Ana Kai Tangata: Tales of the outer, the Other, the Damned, and the Doomed is the début collection of short stories and novellas from American author Scott Nicolay. The title means ‘The Cave that Devoured Man’ in Pascuan, the language of Rapa Nui. Whilst there are only eight stories in this collection (alligators, The Bad Outer Space, Ana Kai Tangata, Eyes Exchange Bank, Phragmites, The Soft Frogs, Geschäfte, and Tuckahoe) this by no means implies that this volume is slim pickings -not by any means at all. Scott Nicolay’s stories are a slow burn that take exactly as long as they need to steer you gently off the map and into territories that are familiar yet strange -strange and terrifying. In this Nicolay reminds me another modern great in the world of weird fiction: John Langan; whose tales are also slow burning explorations of the weird.
I had read a couple of these stories before reading this collection: ‘alligators’, the opening tale of the collection, was published on the Lovecraft Ezine (LINK), and ‘Eyes Exchange Bank’ featured in Joe Pulver’s Shirley Jackson Award winning tribute to Thomas Ligotti The Grimscribe’s Puppets; and so I was really looking forward to getting stuck into this collection. My excitement at the thought of this collection was exacerbated by the way that Nicolay seems to have a similar approach to the concept of the weird as I do myself. I found his Dogme 2011 for Weird Fiction (LINK) to be both a humorous and creative approach to ensuring that weird tales don’t stray into the realms of traditional horror and that they can break free of the shackles of the earlier manifestations of the weird.
You should probably go and read ‘alligators’ now and then I can carry on talking about the book without you being in a state of complete and utter ignorance. On you go now, it’s fine -I’ll wait, I’m not busy or anything. No, no, I insist, here’s the link again (LINK) and I’ll see you when you get back.
Ah, there you are. No, no, no, it’s fine. I kept myself amused with my friend Estragon here. Anyway, what did you think? Do you see what I mean about it being a slow burn as the story swings gently between the past and present, between dreams and reality, between the world of the Reservation and the world of new Jersey, as it slowly and inexorably draws you away from the well worn track and into the the undergrowth that scratches and claws at your exposed skin, that pulls at your hair and clothes -warning you that there are reasons most people stay on the track.
Kids are fucking odd aren’t they? (Nice segue there Andy) Anyone who has spent much time with little kids can testify to this; their imaginations are far far bigger than their minuscule, imp like, forms would suggest is possible. ‘The Bad Outer Space’, originally published as a limited edition chapbook from Dunham’s Manor Press in 2013, is told entirely from the perspective of a very small child -I’m not sure of the way that American schools work but I would guess the child to be around four or five years old, and the story is rendered all the stranger for that. It seems to me to be quite a brave move to tell a horror story entirely from the perspective of someone so very young but Nicolay manages to pull it off with ease.
These two opening tales couldn’t be more different but they both bear the indelible mark of an author who is confident in their ability to craft unsettling tales that strip away that which we find familiar about the world; replacing it with something both new and old, monstrous and sublime. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you’re interested in what is happening with the ongoing development of the renaissance of weird fiction then you have to get this book. If you’re wanting to read dark and disturbing fiction that is free of all of the tropes which we have come to expect from mainstream horror literature then you have to get this book. Basically, if you’re the sort of person that reads this blog then you absolutely have to get this book.
You can read another story of Scott’s, ‘In the Tank’, over at the Lovecraft Ezine (LINK) and there’s a really cool panel discussion with Scott on the Ezine’s web show from 2014 which you can watch below. Ana Kai Tangata is available from Fedogan and Bremer in a limited edition hardback (LINK), as well as in regular hardback and as an ebook from all the usual places.
[Edit] There is a great piece by Brittany Lloyd ‘”As if the Earth Under Our Feet Were an Excrement of Some Sky:” an Ecofeminist Readng of Cave Symbolism in Scott Nicolay’s Ana Kai Tangata and Isabel Allende’s Zorro” over on The Patron Saint of Superheroes (LINK)
Sorry for the somewhat truncated form of this review; I’m writing in between customers at work due to the somewhat sorry state of my home computing affairs. I’m definitely going to come back to write more about this book -the titular tale in particular, as well as Nicolay’s Ligottian ‘Eyes Exchange Bank’.