The Hitchhiking Effect by Gene O’Neill
Dark Renaissance Books, 2015
Available: Perfect paperback
Gene O’Neill is an underrated horror writer. Serious fans of literary horror know his work, but it is a shame that, despite starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and praise from writers like Kim Stanley Robinson, he is not a household name. I have reviewed three of his works previously, including Taste of Tenderloin, a fantastic collection of stories set in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco that shows his skill in creating atmosphere and painterly detail.
The Hitchhiking Effect is a collection of O’Neill’s work that spans his thirty year career. It opens with a wonderful forward by the author that explains the title. This was a fascinating and inspiring look at how O’Neill learned the craft of writing from meeting peers, and, in one case, making an eight hour drive with one. The first story, “The Burden of Indigo”, was O’Neill’s first major sale. This is a moving and vivid tale of a post-apocalyptic world in which criminals are dyed different colors that identify their crime, so everyone knows what they did. Wisely, the author has expanded that story into a soon-to-be-published novel. Another standout story is “The Hungry Skull”,a fantastic tale of loss. The closing story, the short but epic-feeling “Firebug”, is excellent as well. This story follows an arson investigator as he enters the mind of the arsonist he is trying to catch. It was written to tie up this collection, and it certainly does. You will feel the emotional depth of these stories long after you close the book.
The book comes with 11 illustrations based on the stories by artist Steven Gilberts, and the art is amazing. If you like lyrical, emotionally rich horror fiction that leans heavily on the literary side of the genre, then you simply can’t go wrong with The Hitchhiking Effect. This book should be in public library collections, and given a prime spot in the new releases, because O’Neil deserves new readers.
Reviewed by David Agranoff