Given the choice between a cold truth and a desirable lie, which would any person choose who is not totally wedded to rational “reality.” [sic] So writes Isaac Asimov in the Introduction to Tales of the Occult. Although he is one of the world’s greated proponents of rationalism, Asimov admits that all those who are willing to suspend disbelief will be captivated by this collection of the best of the occult genre.
Included in this volume are the most unnerving work of H. G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Rudyard Kipling, and many others. Ranging from the curious to the macabre, the stories explore such topics as clairvoyance, precognition, devil worship, séances, exorcism, and the “evil eye.” Isaac Asimov has added an Afterword to each story, tracing its connection to a deep-rooted occult belief that sill pervades our culture.
Edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh, Tales of the Occult also provides a reading list of other stories about each of the twenty-two subjects presented.
This is, in general, a solid anthology with generally solid works from generally well-known authors. The topics run from one end of the occult to the other, the authors are scattered over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and, as I say, most of the stories are quite good. Not all, but most. One must agree with Asimov’s own assessment, however, that Ray Bradbury’s “The Scythe” is the best of the lot.
Unfortunately, Asimov himself isn’t present in this volume except in the form of the introduction and endnotes after all the stories, so it’s a bit more of a disappointment from the perspective of the Asimov fan.