Among the baby boomers, one horror writer stands supreme. You already know the author
I’m describing. Stephen King has ruled the genre for the last four decades, and his dominance
has been so complete that the only figures who warrant comparison are those iconic horror
riters of previous generations: Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and (perhaps) Richard
Matheson. Yet by commercial measures, even these celebrated masters are left in the dust by
King, who outsells all of them combined.

Even so, King’s preeminence cannot hide the fact the he came of age as part of a high-profile
generation of horror a
uthors born in the 1940s and early 1950s. If King leads the pack, it
hasn't been for want of ambitious challengers to his throne.

How do these contemporaries compete with Stephen
King (born 1947)? If you are
Thomas Harris (born
1940), you blend horror and crime fiction in a new
formula for fright, dispensing with the supernatural
and proving, with his character Hannibal Lecter, that
a criminal can scare as much as a vampire or zombie.  
If you are
Jack Ketchum (born 1946), you aim instead
for success through excess, piling on the gore and
embracing a slasher aesthetic that makes King look
tame by comparison. If you are
Clive Barker (born
1952) you craft a counterculture style of horror writing,
a kind of punk rock of genre fiction.  If you are Peter
Straub (born 1943), you try to match King at his own
game, with mastery of plot, pacing, character development
and other elements of craft.

Then we come to Ramsey Campbell (born 1946), who
chose the most ambitious path of all.
Early in his career, Campbell aimed at nothing less than an exemplary blending of horror
writing and highbrow literary fiction. Campbell wanted to have it all—both the mainstream
appeal of genre writing and also the multilayered complexity of modernist literature.

In recent years, we are familiar with this kind of turbocharged

horror story, infused with MFA writing workshop splendor. In
the 21st century, the experimental horror novel is a category of
its own, marked by works such as Mark Z. Danielewski's
of Leaves (2000) and The Fifty Year Sword (2012), Steven Hall's
The Raw Shark Texts (2007), Helen Oyeyemi's White is for
Witching (2009), Grace Krilanovich's The Orange Eats Creeps
(2007), and Grady Hendrix's Horrorstör (2014). Campbell’s
writing is differs from these examples in various ways. Even so,
he deserves credit as a trailblazer who helped legitimize the
concept of the modernist horror story.

Sad to say, Campbell’s breakthrough work is out of print and

rarely read nowadays. Yet when it was published in 1973, the
short story collection Demons by Daylight shook up the horror
fiction establishment. S.T. Joshi, the most influential critic in

the genre, greeted the book as a masterpiece and acknowledged
it as "perhaps the most important book of horror fiction since
The Outsider and Others." Stephen King singled out this book as a rare example of
a horror masterwork that "run[s] brilliantly counter to the tradition." King went on to note,
with regard to Campbell, that "the polish of his writing and his mannered turns of phrase and
image make him seem something like the genre's Joyce Carol Oates."  

Campbell was only 22-year-old when he published this collection, but he was already a
seasoned pro in the field, having released his first book at age 18. Yet before
Demons by
, Campbell’s role model had been Lovecraft, and his writing style largely derivative.
In his early 20s, he immersed himself in literary fiction, and fell under the sway of modernist
William Burroughs, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Graham Greene, Henry Miller and—most
decisively of all—
Vladimir Nabokov. "The real revelation was Nabokov," Campbell later
explained. "His work opened me up to the huge possibilities of language."

I admire Campbell’s boldness in this book, yet his experimental approach was not uniformly
successful. His zeal to find a poetic language for horror fiction occasionally pushed him into
ridiculous or vague expressions. A lover’s kiss is described as "flaps of skin engulfing each
other like the jaws of cannibal snails." A clothesline is "drawn across the sky like the line at
the end of a story." Trees are "cylinders of chocolate about to melt.” Sometimes the prose
even seems to destroy the intended meaning. The man who sees those chocolate trees, in the
story "The Telephone," moves into "the endless cushion of stilled air"—yet, certainly, for air
to form a cushion, you must be moving in the windward direction, not into stilled air. And a
few sentences later, our hero steps barefoot on some sharp rocks and the "emerging stones
crushed his toes like hammers"—but, certainly, a hammer hit evokes a rapid blow from
above, a fundamentally different experience from stepping on something, no?  Again and
again in these pages, Campbell delivers phrases that sound impressive or shocking, but serve
to make the description less precise, the story less immediate and potent.

I am more satisfied when Campbell draws on his modernist leanings to create daring new
structures for genre stories. In "The Franklyn Paragraphs," Campbell even shows up as a
character in his own tale, and juxtaposes different metanarrative layers in a manner that
deservedly warrants comparison with Nabokov. The terror in this plot is presented as a real-
life incident written in the form of a story framed in a letter that is presented in a bogus
memoir that purports to be a journal of the author. That’s quite a radical concept for a genre
story, yet "The Franklyn Paragraphs" does not lack for terror or suspense.

The most successful stories in
Demons by Daylight show
Campbell moving beyond purple prose and crafting narrative
strategies that unnerve the reader even before the horror
arrives on the scene.  At his best, Campbell even manages
to evoke the disruptive ambiance of Robbe-Grillet’s
Roman.  “Concussion,” the most impressive story in this
collection, is one of the strangest horror tales you will ever
read. In an extraordinary gesture of avant-garde intransigence,
Campbell describes most of the story from the perspective of
a man who has broken his glasses, and thus perceives the
world around him as a series of blots and blurs. Adding to the
confusion, Campbell describes two love stories, years apart,
and moves back and forth between them in provocative ways,
sometimes leaping decades mid-paragraph or even mid-sentence.  On top of this,
Campbell imposes a series of symbols—some of them drawn from the Hitchcock film
Vertigo, which both figures in the plot, and also serves as a symbolic template for
Campbell’s story. All of this effort might be for naught if Campbell didn't also deliver a
disturbing tale about a romance that hovers between reality and phantasmagoria. Here
the technical showiness of the work is integrated into the horror and suspense—not always
the case with Campbell’s writing—and our author makes a compelling case that
experimental fiction can produce distinctive effects in genre categories, types of
terror that a more conventional approach might not attain.

What did Campbell get for his efforts? He never came close to matching Stephen King’s
success in the marketplace. Yet I am hardly surprised. Indeed, I am amazed that Ramsey
Campbell continued to sell books to readers of horror genre fiction in the aftermath of this
breakthrough in his writing.
His books can be slow-going, and Campbell's literary ambitions
often seem incompatible with the proven formulas of pulp fiction. Nor did our author
ever really gain the highbrow legitimization he hoped to attain by following in the steps of
modernist and postmodernist predecessors. But thought Campbell
may have fallen short of
stablishing himself as the Nabokov or Calvino of horror stories, he played an essential role
in the evolution of the field. Sometimes we need Kings, but in other instances anarchists and
disruptors also bring us into the future. Ramsey Campbell did just that in this strange and
wonderful, if sometimes frustrating, work from 1973.

Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. His latest book is How to Listen to Jazz
from Basic Books.

Publication Date: July 12, 2016
This is my year of horrible reading.
I am reading the classics of horror fiction
during the course of 2016, and each week will
write about a significant work in the genre.
You are invited to join me in my
. During the course of the year—if
we survive—we will have tackled zombies,
serial killers, ghosts, demons, vampires, and
monsters of all denominations. Check back
each week for a new title...but remember to
bring along garlic, silver bullets and a
protective amulet.  
Ted Gioia
My Year of Horrible Reading

Week 1:
By Bram Stoker

Week 2:
The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Week 3:
Tales of Mystery & Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe

Week 4:
By Stephen King

Week 5:
The Passion According to G.H.
By Clarice Lispector

Week 6:
By H.P. Lovecraft

Week 7:
The Exorcist
By William Peter Blatty

Week 8:
The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill

Week 9:
By Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 10:
I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson

Week 11:
Ghost Stories of Henry James
By Henry James

Week 12:
Interview with the Vampire
By Anne Rice

Week 13:
American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis

Week 14:
Last Stories and Other Stories
By William T. Vollmann

Week 15:
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
By M.R. James

Week 16:
Rosemary's Baby
By Ira Levin

Week 17:
The King in Yellow
By Robert W. Chambers

Week 18:
By Daphne Du Maurier

Week 19
The Woman in the Dunes
by Kōbō Abe

Week 20
The Dark Eidolon
by Clark Ashton Smith

Week 21
Off Season
by Jack Ketchum

Week 22
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3
by Clive Barker

Week 23
The Silence of the Lambs
by Thomas Harris

Week 24
The Orange Eats Creeps
by Grace Krilanovich

Week 25
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Week 26
by Robert Bloch

Week 27
by Octavia E. Butler

Week 28
Demons by Daylight
by Ramsey Campbell
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
Ramsey Campbell's Quest to Become
the Nabokov of Horror Writing
To purchase, click on image
Essay by Ted Gioia
A Look Back at Demons by Daylight (1973)
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barker, Clive
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Butler, Octavia E.

Campbell, Ramsey
Demons by Daylight

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chambers, Robert W.
The King in Yellow

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hill, Susan
The Woman in Black

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw

James, M.R.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Ketchum, Jack
Off Season

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen

Krilanovich, Grace
The Orange Eats Creeps

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Levin, Ira
Rosemary's Baby

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Lovecraft, H.P.

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Rice, Anne
Interview with the Vampire

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Clark Ashton
The Dark Eidolon

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stevenson, Robert Louis
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Stoker, Bram

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
The Dragon Masters

Vance, Jack

Vance, Jack
The Languages of Pao

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vollmann, William T
Last Stories and Other Stories

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

Links to related sites

The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter


SF Site
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog

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All rights reserved.
Campbell wanted to
have it all—both the
mainstream appeal
of genre writing and
also the multilayered
complexity of modernist