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Puzzle Box Horror’s Best of Sci-Fi Horror Books

While exploring the best of sci-fi horror books we traveled as far back as 1818 and well into the future. Stories set in the speculative genre known as science fiction have always had a thrill and a sense of wonder about them. Technological advancements, adventures on alien worlds or deep below sea, life-altering discoveries – all aspects that incite excitement in the reader. And yet there are some stories that eschew the glossy-eyed outlook and choose to peer into the darker side of it all. What if those technological advancements come at a high moral price? What if those alien planets hold unfathomable dangers? And what if those discoveries alter life in a way that dismantles the construct of our humanity? 

There are many science fiction authors who occasionally dwell on the negative consequences of mankind’s headlong rush into the future. Sci-fi greats like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, and many others write stories that have a darker side to them. But here at Puzzle Box Horror we lean heavy into the horror side of things, and so in creating this list we sought out books that have sci-fi trappings while also being downright terrifying. The genres of science fiction and horror have many base similarities, and it’s our belief that tales that blend the best of both worlds are pretty much perfect. Read on to see our selection of the very best sci-fi horror books!

Hell on Mars by J.Z. Foster and Justin Woodward (2020)

Hell on Mars Sci-fi horror book

Scientists have been working for years on a secret project at the Mars Felicity Station. Something to do with opening a gateway to another dimension. Suddenly communications with earth are cut and the station goes dark. The US sends a crew in to investigate, but they are completely unprepared for what they find. What starts as a routine investigative mission turns into war with a new terrifying enemy and a high-stakes fight for survival.

The story follows the crew of the Perihelion as they journey towards the space station. We learn about the characters and their personality quirks, but the closer they get to Mars the more the dread begins to mount. When they arrive building suspense bursts vividly into nightmarish horror. Mixing the fast-paced action of Doom, the grotesque creatures of Dead Space, and the cosmic horror of Event Horizon, Hell on Mars is a gory good time and the first book in what is sure to be an exciting series. An immediate addition to our best of sci-fi horror books list.

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling (2019)

The Luminous Dead Sci-Fi Horror Book

Abandoned and alone on a remote planet, Gyre Price descends deeper into the cave. She’s lied about having cave-diving experience, hoping the paycheck from the expedition will be enough to cover any incidents that may happen. Her only connection to the outside world is her handler Em, who controls her body suit from the safety of the surface. Unfortunately, Em is both mysterious and dangerous, and she has her own dark plans for Gyre.

The Luminous Dead is a tense, claustrophobic and psychological thriller. Considering the limited setting, essentially just two characters in a mine, it’s amazing the levels of emotion and suspense author Caitlin Starling is able to provide. Both characters have secrets and ulterior motives, keeping readers guessing as to where each new revelation will lead. While the pace plods some it’s never boring, and it’s punctuated with some truly gruesome and terrifying moments. 

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

Annihilation book cover

This Nebula award-winning book is about a group of female scientists on a mission to explore a place that’s mysteriously appeared on earth known as Area X. There have been numerous previous missions, all met with disastrous results, insanity, and death.This group of women, whose story is narrated by the biologist, are tasked with exploring the area and avoiding contamination. No matter what they expected to happen after crossing the border, what actually transpires is beyond their wildest imaginations.

Annihilation is a bizarre story of psychological terror and cosmic dread. There’s no way to adequately prepare yourself for the strange events that will unfold. The four women are trying to survive in a land that is actively trying to hurt them, but their own secrets and duplicity might just be the thing that tears them apart. The book deals with big questions on life and identity, while mixing weird eco-horror with a healthy dose of cosmic horror in the second half.

Infected by Scott Sigler (2008)

Infected horror book cover

A mysterious bioengineered parasite is spreading disease across America, turning the infected into deranged and bloodthirsty murderers. This sci-fi horror story is told mainly from three different perspectives. First, there’s the secret CIA agent Drew Phillips who is searching the country for a victim that’s still alive. Second, there’s the CDC epidemiologist Magaret Montoya who is racing to better understand the disease. And finally, there’s the desk jockey Perry Dawsey who is infected and must fight against his own body to survive. Infected is a glorious combination of gore and thrills that manages to blend nauseating pulp and smart storytelling.

Blindsight by Peter Watts (2006)

Blind Sight Sci-fi horror book

In the near future, a space probe happens to pick up transmissions from a distant alien spaceship. Something is whispering in a strange tongue. An unusual crew is thrown together to go investigate the signals: a warrior who wants peace, a biologist entwined with machinery, a linguist with multiple-personality disorder, and a vampire exhumed by paleogenetic witchcraft. This ragtag group boards the alien ship and what begins as a routine investigation quickly devolves into an unnerving series of discoveries. A heady horror sci-fi adventure, Blindsight blends unforgettable images with philosophical inquiries about communication, consciousness, and what it means to be alive.

Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo (2001)

Ship of Fools Sci-fi horror book

Thousands of humans have been living on the spaceship Argonos for several generations, traversing the galaxy in search of other life. Suddenly an unknown transmission captures their attention and leads them to a mysterious yet habitable planet. The planet, named Antioch by the crew, is barren but a group decides to go exploring anyway. They are tired from their aimless wandering of the stars, and they yearn for a new home. Unfortunately, there’s more to this planet than first meets the eye. Ship of Fools engages readers with strong character studies while also striking fear into their hearts as the crew begins to unravel into madness.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison (1967)

I have no mouth and I must scream Sci-fi horror book cover

This collection features seven short stories by science fiction great Harlan Ellison, but it’s the titular tale that has captivated and terrified audiences the most over the decades. In this story, a post-apocalyptic future finds a small group of five people struggling for survival. Human warfare has wiped out most of the population, and now a malicious supercomputer powered by artificial intelligence has imprisoned the remaining few. They are kept alive only to be brutally tortured by the sadistic machine. It’s a disturbingly inventive story, and one that helped create the “A.I. nemesis” trope in the sci-fi horror that followed.

The stories that appear in this collection are:

  • “I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream”
  • “Big Sam Was My Friend”
  • “Eyes of Dust”
  • “World of the Myth”
  • “Lonelyache”
  • “Delusion for Dragonslayer”
  • “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes”

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951)

The day of the triffids Sci-fi horror book cover

A spectacular shower of comets blinds most of the world’s population, leaving those few left with sight to battle a race of giant, mobile, flesh-eating plants known as Triffids. As society crumbles, our two main characters Bill and Josella, along with a band of other survivors, must find a way to avoid the poisonous stingers of these assailants and rebuild what they can of civilization. Written during a time of Cold War paranoia, The Day of the Triffids anticipates weapons of mass destruction and biological warfare. Not only did the book help popularize the post-apocalyptic genre, but it remains to this day a staple in the sci-fi horror genre overall.

Who Goes There? By John W Campell (1938)

Who goes there Sci-fi horror book cover

Scientists at a research camp in Antarctica have discovered a frozen alien form that appears to have crash-landed there a long time ago. Misguided by their excitement, the researchers decide to thaw the creature and chaos quickly ensues. The being they have revived can transform itself to look like both humans and animals, and it’s using its shape-shifting abilities to pick them off one by one. Now this paranoid band of men must struggle to survive against a foe who can present itself as a friend. Though this story is better known as the 1982 John Carpenter film The Thing (plus various other movie remakes), it’s interesting to go back and look at the sci-fi horror novella that started it all.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

Frankenstein Sci-fi horror book

At this point everyone is familiar with Mary Shelley’s story of Dr. Frankenstein and the reanimated being he assembles. Written centuries ago, this story has spawned countless iterations and made Frankenstein’s monster a pop culture horror icon. Though the book features a mad scientist and explores early on the methods used to reinvigorate life, a large part of it focuses on the humanity of the monster and the inhumanity of those around him. While it doesn’t fall into the horror genre quite as squarely as other entries on this list (though there are plenty of horrifying moments), it’s influence on the genre should not be neglected. Frankenstein is definitely one of the best sci-fi horror books of all times in it’s own right.

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Puzzle Box Winter Horror Guide

Winter is a wonderful time with falling snow, crackling fireplaces, and precious family moments. However, like all beautiful things, this season also has a dark side – and Puzzle Box Horror is bringing you the ultimate guide to winter horror seasonal scares. From real-world terrors like almost dying from frostbite to holiday folklore creatures that pull you into the depths of Hell, here are the top winter horror stories you need this season.

Movies

30 Days of Night 

Released: 2007

30 days of night winter horror movie poster

Before there was Twilight, there was 30 Days of Night… a truly brilliant horror film that tells the story of bloodsuckers, captivity, and bone-chilling terror in Alaska. The town of Barrow is preparing for the annual “30 Days of Night,” a period during the winter when there is a polar night for an entire month. Or in simpler terms, 24-hour a day darkness. As the community is snowed in and confined to their homes, a band of bloodthirsty vampires arrives and begins to pick off the townspeople one-by-one. With monstrous killers on the loose, and no communication to the outside world, the main characters must find a way to stay alive and overcome the darkness. Both literally and figuratively. If you’re a real vampire enthusiast with a side of winter horror obsession, this is the perfect film for you! Stream on Amazon here.

Krampus 

Released: 2015

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Who doesn’t love a good holiday horror movie? Especially when it’s about a demonic creature from European folklore that guarantees you’ll sleep with one eye open on Christmas Eve. Krampus has everything you could typically expect from a Christmas film – a dysfunctional family, a blizzard snowing people in, a child doubting his holiday spirit – but instead of Santa, you have Krampus. This horned, demonic creature originates from German folklore, and descends each winter to punish those who have lost their Christmas spirit and drag them straight to Hell. Which seems a little harsh, if you ask us… but you’ll get a kick out of this winter comedy horror film that’s scarily good. Stream on Amazon here.

Frozen 

Released: 2010

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Sometimes your winter vacation can turn into a nightmare, and it definitely did for the three college students in Frozen. It’s a simple premise, but truly terrifying. One second, you’re in a chairlift getting ready to ski and snowboard at a high-end resort – and the next, you’re trapped in freezing cold temperatures 100 feet above the ground. When the three friends get stranded in the chairlift with no help in sight, they go to extreme measures to stay alive and avoid freezing to death. There’s no ghosts or demons, just three people fighting against nature to protect themselves from the woes of winter… and it’s incredibly frightening. Stream on Amazon here.

The Thing

Released: 1982

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When a group of researchers in Antarctica encounter “The Thing,” it’s not just the bitter cold that they need to protect themselves from. This alien orgasm is a parasite that can imitate people to perfection, giving them all paranoia that they can’t trust each other. And to be honest, they probably can’t. Like many winter horror films, this is a story of survival amongst both evil forces and the steep snow… and it’s simply chilling to watch. After you’ve finished watching the 1982 version of The Thing, you can also watch the 2011 remake that many horror fans believe is as brilliant as the original! Purchase the DVD here.

The Invisible Man

Released: 1933

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If you’re in the mood for a black-and-white holiday movie that’s a bit less cheery than It’s A Wonderful Life, this eerie winter horror film will definitely do the trick. As the name suggests, it tells the story of a man who checks into a hotel on a snowy night with this face fully wrapped in bandages and topped off with goggles. After a series of events, it’s uncovered that this man has discovered the science of invisibility, and he’s even more dangerous than you think. An invisible man who can sneak up on his victims before their brutal murders, in the middle of the snowy winter? What could possibly go wrong? Stream on Amazon here.

Books

The Shining

Author: Steven King

Published: 1977

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The Shining isn’t just one of the best haunted books of all time, it’s also a winter horror masterpiece. While it’s the supernatural forces that cause Jack Torrance to lose himself and become a danger to himself and his family – it’s safe to say that any of us would go crazy after being trapped in a haunted hotel during a winter snowstorm. Jack begins working there as a caretaker as he recovers from alcoholism, and his inner demons combined with actual evil spirits begin to take over his body. As the snow falls around this Colorado hotel, he goes on a quest to kill his son Danny (who posseses psychic powers called “the shining”), wife Wendy, and anybody else who stands in his way. Even if you’ve seen the cult favorite 1980 film starring Jack Nicholson, this Steven King novel is a classic that you should definitely read from your creepy hotel room. Available on Amazon here.

The Winter People 

Author: Jennifer McMahon

Published: 2014

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Living “off the grid” in a Vermont farmhouse to survive the winter cold may seem like a dream at first. Netflix, blankets, and hot cocoa… oh my! But things take a turn when 19-year-old Ruthie moves into the home with her mother and sister, only for her mother to mysteriously vanish one day. Trapped in the middle of nowhere with no answers, she uncovers an old diary that pulls her into a town mystery that may or may not decide her mother’s fate. Along with provide answers for the other townspeople who have disappeared throughout the decades. Available on Amazon here.

Ghost Story

Author: Peter Straub

Published: 1971

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You know you’ve written a killer book when even Stephen King compliments it. The famed horror author has nothing but great things to say about Ghost Story, as does Puzzle Box Horror. It tells the tale of four old men who gather around one winter night to tell the many stories of their past. Some are simple, others are frightening, but there’s one that’s purely horrifying. A terrible mistake that shows that your past can always come back to haunt you, and no sin is truly forgiven. Available on Amazon here.

Snowblind

Author: Christopher Golden

Published: 2014

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The snow is the true villain in this novel by Christopher Golden, as the town of Coventry still struggles to recover from a devastating blizzard that happened over a decade ago. And it wasn’t just your typical natural disaster. Many people died, others mysteriously vanished, and strange things began to happen as icy figures danced in the snow and gazed inside children’s windows. With another blizzard set to hit the town, the people of Coventry must put away their painful memories and prepare to save themselves from the supernatural forces of the snow. Available on Amazon here.

Misery

Author: Stephen King

Published: 1987

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Snow and Stephan King novels are always a scarily good combination, and Misery is no exception. When acclaimed author Paul Sheldon gets caught in a snowstorm and crashes his car, he awakens to find that he has been captured by Annie Wilkes, a superfan of his work who will go to great lengths to get her definition of a happy ending. This includes holding him hostage, manipulating him by withholding food and painkillers, and even cutting off his foot. It becomes clear that Annie is unstable and Paul’s life is in danger, and he must escape her before his own life story comes to an end. This novel was also made into a highly successful movie starring James Caan and Kathy Bates! Available on Amazon here.

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Subgenres of Horror from A to Z

Are you a die-hard horror fan? Are you someone looking to expand your horizons, and find just the right kind of horror for you? Well, we’ve got just the thing. We’ve dissected the horror into the nine main subgenres of horror with our recommendations on where to start with each.

How many types of horror are there?

Categorizing the subgenres of horror genre is harder than you might think. We’re not talking about the periodic table of elements here. It gets murky. There’s a lot of overlap, a lot of genre-bending and crossover. If you asked ten popular horror writers to make a list of subgenres within the main genre, you’d get ten different lists.

But let’s tackle it anyway!

We’ve broken horror down into fourteen categories or subgenres. These subgenres of horror account for the majority of horror fiction available today, while also harkening back to the origin of the genre.

Apocalyptic | Avant Garde | Cosmic | Comedy | Dark Fantasy | Found Footage | Gore | Gothic | Lovecraftian | Paranormal | Post Apocalyptic | Psychological | Sci-Fi | Supernatural

What are Horror Genre Characteristics?

Horror can range from internal terror to jump scares. Each sub genre has different characteristics but they all have one thing in common. They are intended to scare you.

Without further fanfare, let’s explore the most popular subgenres of horror fiction, with some sterling examples and basic characteristics of each genre.

Apocalyptic

Apocalyptic horror centers around the collapse of civilization. The world you know it can no longer exist with a complete collapse of systems and order. In horror this subgenre is often closely tied to sci-fi creatures such as the classic alien invasion, mysterious demons like Aamon coming to enslave mankind, and of course major religious events coming to fruition.

Best Apocalyptic Horror Movies

Avant Garde

For this subgenre, we’re getting a little weird. Avant Garde is as social a movement as it is an artistic one, with artists standing at the forefront of our preconceived notions of acceptable art and ideas. In horror literature, this takes the shape of mind-bending twists and impossible odds. In comics, it is the same incredible evil with terrifying and spine-tingling art. Recommended reading: Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer. Uzumaki, by Junji Ito. Sleep of Reason, by Spike Trotman.

Best Avant Garde Horror Comics

Body Horror

This subgenre of horror intentionally focuses on grotesque or psychologically disturbing violations of the human body. From disease to dismemberment the core of it is what can happen to the human body. It is not unusual for this to also include sexual, alien infestation, strange movements, transformations, and utter destruction of the human body. We’re talking everything from Human Centipede (is this really even horror?) to John Carpenters “The Thing.”

Comedy Horror

Tucker and Dale vs Evil Movie Poster

When dark humor just isn’t enough we have comedy horror. Accidental gore films like Tucker and Dale vs Evil to subtle quips from Ash Williams in the Evil Dead. A common theme in Comedy Horror is the victim who stumbles through the film and somehow manages to survive.

Cosmic Horror

The cosmic horror genre is both personally existential, and darkly expansive. The darkest corners of space, the pitch-black pits of demons, the sense of no real control, the fear of the unknown, and dread that comes with the ineffable size of the universe. This genre is strongly tied to H.P. Lovecraft who brought it to life with novellas such as At the Mountains of Madness (1936), The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936), and The Shadow Out of Time (1936). “The Shape Of Water” by Guillermo Del Toro or “The Imago Sequence and Other Stories” 2009 by Laird Barron are other strong modern works of cosmic horror. Space itself and extraterrestrial adventures also play a preeminent role in the genre, with standout comics like Nameless, by Chris Burnham & Grant Morrison, and Southern Cross, by Becky Cloonan and Andy Belager.

Best Cosmic Horror Movies | Best Cosmic Horror books | Best Cosmic Horror Comics

Dark Fantasy

These novels give readers the best of both worlds. They contain fantasy elements like magic, strange creatures, etc. They also add a dark layer of terror and suspense, just to keep things interesting. Recommended reading: The Citadel of Fear, by Gertrude Barrows. The Girl From The Other Side , by Nagabe. Beautiful Darkness, by Fabien Vehlmann & Marrie Pommepuy.

Folk Horror

Folk horror is a subgenre of horror for film, books, comics or television which includes elements of folklore or urban legends as the inspiration of the main focus of horror for the story. Sometimes stated as “based on a true story” this subgenre loosely uses the phrase “true story” as many of these legends have little fact checking if any at all.

Found Footage

The Blair Witch Project movie poster

Although found footage films date as far back as the 1960’s the seminal work in horror is often considered to be The Blair Witch Project. Shakey cameras with low production quality are the foundation of the story. This genre has exploded with cell phone footage and continues to grow today. Possibly due to the ease in which someone can create a found footage horror film.

Gore

Also sometimes labeled as a splatter film the main focus of the film is well the blood, guts and dismembered body parts. Shock is a key element of this genre. Movies such as the SAW series are famous for the difficult to watch torture sequences. The main goal is for the audience to wince in disgust as the victims bodies are torn to bits. This genre crosses out of fiction with some popular series in the 80’s and 90’s with actual death in them but we only focus on fictional horror here so we will leave that for other sites and forums to discuss.

Gothic

Gothic horror goes way, way back. In fact, it’s the literary predecessor to the horror genre we know and love today. So in terms of cultural education, this subgenre warrants some attention. These dark, brooding stories often blend romance and horror, with a side dish of death. They’re usually atmospheric stories, where the setting itself becomes a kind of character. Recommended reading: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Dracula (The Graphic Novel), by Bram Stoker and Jason Cobley. Gotham by Gaslight, by Brian Augustyn. The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill.

The Best Gothic Horror Comics

Lovecraftian

H.P. Lovecraft often described his own work as “weird tales.” But they contain horror elements as well. He created his own subgenre that many writers still emulate today. Lovecraftian fiction often focuses on cosmic elements that are beyond human understanding. Thus, it’s also referred to as “cosmic horror.” These stories can make us humans feel small and insignificant, in the grand scheme of things. Recommended reading: At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft. Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, by Thomas Ligotti. The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle.

ghost or supernatural spirit

Paranormal

Merriam-Webster defines paranormal as something that is “not scientifically explainable.” That’s a broad definition. When it comes to horror fiction, the term “paranormal” usually refers to ghosts, hauntings, demons and possession. And there is some truly frightening fiction that falls into this subgenre. Recommended reading: The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. The Shining, by Stephen King. The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (it fits here, as well).

Post-Apocalyptic

The world as we know it has ended, and something terrible has risen in its place. Post-apocalyptic fiction challenges us to envision a world beyond our own, a doomsday scenario that takes us into uncharted and often terrifying territory. Not all post-apocalyptic fiction uses horror elements. Some of it falls into the dystopian category. But there are plenty of good stories out there that paint the end of the world in horrifying hues. Recommended reading: Swan Song, by Robert McCammon. Monument 14, by Emmy Laybourne. Feed, by Mira Grant. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

Psychological:

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari poster

Put the ghosts, monsters and slashers aside for a moment. Let’s talk about the psychological effects of horror. The internal terror and the long lasting trauma that occurs under moments of major duress. Psychological horror fiction uses intense human emotions like fear and dread to grip the reader, with a healthy dose of anxiety and suspense on the side. Recommended reading: Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin. Come Closer, by Sara Gran. Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris.

Psychological horror also has a rich history in books and film that dates back to the late 1800s.

Scary Documentaries

Yep even documentaries can be a subgenre here and these have certainly become more popular. Unlike the found footage genre these have at least some reason to believe the experience were real. They are often paranormal experience but also look at things like serial killers. We’ve compiled a list of the most terrifying documentaries and it sure looks like horror to us.

Sci-Fi

Mad scientists, experiments that did not go as planned, alien invasions and creatures we never wanted to know coming into existence. This subgenre of horror crosses well into Cosmic Horror but maybe with a touch less existential dread. You know where the alien came from and you know the moment the scientist crossed the line. We’ve explored the history of sci-fi horror here.

Best Sci-Fi Horror Books | Best Sci-Fi Horror Comics

Supernatural

The supernatural subgenre of horror overlaps with the paranormal category. Again, we’re dealing with things that “appear to transcend the laws of nature,” according to Merriam-Webster. I’ve broken this out into a separate category to distinguish it from the ghostly and haunting world of the paranormal. Here, we’re talking about werewolves, witches, and other things that defy the laws of nature. Recommended reading: Wytches, by Scott Snyder. Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King. The Hunger, by Alma Katsu. B.P.R.D., by Mike Mignola.

Best Supernatural Horror Comics | Best Supernatural Horror Streaming Online

So there you have them, the popular subgenres of horror with some representative works to keep you up at night. For more literature, Puzzle Box has original literature as well as features on Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker.

Survival Horror

This subgenre of horror is typically found in video games. The point of tension, like much of horror, is surviving the environment. The main character is often put to the test to survive against all odds. It’s often considered “action horror” due to the physical activity often required to survive. Apocalyptic horror scenarios are often used for survival horror.

True Crime

Pretty straightforward as the title implies. The subgenre of horror is based on real life horrors that have happened. The most popular arena here is serial killers with movies and documentaries about people like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy and more. The main focus is it must be from a real life crime. With that said, these are often dramatizations of the events not to be confused with the scary documentaries subgenre.

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The Best Cosmic Horror Books

One thing that is evident when you look for and inevitably read books, is that are a lot of authors that have been influenced by H.P. Lovecraft. Some take influence by crediting his creations, some crediting his name–others his style, short story form that truly resonate within the genre. Others still have found their own path within the genre, by taking the essence of cosmic horror and making it their own. Finding something genuinely original can oft be an exercise in futility, due to the very nature of this sort of horror, but when that originality is found it is truly like discovering gold. Here are Puzzle Box Horror’s best of cosmic horror book recommendations.

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Quote by David Wong, from “What the Hell Did I Just Read?”

The best of Old-school Cosmic Horror books

What sets old-school cosmic horror apart from the newer literature within the genre, is pretty much what sets old classic literature apart from newer literature in any genre–language, surrounding culture, and societal advantage. It goes deeper than that of course, but what is important when getting acquainted with any form of literature is understanding the time within which it was created.

The Willows (1907)

The Willows book cover (1907) by Algernon Blackwood

While not exactly a book, The Willows by Algernon Blackwood, is technically the first cosmic horror novella that began to establish the cosmic horror genre. It was originally published among a series of other stories in 1907, as a part of his collection The Listener and Other Stories. It’s a great example of early modern horror and despite not receiving the credit it was due, was very much connected within the literary tradition of “weird fiction,” a genre later realized as cosmic horror.

The Willows is a story that invites fear of the unknown, there is a sense of agitation, fear, exhaustion, and eternal trepidation that does not leave the characters or the readers, because there is never a relief from the situation at hand. Available on Amazon here.

And, apart quite from the elements, the willows connected themselves subtly with my malaise, attacking the mind insidiously somehow by reason of their vast numbers, and contriving in some way or other to represent to the imagination a new and mighty power, a power, moreover, not altogether friendly to us.

Excerpt from The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

Listen to Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows below through HorrorBabble.

The Man Who Found Out (1912)

Another shorter existential horror story, Algernon Blackwood’s The Man Who Found Out really just begs the question about personal religious beliefs–what is the ultimate question and answer when it comes to a higher power, particularly that of “God?” Do we really know anything with any certainty? Or is belief and faith what matters most when seeking a higher truth? These unanswered questions are what make this one of the best cosmic horror books out there. Available on Amazon here.

LibriVox has given us Blackwood’s The Man Who Found Out through audiobook and it’s worth checking out.

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (1927)

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories book cover (1927)

It seems that the most successful additions to the cosmic horror genre are generally shorter stories; short stories are benefitted in this particular genre due to the fact that they limit the amount of information that can be conveyed within the confines of the short story’s maximum of ten thousand words.

All of the stories that appear within this particular anthology are by H.P. Lovecraft and are, of course, part of the public domain, so we have included a list of the stories with external links to the stories themselves. Those interested in reading some of the most well-known cosmic horror pieces can find them below. The entire anthology is available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

Shadows of Carcosa (2014)

Shadows of Carcosa book cover (2014)

Yeah, we know that this book came out in 2014–but that doesn’t discount the fact that it is actually full of old-school cosmic horror, because it’s actually an anthology from some of the best horror writers that literary culture has ever had to offer. These stories span almost an entire century, which illustrates how many authors can be credited for their contributions to cosmic or existential horror.

Luckily for readers who haven’t been well-enough introduced to cosmic horror by now, all of these stories are also within the public domain; we hope that these stories from Shadows of Carcosa (2014) give readers a full picture of what cosmic horror is truly about. The collection is available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

The best of Modern Cosmic Horror Books

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe (1985)

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe book cover (1985)

Thomas Ligotti’s debut short horror story collection Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe possibly made his career–he’s often spoken of in the same manner as authors such as Poe and Lovecraft, and has been referred to as “horror incarnate.” Ligotti never seems to have to try to make his stories work, they take on settings that immediately put the reader into a mood where horror is inescapable without being presumptuous or predictable.

Ligotti’s style is singular and everything he has put into this particular anthology is wholly worth the time to read. Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

Songs of a Dead Dreamer
  • Dreams for Sleepwalkers
    • The Frolic
    • Les Fleurs
    • Alice’s Last Adventure
    • Dream of a Manikin
    • The Nyctalops Trilogy:
      • The Chymist
      • Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes
      • Eye of the Lynx
    • Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story
  • Dreams for Insomniacs
    • The Christmas Eves for Aunt Elise
    • The Lost Art of Twilight
    • The Troubles of Dr. Thoss
    • Masquerade of a Dead Sword: A Tragedie
    • Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech
    • Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror
  • Dreams for the Dead
    • Dr. Locrian’s Asylum
    • The Sect of the Idiot
    • The Greater Festival of Masks
    • The Music of the Moon
    • The Journal of J.P. Drapeau
    • Vastarien
Grimscribe
  • The Voice of the Damned
    • The Last Feast of Harlequin
    • The Spectacles in the Drawer
    • Flowers of the Abyss
    • Nethescurial
  • The Voice of the Demon
    • The Night School
    • The Glamour
  • The Voice of the Child
    • The Library of Byzantium
    • Miss Plarr
  • The Voice of Our Name
    • The Shadow at the Bottom of the World
The Imago Sequence and Other Stories book cover(2007)

Laird Barron’s first short story collection The Imago Sequence and Other Stories set a precedent for the rest of his career; what could be expected from him in his other works really was set up with this collection. The fact that it received the Shirley Jackson Award for best collection was not even the most wondrous part of this particular body of work–Barron has an ability to create an image within the reader’s mind that is unlike any other author. He has been compared to the likes of Stephen King, but with the advantage of making his details count for more than just words towards an ultimate goal. Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

  • Old Virginia (2003)
  • Shiva, Open Your Eye (2001)
  • Procession of the Black Sloth (2007)
  • Bulldozer (2004)
  • Proboscis (2005)
  • Hallucigenia (2006)
  • Parallax (2005)
  • The Royal Zoo Is Closed (2006)
  • The Imago Sequence (2005)

White is For Witching (2009)

White is For Witching book cover (2005)

Helen Oyeyemi’s White is For Witching reads almost like a journal, which has always given the reader less of a feeling that they’re getting the full picture. Why look at the forest when you can see the trees more clearly? In truth, focusing on the details from a personal perspective often leaves much more to the imagination and that is a huge part of weird fiction and cosmic horror.

When you don’t know what is going on outside of the perspective of the narrator, it leaves you with a sense of emptiness–what is happening beyond their ideal truth? Available on Amazon here.

Cthulhu’s Reign (2010)

Cthulhu's Reign book cover(2010)

Another anthology designed to pay tribute to the father of cosmic horror, this collection of short stories gives a more complete image of what would happen once the old ones have taken over the world as we know it–when humans are no longer the dominant force on the Earth and when we can no longer rely on what we have become accustomed to.

What kind of horror would we endure when the old ones take over the world? What would we be able to expect from an uncaring force of nature and could we really hate the force that overwhelms society as we know it when it is not maliciously ending our world, or would it simply be something that we fear beyond anything else? Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

  • The Walker in the Cemetery (2010) by Ian Watson
  • Sanctuary (2010) by Don Webb
  • Her Acres of Pastoral Playground (2010) by Mike Allen
  • Spherical Trigonometry (2010) by Ken Asamatsu
  • What Brings the Void (2010) by Will Murray
  • The New Pauline Corpus (2010) by Matt Cardin
  • Ghost Dancing (2010) by Darrell Schweitzer
  • This is How the World Ends (2010) by John R. Fultz
  • The Shallows (2010) by John Langan
  • Such Bright and Risen Madness in Our Names (2010) by Joseph E. Lake, Jr.
  • The Seals of New R’lyeh (2010) by Gregory Frost
  • The Holocaust of Ecstasy (2010) by Brian Stableford
  • Vastation (2010) by Laird Barron
  • Nothing Personal (2010) by Richard A. Lupoff
  • Remnants (2010) by Fred Chappell

The Croning (2012)

The Croning book cover(2012)

The Croning can be considered, without a doubt, the debut cosmic horror novel by Laird Barron–unlike his collection of short stories, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, this is a full-length novel within the genre of cosmic horror.

We see cults, dark magic, and a plethora of other themes that are common fixtures of the genre and we can’t look away–we highly recommend this particular literary spectacle, it’s a novel that without which, this list would be incomplete. Available on Amazon here.

Dreams From the Witch House book cover(2016)

Dreams From the Witch House (2016)

This particular anthology, Dreams From the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror, while honoring the origins of the genre is something different and singular. This anthology of short stories contains, as can be derived from the title, stories of cosmic horror that were written by female authors in the genre. Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

  • Shadows of the Evening (1998) by Joyce Carol Oates
  • The Genesis Mausoleum (2015) by Colleen Douglas
  • The Woman in the Hill (2015) by Tamsyn Muir
  • The Face of Jarry (2015) by Cat Hellisen
  • Our Lady of Arsia Mons (2012) by Caitlín R. Kiernan
  • The Body Electric (2015) by Lucy Brady
  • The Child and the Night Gaunts (2015) by Marly Youmans
  • All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts (2015) by Sonya Taaffe
  • Every Hole in the Earth We Will Claim As Our Own (2015) by Gemma Files
  • But Only Because I Love You (2015) by Molly Tanzer
  • Cthulhu’s Mother (2015) by Kelda Crich
  • All Gods Great and Small (2015) by Karen Heuler
  • Dearest Daddy (2015) by Lois H. Gresh
  • Eye of the Beholder (2015) by Nancy Kilpatrick
  • Down at the Bottom of Everything (2015) by E.R. Knightsbridge
  • Spore (2015) by Amanda Downum
  • Pippa’s Crayons (2015) by Christine Morgan
  • The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward (2012) by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette
  • From the Cold Dark Sea (2015) by Storm Constantine
  • Mnemeros (2015) by R.A. Kaelin

The Ballad of Black Tom (2016)

The Ballad of Black Tom Book cover (2016)

Victor LaValle grew up reading the horror stories that came from the life of H.P. Lovecraft, but it wasn’t until much later in his life that LaValle realized the excessive amounts of racism and agoraphobia that was present in Lovecraft’s body of work. As an African-American man, he used this eye-opening moment in his life to respond in kind, from one writer to another, by reinventing Lovecraft’s short story The Horror at Red Hook from the perspective of a black man.

LaValle’s re-imagining of this story was invigorating, riveting, and a triumph of creative responses to unacceptable biases–he succeeded in showing that Lovecraft’s work would have been even better had it not been rife with bigotry and bias for those who were not like Lovecraft. Available on Amazon here.

It’s important to understand that while we here at Puzzle Box Horror greatly appreciate the body of work that Lovecraft added to the horror genre, we recognize his biases and do not endorse them or agree with them. We were more than ecstatic when we found that there were actually literary responses to these particular issues and hope that such responses continue to appear within the literary community. Read the original story, by Lovecraft, that this novella was based off of, The Horror of Red Hook, then read Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom.

Lovecraft Country book cover(2016)

Lovecraft Country (2016)

Following The Ballad of Black Tom, the novel Lovecraft Country also addresses the topic of racism within the context of Lovecraftian horror–this particular book has been adapted to screen recently and will soon be seen on HBO as a series–we certainly hope it will be as good as it looks, because the prospect of this one making it to infamy on screen makes us incredibly excited. The novel is available on Amazon here.

From executive producer Jordan Peele, we believe that this production will be worth every minute of time it takes to watch!

The Fisherman (2016)

The Fisherman book cover (2016)

Another from our list of best cosmic horror boos is The Fisherman. Described as a captivating read from beginning to end, John Langan’s The Fisherman gives us a dark, mysterious, fictional assertion of horror and cosmic fantasy. It follows the story of two widowers through their quiet and powerful story of loss and grief, by acknowledging the melancholy situation and the fact that things are never the same after the loss of a loved one. A definite addition to any cosmic horror novel list and one of the best out there. Available on Amazon here.

It would be a lie to say the time passes quickly. It never does, when you want it to.

What the Hell Did I Just Read (2017)

What the Hell Did I Just Read? book cover (2017)

The third installment in the trilogy that started with John Dies at the End (2007), was followed with This Book is Full of Spiders (2012) and finally What the Hell Did I Just Read (2017). This book is largely hinged upon the narrative–we live in a world where we largely base our opinions on the story that the narrator presents, but what happens when the narrator isn’t exactly the most trustworthy of sources? Does it change how we view the story? Do we realize before it’s too late that our entire perception has been incorrect? Available on Amazon here.

The true weird tale has something more than a secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains. An atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; a hint of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

H. P. Lovecraft

We’re curious to know what you thought about these best of cosmic horror books, novellas, and anthologies. Have you read anything that’s not listed here that fits the cosmic horror genre? We’re interested in reading it too, so leave us a comment and let us know!

Don’t feel like reading about cosmic horror? No problem, check out our list of recommended cosmic horror movies too.

Categories
Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books

The Best Horror Books About Urban Legends

Urban legends are all fun and games until you hear scratching at your window, and start to wonder if it’s the escaped mental patient with a hook for a hand. Good times. Passed down for decades, or even centuries, these tales are believed to have happened “to a friend of a friend,” and often contain terrifying elements from both the real world and otherworldly realms. Sure, the serial killer hiding in the upstairs attic as he makes mysterious calls to the babysitter downstairs is a classic example of real-world horror. But don’t underestimate the power of Bloody Mary, the game played by teenagers across the world as they chant in front of their mirror hoping to witness a ghostly apparition. While often told at sleepovers or around the campfire, these tales are also scarily fun to read on your own… in the form of a classic paperback book that pays tribute to these age-old stories. Folklore has never felt so good in your hands, and you’re about to discover a new type of horror with these horror books about urban legends.

Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark

Author: Alvin Schwartz

Published: 1981

Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark Book Cover

Any 90’s kid will remember Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – a children’s book about hauntings and urban legends that many have argued is not for children at all. And can you blame them? Besides the references to urban legends like the man with a hook for a hand, or the one who fled to Baghdad to escape an appointment with Death… the illustrations in this book are simply terrifying. Regardless of how many decades ago you read this book in the school library or under the covers with a flashlight, it’s not easy to get the image of The Haunt out of your head. And if you’re brave enough, just Google it. After you’ve ordered your new copy of Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark, watch the 2019 movie for even more childhood nostalgia.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Book of Scary Urban Legends

Author: Jan Harold Brunvand

Published: 2004

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: The Book of Scary Urban Legends Book Cover

All the stories you’ve heard around the campfire come to life in Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid. Jan Harold Brunvand is a professor and folklorist who has dedicated his entire career to the art of urban legends – and you’ll be shaking, crying, and laughing with this collection of tales old and new. You’ve definitely heard a million adaptations of the babysitter who receives mysterious calls from the man upstairs, but what about the snake in the strawberry patch? Or the Mexican dog that wasn’t even a dog? One of the most scary aspects of urban legends? Most of them can definitely still happen in real life, even if it’s seemingly rare, and this book will bring out your deepest fears in the best way. 

Urban Legends: Bizarre Tales You Won’t Believe by James Proud

Author: James Proud 

Published: 2016

Urban Legends: Bizarre Tales You Won't Believe by James Proud book cover

Sure, you love the traditional urban legends that you’ve heard for years… but sometimes you’re in the mood for something a bit weird. Like alligators in the subway or a two-headed dog. Oh and aliens, all the aliens. Skeptics need not read this collection of beautifully bizarre stories, which may or may not give you weird dreams. Not nightmares, per se, but dreams about unknown creatures that aren’t exactly evil, just misunderstood. Just like us. 

The Creepypasta Collection: Modern Urban Legends You Can’t Unread

Author: MrCreepyPasta

Published: 2016

The Creepypasta Collection: Modern Urban Legends You Can't Unread book cover

Yes, it’s those Creepypastas. The horror stories you’ve seen posted around the internet – telling the tales of ghosts, demons, serial killers and otherworldly creatures. But the world wide web is a big place, and these new-age chronicles are somehow even more frightening when placed in good, old-fashioned print. Discover these tales of modern terror with The Creepypasta Collection, including some of the popular stories you may have read online. Ben Drowned, Jeff the Killer, Ted the Caver… oh, and Slenderman. The tall and terrifying creature that launched countless nightmares, YouTube documentaries, and even a feature film. Take a break from the decades-old urban legends, and treat yourself to this collection of new horror stories.

Superstitions: A Handbook of Folklore, Myths, and Legends from around the World

Author: D.R. McElroy

Published: 2020

Superstitions: A Handbook of Folklore, Myths, and Legends from around the World book cover

A book about urban legends that’s both spooky and educational? What more could a horror enthusiast want? You won’t just hear about the most common legends and superstitions across all cultures – you’ll also learn exactly why they’re a “thing,” and how they’ve affected certain communities over the centuries. For example, did you know that the number 13 is considered lucky in Italy – despite being a symbol of bad luck in the United States? Or that the seven years of bad luck that supposedly comes when you break a mirror, originates from the Romans and their glass mirrors? The main goal of this book isn’t to terrify you, but to teach you about the origins of the most popular urban legends and superstitions. As it turns out, it does both!

Scary Urban Legends 

Author: Tom Baker

Published: 2010

Scary Urban Legends book cover

After you’ve finished reading D.R. McElroy’s sophisticated handbook on urban legends, you might just be in the mood to tremble with every page turn. And that’s exactly what you’ll get with Scary Urban Legends. It’s a collection of all the scary stories you heard around the campfire in high school, and possibly even did on a dare once or twice. Looking at you, Bloody Mary. Share it at a scary sleepover or simply read on your own time to discover the horrors of hitchhiking ghosts (not the Disney kind,) serial killers, and swarms of insects. Because as Jack Skellington once said, life’s no fun without a good scare.

Creepy Urban Legends

Author: Tim O’Shei

Published: 2010

Creepy Urban Legends book cover

Even if you’re not usually much of a reader, you can still uncover all the details of your favorite creepy urban legends with this book. In only 32 pages. It has major Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark Vibes, telling the tales of your favorite urban legends in a simple way. It’s perfect for beginners, or those who want to read about their favorite superstitions and stories before watching the movie it was based on.

Say Her Name

Author: Juno Dawson

Published: 2010

Say Her Name Book Cover

Bloody Mary is one of the greatest urban legends of all time. So great, in fact, that she inspired this terrifying tale by Tim O’Shei – in which a group of teenagers unknowingly summon her from the afterlife. And not the same night they chanted her name in the mirror, either – but with a sneak attack that includes threatening messages on the bathroom mirror and strange everyday occurrences. The things you’ll do to get your high school crush to notice you, are we right? The three teenagers must find out a way to save themselves before their five days are up, and Mary comes for them like she has countless others. 

Urban Legends: 666 Absolutely True Stories That Happened to a Friend…of a Friend of a Friend

Author: Thomas J. Craughwell

Published: 2005

Urban Legends: 666 Absolutely True Stories That Happened to a Friend...of a Friend of a Friend book cover

Friend of a friend of a friend. It’s the basis of most urban legends, and these stories come together in this book by Thomas J. Craughwell. They’re scary, hilarious, and often extremely inappropriate… ranging from the alligators that supposedly roam in NYC sewers to the new parents who left their baby on a car roof. That’s right, it gets dark. You’ll be feeling all sorts of things with 666 Absolutely True Stories, and you can even convince your friends to read it for all the “did it happen, or not?” debates. 

Encyclopedia of Urban Legends

Author: Jan Harold Brunvand

Published: 2004

Encyclopedia of Urban Legends Book Cover

Another book from the father of folklore, Jan Harold Brunvand. He’s here to answer all your questions about urban legends, alphabetized and ready to discuss each one’s history and contribution to popular culture. And we’re not just talking about the much-talked-about tales that have been made into movies, but urban legends so weird and obscure that even your most folklore-obsessed friends will say “what?” Become a scholar of scary and supposedly true stories with this encyclopedia by Jan Harold Brunvand, and don’t forget to read his entire collection of books on urban legends!

Also check out our very own book based on Oregon’s Urban Legends. Atlas of Lore #1 – Oregon

If you want more Urban legends and paranormal lore check out our Encyclopedia of Supernatural horrors.