‘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. 🙂

 

Oops

I really have been neglecting this blog haven’t I? It’s been nearly two months since I’ve posted anything, sorry about that. Things have been rather interesting, in a Chinese curse kind of a way, of late and I have found myself saying sayonara Scotland and have moved back to South Wales onto a traveller site. It’s been nearly ten years since I lived on site last and it’s soooooo bloody nice to be back in a community. It also helps that the weather has been absolutely gorgeous. Which, after more than a decade in Scotland, is a rather pleasant change: seriously, it’s October and it’s still t-shirt weather. What the hell? 😀

I'm missing Scotland less and less every day.
I’m missing Scotland less and less every day.

The whole ‘interesting’ nature of the last couple of months has meant that, as I’ve been somewhat distracted, I’ve not been writing anywhere near as much as I should have been. I’ve also been without a computer for the last couple of months which doesn’t help. Yeah, yeah, I know I could have been hand writing things, or carving stories in the bleached bones of my enemies or something but a) that takes forever -I type much faster than I carve, b) I really can’t get into writing by hand, I need to be able to delete, retype, re-delete constantly, and finally c) I don’t wanna. :p

Thankfully however a pal of mine, take a bow Mr Mcherpes, has sorted me out with a laptop that I can now use to vomit forth words. So thanks for that man. 🙂 I owe you a Brew or two so I do.

The one positive of not being able to write is that I’ve spent a lot more time reading new stuff. It has to be new as all of my books are presently in boxes in Scotland and so I’ve only had the odd thing to read which I’ve picked up since leaving the land of the leal. Thanks to this I’ve now discovered the amazingly strange and creepy work of Matthew M. Bartlett and the weird goings on in Leeds, Massachusetts.

Bartlett Books

His first two books Gateways to Abomination and The Witch-Cult in Western Massachusetts were both self published and really do trash the notion that all self published material is garbage. Gateways is probably one of the most interesting works to have been released over the last year or so as part of this weird renaissance that we are currently experiencing. Comprised of a number of vignettes and short stories loosely tied together by the bizarre occult radio station WXXT it reads more like a novel composed of disjointed fragments than a collection of short fiction. I really can’t recommend this highly enough and at some point I’m going to write a little something looking at the story ‘path’ which has some really nice feminist things going on.

Bartlett’s second collection, The Witch-Cult in Western Massachusetts, is a who’s who of the devilry and macabre shenanigans of Leeds and the wider area. This wee chapbook is a blackly humorous read and makes for a nice and funny companion piece to the, at times bleakly disturbing, fictions of Gateways.

The third work of Matthew’s that I’ve read recently is the utterly fantastic Rangel. A novella length piece concerning a young girl who disappeared decades ago, her brother who has never been able to get over his sister’s disappearance and -as ever- the dark goings on in Leeds. As with all of Bartlett’s writing this is a wonderful piece to read and he makes great use of the extra space a novella allows in order to build both character and setting with a skill that reinforces him as a WR author to keep a keen eye on. If I have any misgivings about Rangel it’s that t felt like it could have done with being longer. I would have been more than happy if this story were at least twice the length.

Rangel, unlike Gateways and Witch-Cult, was not self published and was released via Sam Cowan’s new publishing house Dim Shores. Dim Shores has been putting out some stellar fiction since its inception just a few months ago. The first piece released was Ghosts in Amber by Jeffrey Thomas (an author who deserves far more recognition and exposure than he has so far received) which, like Rangel, is novella length. Ghosts explores the existential horror of a life wasted through the medium of a middle aged man looking for life outside the one which he has made for himself. It’s a beautifully depressing story -well, it was for me- which unfortunately you will be unlikely to be able to read as it has well and truly sold out as Dim Shores publications are so far limited print runs.

Dim Shores have also published a long novella by Scott Nicolay entitled after which I haven’t read yet but will be doing so shortly. after is set in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into it. One thing that I already like about the novella, before even starting to read it, is the dedication on the opening page.

 

 

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

Seriously, how can anyone not love Nicolay? 😀

All of the Dim Shores releases are illustrated with Ghosts in Amber featuring work by Serhiy Krykun, best known perhaps for his portrait of horror master Thomas LigottiRangel by Aeron Alfrey, and after by Michael Bukowski. As with the writing the illustrations are top notch and all add a great deal to the work.

So, yeah, I’ve not vanished completely. I’ve been doing stuff and reading stuff but I’ve just not been writing stuff. This is something that is now changing. I’m going to try and get back into updating this here blog on a more regular basis and will hopefully have some more fiction heading your way soon.

See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya. ;

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