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It is difficult for any writer to quite reach up to King/Bachman’s standards, but there are several authors out there who know how to create similar atmospheres.
Let’s check out more authors like Stephen King!
His best novels had the effect of Mike Tyson in his championship days: no finesse, all crude power – Stephen King
Recommended Book: ‘The Rats’ (1974)
James Herbert has been dubbed the English Stephen King. He even enjoyed pointing out that he had sold more books in the UK market than his American counterpart. Ultimately, these two were staunch allies of each other’s guts ‘n’ gore horror, which is strong stuff.
Herbert felt irresistibly drawn to this vein of splatter horror, explaining “I hate violence and I didn’t plan to write horror; it just poured out of me.” His books began life as bedtime stories for his children – though “minus the gory parts, of course.” The writer burst onto the scene in 1974 (the same year as King’s debut ‘Carrie’) with his first and still most resonant novel, ‘The Rats‘.
This demented tale features mutant man-eating rodents as they chomp their way through the city and the citizens of London. According to the author, the freakish tale is subliminally “packed with metaphor and subtext”. Like many horror books, it works on the principle of ‘the attraction of revulsion’. 100,000 copies were instantly snapped up by voracious readers.
Herbert indelicately plays on our fear and loathing of common neuroses: rats, ghosts and all the other unfriendly things that go bump in the night. He reworks these into scary-because-they’re-almost-just-plausible scenarios, and colours his eviscerating scenes with ludicrously lurid details. After all, Herbert “firmly believed that if you get hurt, if you get hit with an axe, it bloody well hurt and there would be a lot of blood.”
You might wonder what the original Brat Pack member Bret Easton Ellis has to do with Stephen King. Granted, they really don’t have much in common; while Bret is a satirist and concentrates on contemporary issues, Stephen is the King of horror.
There is one Bret Easton Ellis novel however, that sets a hauntedtone and introduces us to a protagonist on the brink of a nervous breakdown – very reminiscent of King’s Bag of Bones.
In Lunar Park (2005), the American Psycho author contemplates the onset of his fame, his relationships and his father’s death.
The book starts out normal enough but come Halloween, strange things start happening in Ellis’ McMansion, when his stepdaughter’s Terby doll seems to take up a life of its own.
Needless to say, his family isn’t convinced by his paranoias.
He opened the way for me, as he had done for others before me – Stephen King
Recommended Book: ‘The Lurking Fear and Other Stories’ (1947)
If there’s anyone to blame if you’ve experienced being terrified by Stephen King, it’s our next author.
It was when King discovered a battered copy of one of H P Lovecraft’s tales that he realised he had found his calling to horror writing at a tender age. He had just stumbled across “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale”, who was to play a starring role in King’s own story.
Sadly, Lovecraft’s now esteemed position in horror fiction only began to be recognised after his death in 1937. His completed books were published posthumously, having been resurrected from notes and jottings. They reveal an old-worldly soul who looked sceptically at the brave new world he was facing via his fiction.
Departing from the usual portrayal of things that go bump in the night, Lovecraft instead wrote about the explosive enlightenment in science and machinery that was taking place around him in the late 19th-century. His so-called ‘Cthulhu Mythos‘ set small and lonely David-sized human lives against the Goliath totality of an outsized cosmic indifference. Over and over, his challenging reads explored the frontiers of sanity and human knowledge through this dichotomy. In this, Lovecraft reckoned, our human incomprehension is our gift – a last refuge against the awful, horrifying truth out there.
“We shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age”, he warned darkly.
You may have already heard of the FX TV series The Strain, which was released in July. If you ask me, it has all the potential of a disastrous show like The Dome, but let’s see what comes out of it.
A biological threat on the Boeing 767-300ER
The series is based on Guillermo del Toro’s novel of the same title and follows the mysteries behind the Boeing 767-300ER which arrived at the JFK airport with only two surviving passengers. It seems as though the rest of the passengers were exposed to a biological threat.
The Strain (2009) is the first book of the trilogy followed by The Fall (2010) and The Night Eternal (2011). It is described as a vampire horror novel series.
The author who influenced me most as a writer – Stephen King
Recommended Book: ‘I Am Legend’ (1954)
Richard Matheson’s novels follow a hypothetical “what if..?” line of questioning.
So, what if… you were the last man (more precisely, last human) on earth? Matheson’s most popular title, the intense and apocalyptic ‘I Am Legend‘, takes archetypal vampire Dracula – and multiplies this idea a billion-fold. This scary book sings out under Matheson‘s stylish and lyrical touch, as his protagonist is stranded in the midst of a decaying civilisation with baying vampire mobs at the door.
This is typical of Matheson‘s ‘the-horror-next-door’ conceit, which grounds his work in the real and everyday for his readers to relate to. “I’m a neighborhood terrorizer”, the author chuckled. It was this homeliness that excited King’s attention, as Matheson led the way in locating unspeakable horrors in cosy American scenes. As a writer, he is interested in presenting intense psychological quandaries.
The author’s works (books, short stories and at least 80 film and TV scripts) inspired other practitioners to make viewers jump out of their skin. The first film adaptation of ‘I Am Legend‘ famously influenced George A Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead‘. He also penned episodes for ‘The Twilight Zone‘, and a short thriller called ‘Duel‘. On being committed to celluloid, this would be the vehicle that launched the career of a young director named Stephen Spielberg.
Adam Nevill is an English author with a strong taste for the supernatural horror genre. His 2011 book The Ritual won the 2012 August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel. The rights are currently being optioned by Stillking Films.
The story follows a group of old college friends who decide to go on a hiking trail through the Arctic Circle. None of them are exactly outdoorsy and when two of them get injured and develop severe blisters, they take a shortcut that causes them to get lost.
Lost, scared and not alone
When they stumble upon a shack they are momentarily relieved, only to find it was used for ritualistic offerings…
Just before the vampire craze reached great heights with shows like The Vampire Diaries and books like The Twilight Series, the Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist published Let The Right One In (2004).
It tells the story of the twelve year old Oskar and Eli, who as it turns out, is a vampire child. Eli looks and dresses like a girl but was in fact a boy before turning into a vampire, which left him castrated.Eli lives with the paedophile Håkan who provides Eli with blood from random victims.
Oskar grew up without a father and is bullied by his class mates. He is obsessed with forensic science and keeps a scrapbook of newspaper articles describing murders. He forms a close friendship with Eli who helps him stand up against his bullies.
This story is way deeper than your usual vampire stories and concentrates on first world issues and existential anxieties.
More authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz include Alex Garland, the English author famous for his novel The Beach (1996) and his screenplay for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. The Garland novel that most reminds me of Stephen King’s work is The Coma.
On his way home on an underground train, Carl comes to the rescue when a young girl is harassed by a group of vile men. Unfortunately he doesn’t come out of the quarrel quite the hero. He is brutally beaten and ends up in a coma.
Carl is brutally beaten and ends up in a coma
When he awakens, his life seems to have taken a peculiar turn. Nothing seems to be as it was as the narrator finds himself in what almost seems like an Alice in Wonderland (check out this article for more similar books) situation. As surreal as his life may feel, Carl will not give up hope on finding his identity.
Still on the lookout for another author like Stephen King? Here are two more novelists for you to sink your canines into. While Clive Barker takes the horror novel in another direction by weaving a dark fantasy epic, Shirley Jackson spins a spine-tingling rendition of conventional horror conceits.
I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker – Stephen King
Recommended Book: ‘Imajica’ (1991)
Clive Barker writes fiction that aims to communicate something profound to his readers via a mixture of perverse horror and what he dubs “the fantastique.”
The writer confessed that “if I have to have one book of mine tucked under my arm when I appear at the Pearly Gates, it will be Imajica.” It is an ambitious 800-page book that mashes-up religious belief, magic and myth and a good lashing of surrealism. This comes packaged as a multi-dimensional fantasy/horror epic.
Barker‘s other dark fantasy fiction has even been adapted for the screen. The film ‘Hellraiser‘ (1987) was based on ‘The Hellbound Heart‘, which he also directed, while ‘Candyman‘ (1992) was an adaptation of ‘The Forbidden‘.
Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within – Shirley Jackson
Recommended book: ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ (1959)
Last but not least is Shirley Jackson’s hauntingly good fiction, to send shivers down your spine.
‘The Haunting of Hill House‘ is recognised as one of the greatest ghost stories ever written. In this story, a supernatural investigator invites 3 different people to record the paranormal activity at the haunted house on the hill. So far, so conventional. Slowly but surely, however, Jackson turns this scenario inside out. For King, she was able to find “words that somehow transcend the sum of the parts.” Her ethereal prose begins to hint at a weeping sore of malevolence oozing out from between her lines as the book progresses.
Jackson holds séance with ideas of social conscience and personal demons. In her books, all the quasi-supernatural goings-on in the world cannot mask the dreadful truth: that the real demon lies in the banality of evil that beds itself down in ordinary lives and human value systems. It’s enough to give you goosebumps.
Shirley Jackson was brave enough to write the kind of books that really scared herself. Little wonder she became agoraphobic, before dying at the age of 48. Privately, she penned: “I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work”.
Stephen King is a big fan of Andrew Pyper