Those of you with incredible memories and equal measures of patience will recall that, in 2019, I was in Dublin for WorldCon. Since I spent most of my time in the dealer’s room signing books (or talking up other writers’ books at my publisher’s table), it’s not surprising that I also bought a lot of books from other tables.
One of them was at the end of Sunday when people were discounting everything and closing up shop. I saw a copy of The Astounding Illustrated History of Fantasy & Horror by, apparently, Roger Luckhurst, Mike Ashley, Michael Kerrigan, Matt Cardin, Dave Golder, Russ Thorne and Rosie Fletcher. I wasn’t too impressed by how it looked, as I was used to the Collector’s Press treatment of the same subjects. But they told me it was 5 Euros for this solid hardcover book, so I bought it.
It’s the kind of thing I really enjoy, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt despite the fact that the interior design didn’t inspire me (there’s nothing wrong with that cover, though!). Looking at it now, I’m not entirely certain why I didn’t like it visually when I picked it up. Perhaps it was the clinical white that dominated the text or the circular inset images. Or maybe it was that a lot of modern imagery (especially from films) was used in place of pictures of original book versions.
Whatever it was, I was wrong to doubt and very right to buy this one. The text erases any graphic design failings (whether real or only existent in my imagination) and tells the story of horror and fantasy simply but effectively, with a certain preference for the darker end of the spectrum. And while I admit to being a bit of a geek, I couldn’t put this one down because it’s more a narrative that shows the development of the genres than a dry reference book. Another plus is that this one is written from the British point of view, making it a good complement to the books from Collector’s Press.
Only a tiny thing jarred, but I suppose that’s down more to having to write to the era than any fault of the authors: at times, the role of women in the genre was a bit forced. This is unfortunate because it was unnecessary: Fantasy and Horror are two genres in which you don’t need to force this issue. There are colossal women in these fields, giants of literature who stand without the need to make a separate section for them… they don’t need a special category for themselves. It’s actually counterproductive, as if the contributions of women are somehow lesser. In these genres, no one would ever believe that.
But that’s a minor nit in a thoroughly enjoyable, well-researched work which will entrance fans and educate newbies. While it doesn’t try to be an encyclopedia, it’s much more enjoyable to read than a true reference book would have been.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans several genres including fantasy and horror. For a good look at his work in these last two, you can check out his dark fantasy collection Pale Reflection. Here’s the link.