‘after’ by Scott Nicolay

Scott Nicolay‘s novella ‘after’ was released by Dim Shores a couple of months ago at the same time as they published ‘Rangel’ by Matthew M. Bartlett which I discussed briefly here. I have only just, shame on me, managed to find the time to read Scott’s story and, as ever with both Scott’s work and the stories put out by Dim Shores, I was impressed. This review contains some spoilers so feel free to skip to the tl;dr by clicking here or scroll past the image below to read on.

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‘after’ is set in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy which was a hurricane, don’t know why American’s would want to call it a ‘superstorm’ when it already has a perfectly good name. It also shows something of a lack of imagination. Seriously, if you’re going to rename something at last be a bit witty about it: see here. A lack of imagination however is not something one could accuse Scott Nicolay of and, my bad taste quips aside, Hurrican Sandy devastated parts of the north-east American coast and caused immense suffering and hardship to those caught in its path. In fact Nicolay dedicates his story thus

With compassion toward all those who suffered in the path of Superstorm Sandy and contempt toward all those who sought to profit from their suffering.

Cards on the table eh Scott?

‘after’ follows the experiences of Colleen, a middle aged woman whose holiday home on the Jersey Shore was in an area that suffered the attentions of Sandy and who is being allowed, along with some of her neighbours, to return to the area in order to ascertain the damage done to her property and to recover anything that she can. The area is under curfew and so she will have to return on the bus provided by the authorities at the end of the day.
One thing that I have noticed with the writing of Scott Nicolay is that he is never in a hurry for his story to get where it is going. He prefers instead to take his time, building both character, setting and, in the case of ‘after’, a sense of grim claustrophobia.

As Colleen travels back to Jersey Shore and walks through the unfamiliar familiar landscape of her neighbourhood we go on a much longer journey through her life and the events that led her to where we meet her. To the point where she is travelling, without her husband, into an situation of uncertainty and, potential, danger. The husband, and the reason for his absence, is the dark centre around which this story revolves. He is a drunk who has, in the past, assaulted her and from whom there is always the threat of violence making Colleen’s home life one of tension and fear. This is why she has chosen to travel to the holiday home alone and why, on the spur of the moment when waiting to return on the bus, she decides that she is going to remain in her house which has no power and no gas.

At its most basic level ‘after’ is a monster story. Colleen, whilst exploring the town turned upside down in search of supplies, encounters an immense creature which, upon noticing her, gives chase. Colleen manages to outrun it only to discover that it has set up home in the basement of her house. So begins the ‘meat’ of the story as Colleen attempts to fit her time in what should have been a sanctuary around this monster’s presence.

Of course, this being Scott Nicolay, ‘after’ isn’t just a monster story. There are two monsters present in the work; both of whom instil conflicting dreads in Colleen as she weighs up the threat from the monster that she knows against that from the monster she doesn’t. It is here that we get the real meat of the story. Not in the threat from the creeper, as Colleen refers to the creature, but in the sense of hemmed in isolation that she experiences. The fear of the beast in the basement and the regularity, at first, of its movements are bleakly similar the fear of her husband; though the apparent randomness of his alcohol fuelled abuse is why the monster wins out as a choice of housemate.

This is the strength of Scott’s work with ‘after’; his unflinching look at domestic abuse and the survival mechanisms which a person living in such a situation develops in order to survive and his graphic illustration of the feeling that the person doing the abuse is actually protecting the victim from something much worse: when the creature consumes a would be rapist. ‘after’ is definitely the strongest work that I’ve read by Nicolay and continues on the trajectory of exploring the effects of masculinity through the medium of the weird as hinted at in his debut collection ‘Ana Kai Tangata’. I am now thoroughly looking forward to reading Scott’s next collection.
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tl;dr
This is a great monster story but it’s also about domestic abuse and survival.
Unfortunately the Dim Shores edition of ‘after’ sold out extremely quickly however I believe that ‘after’ will be in Nicolay’s next collection which should be out in 2017.

Scott Nicolay hosts The Outer Dark podcast (now with added Justin Steele) and is currently highlighting on his blog classic weird fiction stories that do not receive the attention they deserve. He is doing this in conjunction with Michael Bukowski who provided the illustration for ‘after’.

October Reading

As the leaves turn to russet gold and red and the wind begins to bite the year begins to turn into the season for reading chilling stories. Barnes and Noble have offered up some suggestions for what they call ‘gothic’ tales to give you a scare this month and so I thought I would add my own five to their list.

The Grimscribe’s Puppets: Joseph S. Pulver Sr. (ed.)

Grimscribe's Puppets cover
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The B&N list starts off with the newly released edition of Thomas Ligotti’s two collections Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. Whilst these are indeed fantastic collections I want to add the Joeseph S Pulver edited collection The Grimscribe’s Puppets. This is an anthology of work inspired by Ligotti and penned by some of the most exciting writers in the world of the weird renaissance, including: Scott Nicolay, Livia Llewellyn, Nicole Cushing, Michael Cisco, Gemma Files, and more. The table of contents really does read like a who’s who of the modern weird.
Stand out stories: ‘Furnace’ by Livia Llewellyn, and ‘Eyes Exchange Bank’ by Scott Nicolay.

Gateways to Abomination: Matthew M. Bartlett

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Matthew M. Bartlett’s Gateways to Abomination is one of the most interesting books that I’ve read over the last year or so. Featuring a series of very short stories and vignettes Bartlett paints within this collection a sordid, and extremely creepy, picture of the city of Leeds, Mass. A city whose very fibre is permeated with an ancient witch cult which perverts and debases all who live within the city’s borders and which propagates its malign influence through the local radio station: WXXT.

Stand out story: ‘path’

Ana Kai Tangata – Tales of the Outer, the Other, the Damned, and the Doomed: Scott Nicolay

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Scott Nicolay’s fantastic collection Ana Kai Tangata (Meaning ‘the cave that devours man’) contains eight novella length expeditions that take us off the edge of the map. Into the Outer Dark perhaps? 😉 You can read my review of the collection here.
Stand out story: I’ve already tagged ‘Eyes Exchange Bank’ above so here I’ll recommend the titular ‘Ana Kai Tangata’

 

Blood Will Have its Season: Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

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As well as being a marvellous curator of weird stories for anthologies Joe Pulver is also one of the Weird’s more outré writers combining, as he does, cosmic horror and noir with a hard boiled beat sensibility. Blood Will Have its Season is the first collection of Pulver’s short fiction, published in 2009, which he has been producing since the 1990s. He’s well known for his love of Robert Chambers’ King in Yellow stories and the decadent aesthetic gets a dark and disturbing overhaul in many of the stories contained in this volume. The collection was also recently reissued as an eBook by the Lovecraft Ezine. You can pick that up here.
Stand out story: ‘Blood Will Have its Season’ (Not for the feint hearted.)

Year’s Best Weird Fiction -Volume One: Laird Barron (ed.)

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This collection -the first in a series from Undertow Books- came out last year and was edited by Laird Barron (whose collection The Beautiful Thing That Awaits us All is also highly recommended) and brings together some of the finest work produced in the previous year. There are so many fine tales in this collection that I can’t actually pick one, or two even, to single out: the collection is just that good that you should read them all. You can read my review of it here. There will be a second volume of this series released in the next couple of months; this time curated by Kathe Koja ad I can’t wait to read it.

So, if you want some nice dark and disturbing reading to see you through the death of summer as the air becomes ripe with the pungency of rotting leaves then you wouldn’t go far wrong with any of the above. Enjoy. 🙂

 

Joseph S Pulver Sr: The King in Yellow Tales, Volume One

This review should have been published yesterday on the day that this awesome collection of King in Yellow inspired stories was published. Unfortunately a poorly Little Ms. X was more important than the timely publishing of reviews. So sorry I didn’t get this out yesterday which, fittingly ,was also the 150th anniversary of the birth of Robert W. Chambers.

tl;dr: This is amazing, buy this book.

Joseph S. Pulver is the King in Yellow –sorry True Detective fans; the Yellow King does not reside in Louisiana where he drives a power mower. No; this particular bEast resides in Berlin where he writes a form of Weird Fiction that seamlessly blends Noir, Beat, and Decadence with a cosmic kind of horror which can in turns wash over you with deliciously off kilter poetics before filling you with a dread that works its way into the darker, most hidden, reaches of your psyche.

The King in Yellow is a collection of short stories in the French Decadent tradition written by an American, Robert W. Chambers, in the 1890s. Pulver has been producing work which riffs off of the King in Yellow the_king_in_yellow_t_cover_for_kindlestories for decades and he is the person most responsible for keeping the yellow flame alive as a field of literary exploration in its own right for all that time. During the 20th Century Chambers’ work was brought into the mythology created by H.P. Lovecraft and the strange denizens that wreak havoc in Chambers’ work were turned into ancient and terrible alien gods by the acolytes of Lovecraft, even though he only made passing reference to them in his own work. Pulver has all but severed these ties to Lovecraft and instead seeks to explore the maddening influence of the more mysterious aspects of Chambers’ work: the titular play which drives mad any who witness or read the second act, and the Yellow Sign which casts a baleful influence over all who are unfortunate enough to encounter it.

That’s not to say that Pulver has abandoned all Lovecraftian elements; the first story proper in this collection, ‘Choosing’, is a post apocalyptic nightmare merging both mythologies into a bewildering scream of frustration and pain. Frustration at one’s powerlessness to resist horrors heaped down upon us by those protected by power and tradition; pain at the suffering inflicted upon those about whom we care by those stronger than us. To me this story seemed to speak of the way in which women, as a body of people, are abused and maltreated by society and the powerlessness of individuals to confront and challenge this maltreatment. Of course the story is also a brilliant horror tale and it’s testament to Pulver’s skill as a writer that his works can be read in different ways and to varying depths.

“To no particular where, just went. Stepped right into August like it was a voyage or a baptism. Stopped in his cheap room, grabbed his stuff and left. Somewhere down the road he’d find her. The wind would take him to her”

-‘Carl Lee & Cassilda’

Pulver’s hard-boiled, noir infected, prose in the ‘Carl Lee & Cassilda’ triptych of stories takes Chambers’ creations and places them firmly into America’s bourbon soaked underbelly of hustlers, hookers, lunacy and bloody murder. This dark sensibility and affinity for the broken refugees and cast-offs of society permeates much of Pulver’s work and his characters reflect this darkness. You will not like some, or many, of the characters in this book but then: you’re not supposed to. These are the stories, after all, that lurk in rain drenched alleyways waiting to seize an unsuspecting passerby and to turn their world upside down.

Joe Pulver is no a fearful writer and his prose in this collection illustrates this eagerly as he experiments with the form and function of the English language. Happily jumping from beat infused noir to decadent stage plays and poetic verse. His playing with form suggests to me that the printed page is going to give the reader the greatest appreciation for his work –though a regular e-reader may render the prose as it was initially meant to be read, I read this on my smartphone and the reflowing of some of his more poetic tales has guaranteed that I am also going to seek this collection out in paperback.

In ‘Saint Nicholas Hall’, dedicated to America’s Kafka –Michael Cisco, Pulver takes his creative muse and uses is as a scalpel to hone a beautifully realised modernist(?) prose poem that again plays with the form of the written word to fashion a phantasmagoric Carcosan cityscape through which the protagonist travels towards his confrontation with loss.

These are just a handful of the stories that make up this first volume of Jospeh Pulver Sr.’s collected King in Yellow tales. I highlighted these few as I feel they illustrate quite how deep a literary well Pulver is drawing from. This collection is an absolute must for anyone with an interest in the renaissance of weird fiction which has been underway these last few years. Pulver is a master of his art and you deserve to read him.

Info on where to buy the book in print or as an ebook can be found here(LINK).

Table of Contents

  • Introduction by Rick Lai
  • A Line of Questions
  • Choosing
  • Carl Lee & Cassilda
  • An American Tango Ending in Madness
  • Hello is a Yellow Kiss
  • The Last Few Nights in a Life of Frost
  • Chasing Shadows
  • Last Year in Carcosa
  • An Engagement of Hearts
  • Cordelia’s Song
  • Saint Nicholas Hall
  • A Spider in the Distance
  • Under the Mask Another Mask
  • Epilogue for Two Voices
  • Yvrain’s “Black Dancers”
  • The Songs Cassilda Shall Sing, Where Flap the Tatters of the King
  • The Sky Will Not Fall
  • Tark Left Santiago
  • Marks and Scars and Flags
  • Long-Stemmed Ghost Words
  • In This Desert Even the Air Burns
  • Perfect Grace
  • My Mirage
  • Mother Stands for Comfort
  • A Cold Yellow Moon (with Edward R. Morris Jr.)
  • Afterword by Pete Rawlik

Ana Kai Tangata by Scott Nicolay

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.

Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.

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)

post scriptum

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’.

In apprehension, how like a god!

Hamlet

Things have, of late, been rather grimdark for the Family Strange and so it was a great relief to, last night, go to the Glasgow Film Theatre to watch Maxine Peake as Hamlet. I’ve not seen Shakespeare performed since I was young -and then it was simply excerpts of various played put on to junior school age kids. This performance was recorded last year in Manchester and was, last night, shown simultaneously in a number of cinemas around the country. This has to be the first time I’ve ever been to the cinema and the show has had an interval -something that was greatly needed as Hamlet takes some three hours to perform.

It was a wonderful night and it was excellent to see C, who studied late medieval/renaissance theatre at Cambridge, get thoroughly excited about something that she is amazingly geeky about. Everything about the show absolutely blew me away. The performances were second to none, especially Maxine Peak as the titular tragic prince, the music, though overwhelming at times, really added to the sense of claustrophobia and madness which permeates the play. The show was so bloody powerful I honestly can’t describe it well -had I tried to write this last night it would have simply been the letters O, M, and G repeated with lots of exclamation marks. Maxine Peake dominated the stage, her presence as young Hamlet filling the space even when she was merely lolling in the background observing the other players on the stage.

I read a lot of Shakespeare when I was young, maybe 11 or 12 years old, and whilst I didn’t fully understand what I was reading there was always one verse from Hamlet which stayed with me -despite A Midsummer Night’s Dream being my favourite play. It comes in the second scene of Act II when Hamlet is reunited with his, two faced and ill fated, friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and recounts to them something of the depressive malady that has settled upon him.

I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

The reason that this soliloquy has stuck with me over the years is that it near perfectly describes my understanding of the world. Intellectually I find humanity an amazing animal. We have wrought immense changes upon the planet no which we live, built cities and produced an abundance of food and material goods, we have created arts so beautiful it breaks the heart and literature to elevate the psyche to the heavens, our science explores the very beginnings and ends of all things. We gaze into the heavens at distant stars and galaxies and think that some day we shall walk there, we have grown to understand our own fragile form so intimately that we have managed to double the amount of time that an individual has between birth and life’s ending. We have walked on worlds that are not our own. We are as gods.

Yet despite this propensity for greatness we are as primitive and brutal as the gods of the holy books, we wage wars. We starve and enslave one another, we poison the wells from which we drink and the vast majority of us are denied access to the sweet fruits of human endeavour with little hope that this situation will be remedied before we are brought to our end. There is no hope, there is just this sterile promontory upon which delight, where it can be found, is fleeting -a mote of dust given life and light by a ray of the sun.

Our lives are so fleeting, blink and you’ll miss it, that to tilt at the windmills of capitalism seems to be a momentous waste of the brief time we have between birth and the box. Better to try to fill that time with what moments of delight we can grasp before we cease to be and all memory of us fades.

When I shared the above soliloquy of Hamlet on Facebook yesterday, in my excitement at the upcoming show, the people who commented on my status all referenced the film Withnail and I (the philistines! 😉 )and so, as I can’t find a video of Maxine Peake’s performance, here is Richard E. Grant in the final moments of the film.

Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One

Last year saw two major publishing events in the field of Weird Fiction. The first, and the one that garnered the most mainstream column inches, was the publication of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy –Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, which saw The Weird being thrust into the mainstream as it never has before. The second major event was the publishing of Michael Kelly and Laird Barron’s ‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’. This is the first, to my knowledge, explicitly Weird Fiction anthology* to be released since the Vandermeer’s tome ‘The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories’ was released in 2011 (following on from their 2008 anthology ‘The New Weird’). The reason that this release is so important is that it pushes the literary experimentation with the weird to the forefront without focussing on the work of any particular author. We have seen a glut of anthologies of work based on the Cthulhu mythos over the last 10 years or so, with their number increasing seemingly exponentially as time goes on, and anthologies based on the work of weird writers R.W. Chambers, Arthur Machen, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barorn, and a forthcoming collection based on the work of Robert Aickman. All of which is utterly fantastic but can not expose the reader to the wild experimental creativity that defines(?) the weird. This anthology does just that and it does it brilliantly. Another reason that this publication is so important is that a book that contains a wide variety of works, some of which are at the very edges of the weird, has sold enough copies within but a few short months of release that volume two has already been put together. Viva la weird!

*There is of course the wonderful ‘Women Writing the Weird’ anthology from Deb Hoag, also released in 2011, but that -as the name implies, only featured female authors and therefore couldn’t represent all of the best weird writing of that year.

Of particular note in this collection are Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace, Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? by Damien Angelica Walters, and The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska.

‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’ is published by Undertow Press in paperback and for e-readers things like that there Kindle device.

Table of Contents(Titles link to reviews)

The Nineteenth Step – Simon Strantzas

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks -Paul Tremblay

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

Year of the Rat – Chen Qiufan

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

Furnace -Livia Llewellyn

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? Damien Angelica Walters

Bor Urus – John Langan

A Quest of Dream – W.H. Pugmire

The Krakatoan – Maria Dahvana Headley

The Girl in the Blue Coat – Anna Taborska

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror – Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

In Limbo – Jeffrey Thomas

A Cavern of Redbrick – Richard Gavin

Eyes Exchange Bank – Scott Nicolay

Fox into Lady – Anne-Sylvie Salzman

Like Feather, Like Bone – Kristi DeMeester

A Terror – Jeffrey Ford

Success – Michael Blumlein

Moonstruck – Karin Tidbeck

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass – John R. Fultz

No Breather in the World But Thee – Jeff Vandermeer

The Nineteenth Step by Simon Strantzas

The opening salvo in this volume comes from Canada’s Simon Strantzas. It is a fitting opener for this volume as it exemplifies perfectly, and succinctly what is, to me, one of the defining thrusts of Weird Fiction -that our understanding of the world in which we live is limited and fragile. A young couple, Mallory and Alex, just setting foot on the bottom rung of the housing ladder, have their perception of The Real splintered by something so simple that it probably would have remained unnoticed by most. By the lucky ones.
The final line of this story also makes want to both slug Mr Strantzas and buy him a pint at the same time. Well played sir, well played.

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks by Paul Tremblay

Next we have Paul Tremblay’s look at drug addiction and self perpetuating cycles of abuse through the lens of meth addiction, motherhood and kaiju.  Following the nameless protagonist, who is also the titular Swim, as she endures the pressures of being a small town pariah and drug addict and the longing to be with the daughter denied her by the courts and circumstance.

This is very much a stream of consciousness/modernist story that draws the reader directly into the confused mind of Swim.

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

A bizarro tale of a squadron of interplanetary trans action heroes sent to chew gum, smash gender norms, and high kick trans-fetishism in the teeth. All whilst looking utterly fabulous.

Not really sure what more there is to say about this other than it actually had me laughing out loud at points. Completely unsubtle metaphors are used, abused, and then glammed up. This is a fabulous feminist tale that would horrify TERFS and MRAs in equal measure.

Brilliant. 🙂

Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan

 

Translated by Ken Liu this military SF story has more than a passing similarity to Catch 22 in its examination of the futility and absurdity of military organisation. It also has some rather scathing things to say about the relationship of the average proletarian to global capital.

I’m definitely going to be looking out for more of Chen’s work.

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

An masterfully crafted faux 19th Century homage to E.T.A. Hoffman told through a series of letters from a young woman sent to a young man with whom she was once infatuated. It speaks of the madness of art, of poetry, and the arrogance and proprietariness of the ‘man of science’ who eschews the lustiness of youth and of life for a pursuit that he will one day regret.

Furnace – Livia Llewellyn

This is one of the stories I was really looking forward to as I absolutely adore Llewellyn’s sensual prose and I’m a huge fan of Thomas Ligotti and as this tale comes from Joe Pulver’s Ligotti tribute anthology -The Grimscribe’s Puppets, I was highly anticipating something magical. I wasn’t disappointed. This tale of the strange degradation of a small town as rot and decay sets in captures Ligotti’s corporate horror period work perfectly yet still retains Llewellyn’s voice. Anyone living in a town facing the ravages of austerity capitalism will find this story set unsettlingly close to home.

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? – Damien Angelica Walters

“Inside each grief is a lonely ghost of silence, and inside each silence are the words we didn’t say.” The opening lines of this piece of experimental prose perfectly encapsulate the sense of loss and longing that permeates this short tale. Walters’ story is disjointed and disorienting and disturbing. Fabulous.

Bor Urus – John Langan


John Langan’s stories are always a slow burn and Bor Urus is no exception. In this story youthful fancy develops into startling obsession and realisation which fuel a potentially devastating mid-life crisis in the narrator. As ever with Langan’s work this is a superbly crafted weird tale and that’s no bullshit.

A Quest of Dream by W.H. Pugmire

Wilum H Pugmire is very much the person who carries the Lovecraftian torch into the 21st Century and one of his other stories, Inhabitants of Wraithwood, is one of my all time favourite weird fiction stories. This story is set in Wilum’s Sesqua Valley and, indeed, was first published in his Bohemians of Sesqua Valley collection. Unfortunately I’ve not read any of Wilum’s Sesqua stories and so I was rather unfamiliar with the setting. Still; I think this added to the strangeness of this story which deals with the overlapping of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and our world. This is a sumptuous story that displays well the finesse with which Wilum writes.

The Krakatoan by Maria Dahvana Headley

A many motherless girl, her astronomer father and a former astronomer neighbour who has turned his gaze towards the stars within the Earth. Both the prose style and the subject matter of this story reminded me heavily of the work of manga artist Juni Ito, which is high praise if you ask me.

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska

That night I had a terrible nightmare. Mindla was standing by the marsh at the bottom of the field. She was only in her underwear. She reached out to me and at first I thought she had that same sadness in her eyes, but as I drew closer, I saw that her eyes were gone.” This is definitely the saddest of the stories that I have come across so far. An investigative journalist discovers that there are those who seek to ensure that those with the power to do so bear witness for those who can not. This story is soaked in sadness, from the setting, to the subject matter, to the prose which simply and clearly depicts a world scarred by its past and haunted by its ghosts.

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror by Joseph S. Pulver Sr

This is a beautiful tribute to the Lovecraftian author Wilum H Pugmire. Written in Pulver’s distinctive, fractured, prose style this piece of flash fiction gives us a look at a mythical Pugmire’s life and writing process.

In Limbo by Jeffrey Thomas

Horrible, horrible, horrible. This story is wonderful. An ageing man experiences loss, hope, and resignation as the lights go out. Maybe the lights are just going out for him or maybe for all of humanity, would either of these be bad things? I did love this story in its Ligottian darkness.

A Cavern of Redbrick by Richard Gavin

 

There is something about this story, of a young boy’s summer and the horrible discoveries he makes, that reminds me of Stephen King in both its setting and execution. The tale is rather open to interpretation in that whilst it’s a ghost story the other forces at play could be either supernatural or mere human madness.

Eyes Exchange Bank by Scott Nicolay

I keep on hearing great things about Scott Nicolay and going by this story every bit of praise that has been heaped upon him is warranted. Like Livia Llewellyn’s story this is set amid the deterioration of an economic collapse -though this time it is the recession of the late 1980s/early 1990s. The narrator of this story is brought by circumstance to a town that is decaying and is forced to confront the untruths upon which his life has been based. Nicolay really is a master of the weird and I can’t wait to read his collection Ana Kai Tangata.

Fox into Lady by Ann-Sylvie Salzman

 

Wow, this is a special story. It reminds me, in part, of Bruno Schulz or Stefan Grabinski though it is also very, very different to those authors’ work. This is a psychically discombobulating story of anxiety, fear, and resignation. I really want to read more by Salzman. (This piece was translated from the French by William Charlton)

Like Feather, Like Bone by Kristi DeMeester

demeester

Another lovely/horrible piece of flash fiction here. A story of mourning, sorrow, and what we do when we try to escape the inevitable process that comes with grief.

A Terror by Jeffrey Ford

Normally stories that feature historical characters make me wince somewhat. Jeffrey Ford’s strange adventure with the 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson and her brush with death was however thoroughly enjoyable. I get the feeling that I may have enjoyed it more had I known more about the poet herself. Still, even without this knowledge this is a startlingly good, and weird, ghost story of sorts.

Success by Michael Blumlein

The longest piece in this collection -a novelette rather than a short story I suppose, Blumlein’s story explores academic obsession, madness, and love at the interstices of the natural sciences and how one person’s approach to their obsession can drive them to madness where another’s can drive them to success and how the two approaches are not that different at the end of the day.

Moonstruck by Karin Tidbeck

Moonstruck is an utterly beautiful and masterful fairy tale, a modern myth. An allegorical tale of a young girl’s emergence into womanhood and a mother’s fear that she is now being replaced by her offspring set against an impossible backdrop of a moon that is rapidly approaching the Earth and the home of the story’s protagonist. Beautiful.

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass by John R. Fultz

This is a bewildering tale set in a post-human steampunk world where we see a member of the ruling, beatific, class being blackmailed. The vacuity of ruling class culture and the illusions of money and status are here exposed in a fantastical world that I would love to explore in greater detail. Hopefully Fultz will expand on this setting in the future.

No Breather in the World But Thee by Jeff Vandermeer

I don’t think it would be possible to have a collection of the best Weird Fiction at the moment without featuring a piece by Jeff Vandermeer. This is an extremely strange story of ‘it‘ happening again ‘like last year‘ and told as a series of vignettes merged into a single narrative. Each one told from the perspective of the occupants of a mansion that has come under attack from a huge monster which has plummeted from the sky. A fitting end to the anthology this rather post-modern piece is a fine example of both some of the excellent work that is being done in the field of the Weird and of the sheer imagination of Jeff Vandermeer himself.

~fini~

In the Court of the Yellow King

I’m a huge fan of the mythos that has developed from Robert W Chambers’ 1895 decadent collection The King in Yellow, more so even than I am a fan of Lovecraft’s mythos. Lovecraft’s mythos seems, to me at least, to be more codified. He produced, and inspired, a far larger body of work than Chambers’ four stories and so there is a much larger canon for new tales to fit into. The Yellow Mythos, or Carcosa Mythos, of Chambers’ creation however has very few things that are required in order for a tale to become a part of the mythos. There is the titular play and its locations and characters (Carcosa, Lake Hali, the black stars, the Tattered King, the Stranger, and so on) and the themes of madness and suicide as well as the prose style of the late 19th Century Decadent Movement. A story can incorporate some or all of these elements and still fit within the canon of the King in Yellow. This openness really appeals to me and so I am always keen to pick up any new collections of stories inspired by Chambers and his maddening play.

In the Court of the Yellow King was released recently by Celaeno Press in Japan, edited by Glynn Owen Barrass, and features some absolutely amazing authors including Wilum Pugmire, Robert M. Price, the late C.J. Henderson (to whom the book is dedicated), William Meikle and Pete Rawlik amongst others. It has a beautiful cover by Danielle Sera and a couple of internal plates by Eric York.

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I’m going to be reading this collection, and the others that I was given for Christmas, over the next few weeks. I’ll post micro-reviews of the stories here as I go.

Before I start though I should note that I find it really odd to see a King in Yellow collection without a story by Joe Pulver. Not that all Yellow books need to feature Joe but it just seems odd that one wouldn’t. That said they do have an extremely fine selection of very talented authors here.

Table of Contents(Titles link to the reviews below)

These Harpies of Carcosa – W.H. Pugmire

The Viking in Yellow – Christine Morgan

Who Killed the King of Rock and Roll? – Edward Morris

Masque of the Queen – Stephen Mark Rainey

Grand Theft Hovercar – Jeffrey Thomas

The Girl with the Star-Stained Soul – Lucy A. Snyder

The Penumbra of Exquisite Foulness – Tim Curran

Yield – C.J. Henderson

Homeopathy – Greg Stolze

Bedlam in Yellow – William Meikle

A Jaundiced Light at the End – Brian M. Sammons

The Yellow Film – Gary McMahon

Lights Fade – Laurel Halbany

Future Imperfect – Glynn Owen Barrass

The Mask of Yellow Death – Robert M. Price

The Sepia Prints – Pete Rawlik

Nigredo – Cody Goodfellow

MonoChrome – T.E. Grau

 

These Harpies of Carcosa by W.H. Pugmire

Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire raises the curtain on this latest round of Carcosan tales with this brief tale that sets the stage for what is to follow. Through the medium of the dream inspired, and starving, artist we are introduced deftly to the trappings of the Yellow Mythos of R.W. Chambers. The twin moons and the dim lost city, black stars and the king and his daughters, madness, suicide and the Yellow Sign.

Pugmire’s prose is as Lovecraftian as ever which works wonderfully to evoke the world of the artist and his narrating patron.

The Viking in Yellow by Christine Morgan

 I really quite liked this story, it places the origins of the tale related in the play in the 9th Century Viking expansion into the North of England(judging by the names of the human characters) and the sacking of various monasteries.

Who Killed the King of Rock n Roll? by Edward Morris

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I’m afraid this story, which is set in the 1950s at the birth of rock’n’roll and conflates one King with another, didn’t really do it for me. Which isn’t to say that it’s a bad story, it certainly isn’t, I just found the 1950s American lingo a bit off putting at times.

Masque of the Queen by Stephen Mark Rainey

I loved this story. The tale of a young actress seeming to get the big break that she’s been waiting for and the calamity that ensues when she truly becomes one with the character she is portraying. This was brilliantly executed and really gave me a shiver when the protagonist’s fate became horribly clear.

Grand Theft Hovercar by Jeffrey Thomas

Imagine. Punktown is a horrible place to live; a far future dystopia on the planet Oasis. A melting pot of alien races the city is notorious for being riddled with crime. Now imagine that in Punktown there was a VR game, similar to our Grand Theft Auto, set in a replica of Punktown and that that game became infected by a yellow virus. That’s this story and it is so good that I’m going to go and buy Jeffrey Thomas’ Punktown books at the first chance I get.

The Girls With the Star Stained Soul by Lucy A. Snyder

Gemma Files – This Is Not For You

ART © 2014 SHELBY NICHOLS (From Nightmare Magazine. Image links to artist website)

It’s here at last! Women Destroy Horror, the special edition of Nightmare Magazine edited by the, ever awesome, Ellen Datlow. A handful of the short stories and articles  are going to be made available for free on the Nightmare Magazine website. To read the whole lot you have to buy the magazine either in hard copy or ebook(Kindle, Nook. Kobo), the ebook looking like a proper bargain as it’s still the regular price of £1.90 despite featuring far more stories and articles than a regular issue of Nightmare. The hard copy is a shade off £8 but is still a bargain considering how much is crammed inside.

The first story to be released for free is ‘This Is Not For You‘ by Gemma Files.  Files has been publishing fiction since the mid-1990s yet, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first tale of hers that I’ve read – a full list of her published work can be found on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

I read ‘This Is Not For You’ on the train to work this morning and, if the rest of her writing is like this, I have to read more. I’m adding her to my Christmas list this year for sure. (Are you reading this C?) The story follows the bacchanal rites of a revived Hellenistic cult with a serial killer lurking in their midst. This is a disturbing, yet playful, story and the elements that make it disturbing are exactly the same elements that also make it playful. Files inverts the trope of the male serial killer  -the lone hunter- stalking his, mostly, female victims and turns it into a very female collective activity that celebrates female power in the same way that the serial killer trope celebrates male power through its fetishization of violence and the ability to take life at will. The story also has a nice little dig at the male douche-patrol that stalk the internet fighting for the rights of men oppressed by women everywhere(sarcasm).

Over the next couple of weeks we are going to see ‘…Warmer’ by A.R. Morlan(8th October), ‘It Feels Better Biting Down’ by Livia Llewellyn(15th October) and ‘Unfair Exchange’ by Pat Cadigan(22 October) released for free. I’m really excited to read Livia Llewellyn’s story. But then again who wouldn’t be? 🙂

As well as the short fiction Nightmare are also releasing ‘The H Word: The H is for Harassment (a/k/a Horror’s Misogyny Problem)’ by Chesya Burke8th October), ‘Artists Showcase: Five Women Artists Who Are Destroying Horror Art’
by Galen Dara(15th October), and an interview with Joyce Carol Oates by Lisa Morton(22nd October). All of which I’m looking forward to reading over the coming weeks until pay day when I’ll be ordering the hard copy.

If you are considering buying this via Amazon please use either the links in this post or the links to Amazon in the sidebar as that way the fantastic Lovecraft Ezine will get a bung at no extra cost to you. 🙂

Keep it weird.

Black Man With a Horn – T.E.D. Klein

I have heard repeated mentions of the T.E.D. Klein story ‘Black Man With a Horn’  over the last few years and have heard it described as both masterful and a classic weird tale. I had read ‘The Events at Poroth Farm’ in S.T. Joshi and Guillermo del Toro’s American Supernatural Tales -part of a series curated by del Toro for Penguin- and had thoroughly enjoyed it. It is an extremely unsettling story and I highly recommend it. However that was the extent of my reading of T.E.D. Klein. I set out to try and find a copy of the story online, it dates from the early 1980s/late 1970s so there was every chance it may be sat on the internet somewhere, but for the life of me I couldn’t find it. It appears in S.T. Joshi’s monumental collection A Mountain Walked but that’s ever so slightly out of my price range. It does look beautiful though.

Illustration from A Mountain Walked for Black Man With a Horn
Illustration from A Mountain Walked for Black Man With a Horn

I eventually found a copy of Cthulhu 2000 from Del Ray which included the story. Not quite so sumptuously presented I’ll admit but the volume does include an amazing array of authors including Thomas Ligotti, Michael Shea, Harlan Ellison, and Ramsey Campbell amongst others. £3 well spent by any measure. I eagerly jumped into the story at the first chance I got which was, inevitably, on my morning commute to work. It soon dawned on me that reading this story at the present time, what with all the hoo haa that’s going on surrounding HPL and the World Fantasy Award, was somewhat fitting. The protagonist of the story is an old man, an author of weird fiction who was a contemporary of Lovecraft’s who has outlived his deceased friend and seen the world change around him. He harbours many of the same prejudices that Lovecraft did though to a far lesser extent. Of this character I would actually buy the ‘man of his time’ argument as there is no hatred to his racism, merely an understanding of how the world works stunted by culture and, to an extent, ignorance. The character’s racism is also tempered by a misanthropy that causes him to scorn most people regardless of race or ethnicity.

It was, in fact, a thorny problem: forced to choose between whites whom I despised and blacks whom I feared, I somehow preferred the fear.

The tale is littered with passages like the one above where the protagonist expresses his discomfort with the world that has changed around him, leaving him trapped in a present that it alien and which shows no sign of ceasing in becoming more so as time progresses. Many of these passages are addressed directly to Lovecraft as he imagines his old friend’s reaction to the world as it is now, well -as it was in the 1970s, and how badly he reacted to the New York that he knew in the early 1920s when he was driven by his fear to pen The Horror at Red Hook. It is a brilliant set up for a weird tale as the protagonist is already alienated from the world around him and so it doesn’t take much to push him into the world of the truly weird.

The horror of this story is based on a cult mentioned by both  August Derleth and Lovecraft, the Tcho-Tcho, and the protagonist’s investigation into their connection with the disappearance of a missionary with whom he becomes acquainted on a flight. I shan’t go into the plot, track the story down and read it, as that’s not what I wanted to discuss here. I think that  the most notable thing about the story, for me at the moment anyway, is Klein’s handling of the prejudices of the protagonist and how he conflates them with Lovecraft’s own, much more vitriolic, bigotry. It illustrates quite well the difference between the racism of a person who is ‘of their time’ and the shocking racism espoused by HPL. It is a nice exploration of the sense of displacement that a person can feel as they are left behind by the world as they age and how, eventually, they can come to peace with the inevitability of change and the alien. As the narrator does at the end of the tale.

The description of this story as a masterpiece of weird fiction is quite accurate. Whilst the story itself may not be quite as boundary pushing as some of the work being produced by today’s masters in the field it is brilliantly executed and the subtler aspects of the story have made this a new favourite of mine. I’ll definitely be seeking out everything else written by T.E.D. Klein.

Oh, and I should say that you probably shouldn’t read this if you can’t stomach the expressions of attitudes and prejudices that don’t gel with your own.

Review – The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan

I posted this review of The Red Tree by by Caitlín R. Kiernan over at Good Reads.

The Red TreeThe Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First off. DO NOT LET THE COVER FOOL YOU!
This is not urban fantasy/paranormal romance. This is a beautifully written piece of literary weird/cosmic horror. Whoever ok’d this cover doesn’t seem to have read the book.
Taking the form of a journal kept by Sarah Crow, an author grieving the suicide of her partner, The Red Tree is a sumptuously written examination of grief, anger, loneliness and the effects these can have on a person’s sanity. Kiernan is masterful at her deployment of the unreliable narrator. The concept of the unreliable narrator being one that runs throughout this story; and, indeed, is carried on in her next novel The Drowning Girl.
The plot of the novel revolves around an ancient tree sitting just within sight of a farm house Sarah has rented in order to both work on her novel and try and deal with her grief. The tree is steeped in monstrous lore and terrible legends linked to barbarous rituals, serial killers and suicides. These myths and legends weave themselves into Sarah’s story, into her grief, her loss and begin to fragment her sense of self and reality.
As with all of Kiernan’s work The Red Tree is gorgeously written and a joy to read. Her prose is exceptional in the field of weird/horror writing and why she hasn’t won more awards I do not know.
Still, I don’t know what the hell is going on with that cover…

View all my reviews