fall into the broad category of fantasy—notably J. K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman—have gained a substantially greater readership than most of the bestselling horror writers of the period; only the young-adult writer Stephenie Meyer can come close to matching these titans in popularity.

The demise of best-selling horrordom resulted in the return of weird literature to where it probably belongs—the small press. Over the past twenty years, three small presses have risen head and shoulders above the others—Subterranean Press, PS Publishing, and Night Shade Books. But many others (some of them now defunct) have contributed to a thriving weird community where literary artistry can flourish because it does not require the artistic concessions that best-selling writers are compelled to make. Such presses as Fedogan & Bremer, Centipede Press, Delirium Books, Necronomicon Press, Earthling, Dark Regions Press, Hippocampus Press, Bloodletting Press (and its sub-imprint, Arcane Wisdom), Chaosium, and many others have published, on occasion, outstanding material, while such largely reprint houses as Ash-Tree Press and Tartarus Press have now ventured into the publication of new weird fiction. One notably silent firm is Arkham House, which, since the departure of James Turner as editorial director around 1997 (he later formed a notable small press, Golden Gryphon Press, before dying in 1999), has appeared to have lost its focus; it has not published a book since 2006. But so many others have taken up the slack that Arkham House’s silence has gone largely unnoticed.

The drawbacks of the small press—its limited and at times very expensive print runs, its inability to undertake widespread advertising, and the quick departure of some publishers because of financial or other difficulties—have made it difficult for some authors to gain a reputation except by a slow and laborious process of word-of-mouth, and the sheer number of such publications creates challenges to those readers and critics who seek to sort the wheat from the chaff and establish anything approaching a canon of contemporary weird literature. The bewildering diversity of approach adopted by contemporary authors makes it nearly impossible to establish any dominant trends in the field, and all one can do is to focus on certain figures who have gained reputations and to probe whether such reputations are or are not justified.