It’s all but impossible to please everyone when it comes to any form of top 10 lists. We’re all gifted minds of our own, which enable us to conjure our own personal opinions which make any piece of this nature a simple matter of subjectivity. No one will agree with this list in its entirety, that’s just not going to happen, and I’m happy about that. We’re not drones. We think for ourselves. We function in life without the luxury of a (literal and figurative) hand to hold at all times.
So as you read this piece, view it not as a lesson in objectivity, but a guideline of sorts. If you’re foreign to any of these authors (not sure how that’s possible), hopefully you’ll find reason to invest a little time in their work. Every imagination that helps to comprise this list is remarkable in one right or another. From the unparalleled imagination of Clive Barker to the far less fantastical yet equally frightening visions emitted by Jack Ketchum, these authors stand as profound figures in their field. They’re generally adored, typically outsell the vast majority of their peers and consistently produce highly influential fiction.
Enough praise I say – let me leap right into it: these are the names you should be seeking out at all costs.
10. Joe R. Lansdale: Lansdale is one versatile dude. The man crafts tons of creepy shorts, writes some amazing stories under the intentional design of cinematic transfer and pumps out some seriously farfetched but paralyzing novels. The recently released Edge of Dark Water, The Drive In series, Lost Echoes, the criminally underrated A Fine Dark Line and the unbelievably bold novella Bubba Ho-Tep are just a few superb works to track down.
09. Jack Ketchum: Unlike the majority of others to grace this list, Ketchum prefers to keep his horror rooted in the plausible. Real people, real harrowing scenarios, true terror that could just happen to you. Talk about the kind of terror that climbs under the skin and you’re talking about the terror that is truly tangible. Look into The Woman, The Girl Next Door, The Lost and Red for some unsettling examples of Ketchum’s amazing prose.
08. Richard Matheson: When Matheson writes a novel, he dumps every last piece of himself into it. The man’s works are profound on a truly grand scale, and tend to take on a timeless quality. His novel I Am Legend is commonly regarded one of the finest horror stories ever written. A Stir of Echoes, Hell House and Shadow on the Sun are also stunning works, as is his collection Duel, which ranks as one of the finest compilations to ever see print.
07. Jonathan Maberry: Jon is probably the least appreciated artist to be featured in this list, which is a bit strange. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very successful author, but the truth of the matter is, he deserves a wealth more respect than he’s already extended. The guy is damn good, to be blunt. A versatile author, Maberry’s pumped out some terrifying tales. Just check out the entire Pine Deep trilogy, his Joe Ledger series (Patient Zero is great) and if you dig the current zombie craze, don’t pass on Dead of Night.
06. Dan Simmons: Much to my personal chagrin Simmons refuses to fully dedicate himself to works of horror: the man loves to dabble in the realm of science fiction (not that I’m against sci-fi, I just prefer horror). That said, when Dan approaches horror…well, he’s an attention thief. It’s rather easy to pick up a Simmons book and hold it tight until the final page has been read. Summer of Night, Song of Kali, The Terror and, my personal favorite, A Winter Haunting are all works of fiction that will render you fully addicted to all things of Dan Simmons.
05. Robert McCammon: From this point on, rankings are pretty much irrelevant. For my money, these five authors all tread the same successful status, and each is capable of creating some seriously disturbing fiction. McCammon has a knack for creating characters that stick to the inner recesses of the mind. Both antagonists and protagonists shine in an amazing light, and whether you love or loathe, you will not forget them. Gone South, Baal, Bethany’s Sin, Usher’s Passing and the recent homerun, The Five.
04. Dean Koontz: I’ve confronted a wide disdain held for Koontz by many in the recent past. I myself however, still consider the man an excellent writer who, when he gets it right, gets it really, really right. I’ll always prefer his older works, but he’s produced a few contemporary monsters worthy of note. 77 Shadow Street is a damn fine recent release from Koontz, but I’ll always lean on some of his earlier works: Phantoms, Night Chills, Lightning, The Taking, Watchers and Midnight are all highly rewarding efforts.
03. Ramsey Campbell: Fairly new to my catalogue, Campbell has quickly established himself as a bona fide favorite of mine. The man’s mind seems to function on the same intricate plane that Clive Barker traverses, and I love it. A bit less animalistic than Barker, Campbell is every bit as enjoyable. The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Doll Who Ate His Mother and Hungry Moon are all absolutely awesome. The best part of this whole thing, for me, is the fact that I’ve yet to read the majority of Campbell’s library, which screams of guaranteed terrors.
02. Clive Barker: I still consider Barker to be the most sadistic, twisted, complex and compelling author in the business. This man is capable of conceiving stories that I couldn’t fathom on the wildest acid trip ever experienced. He’s just insanely far out there with his content, but he’s so amazingly poetic with his craft that he commands more than undivided attention, he commands a level of awe. His words often unravel in an intricately woven manner than feels like Bradbury, Nietzsche and Lovecraft all met in a different lifetime and collaborated on the most scintillating piece of literature ever written. It’s hard to point you to any specific Barker books to seek out because they’re all so moving. Weaveworld, The Thief of Always and Coldheart Canyon are terrific tales. But for every great novel written by Barker, you’ve got two great novellas (Cabal, Haeckel’s Tale) and three great collections (no matter what you do, do not miss The Books of Blood!)
01. Stephen King: King isn’t even remotely near as poetic as Barker, nor as engaging as Campbell or even as prolific as Koontz, but he’s got magic in his mind, and it bleeds onto paper in wondrous fashion. The man is recognized as the true “Master of Horror” for a reason: he writes stories that burrow in the brain, and a great number of them feel as though they were written with the intent of hitting the big screen (a sing of amazing imagery): many of which do. Personally I’ll always lean towards King’s earlier efforts, but he’s maintained strong momentum that still ensnares readers, new and old alike. His horror/fantasy storyline, The Dark Tower makes for a still-growing collection that will go down in history as one of the greatest tales ever told. Misery, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Christine, Cujo, IT, Pet Sematary, Needful Things and The Stand are just a few of the man’s many masterpieces. And I mean that, those really are just a few of this man’s treasures!