‘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’.

Hinterland Ebook Out Tomorrow

Whilst I was visiting my good friend Paolo(Linky) on Sunday he asked whether my stories were available on Kindle. I hummed and hawed and then eventually today thought: what the hell? Why not? So I spent a wee while this afternoon compiling the stories from this blog together into the correct format for Amazon, designed a cover, and now I’m just waiting for the review process to complete and my first wee ebook will be for sale. Scary spiders! 😀

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The Old Racist from Providence

Phenderson Djeli Clark has a cracking article over on Media Diversified looking at the racism of old HPL and the refusal of some amongst the Lovecraftian fandom to acknowledge his virulent racism.

Now, I’ve always known that HP Lovecraft was racist. Reading The Horror at Red Hook when I was a teenager made sure of that.  Horror at Red Hook aside I never really thought much about it as, in his other works, the racist commentary seemed to be little other than the sorts of thing that were, to my knowledge, common parlance in the 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond. I guess I simply attributed them to him being ‘of his time’.

That argument is utter rubbish however when one considers that this was also a time when groups like the Industrial Workers of the World were actively campaigning against racism and against groups like the Klan. The workers of the I.W.W. were equally as ‘of their time’ as HPL and yet they did not express such vile opinions of people.tumblr_m1vn4dSiVt1rp5l6oo1_400

I was, until about ten minutes ago, completely unaware of quite how extreme HPL’s racism was. To be honest I was shocked and I’m not one that’s easily shocked by racism or other bigoted language.

Of course they can’t let niggers use the beach at a Southern resort – can you imagine sensitive persons bathing near a pack of greasy chimpanzees? The only thing that makes life endurable where blacks abound is the Jim Crow principle, & I wish they’’d apply it in N.Y. both to niggers & to the more Asiatic type of puffy, rat-faced Jew. Either stow ‘em out of sight or kill ‘em off – anything so that a white man may walk along the streets without shuddering nausea.–Letter from Lovecraft to A.E.P. Gamwell, February 1925.

Seriously HPL. WTF? O_o That’s a whole lotta racism for so few words.

I’ve always been aware that I really wouldn’t have liked HPL as a person. He was conservative, racist, and an admirer of Adolf Hitler. Me and such people tend to only have brief and rather confrontational relationships at the best of times. How then can I balance my love for the guy’s literature against what I know of him as a person?

There is a particular SF writer from Utah who had a film starring Harrison Ford in the pictures recently. The film looked like it was a good bit of fun and the book is supposed to be a classic. I, however, can’t bring myself to read it nor to watch the film. The reason for this is that the author in question is a virulent homophobe. More than just being an outspoken homophobe he actively promotes an agenda of discrimination by funding homophobic advocacy organisations. Because of this any money I give him through purchasing his book or the DVD of his film goes towards promoting his hatred of people who love the ‘wrong’ gender. Fuck that. I could just download the film or the ebook. But then I would, if I enjoyed them, feel the need to tell other people about them. I know what I’m like and I don’t want to advertise for someone like this.

So what’s the difference with HPL?

Well, to put it bluntly.

He’s dead.

He is an ex-racist.

A former bigot.

He’s passed on, deceased, his metabolic processes are now history(fill in the rest of the Dead Parrot Sketch til you get bored).

His non-corporeal nature means that he can’t be actively engaged in promoting bigotry and hatred. It also means that he can be held up as a fine example of a person who creates great art also being an utter moron, as well as being an example of the barbarity of the conservative and racist mindset.

If HPL were alive today I doubt that I would read him. So I guess I’m glad that he’s dead. 😀 I’m also glad that as Weird Fiction has developed this reactionary bigotry has been left by the wayside. As China Mieville said, the good thing about the New Weird is that we have a lot less fascists. I heartily agree.

 

 

Five of my Favourite Lovecraftian Short Stories

Over at the Lovecraft Ezine Mike Davis has been getting well known figures in the world of weird literature to share their top five favourite Lovecraftian stories. Now, I’m not well known, in the world of weird literature or otherwise, 😀 but thought I would pop a wee list of five of my favourites here. Not that they are my ‘top five’ as I can’t really rank stories(or music, or anything else for that matter) in that way. Such things change with the day and/or the wind. 🙂

Also, I suppose some of these fit into the broader ‘weird fiction’ category rather than being specifically Lovecraftian.

In no particular order:

The Broadsword by Laird Barron: Horrible and unsettling story of an older man, disconnected from his family with few friends still living. A chance encounter brings him to the attention of an horrific cosmic force that… well, that would be spoilers. 😀 The Broadsword was published in S.T. Joshi’s collection Black Wings of Cthulhu: Twenty-One Tales of Lovecraftian Horror.

Inhabitants of Wraithwood by W.H. Pugmire: Riffing off of H.P. Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model Wilum Pugmire paints a grotesque picture(see what I did there?) of a man on the run encountering a strange family which would make most people long for the comfort of a jail cell. Inhabitants of Wraithwood is also in Black Wings of Cthulhu: Twenty-One Tales of Lovecraftian Horror.

The Area by Stefan Grabinski: Grabinski(1887-1936) was a Polish author sometimes referred to as being a Polish ‘Poe’ or ‘Lovecraft’. Whilst I don’t think either of these are especially adequate comparisons his story The Area has a very Lovecraftian feel to it. Following an author’s obsession with an unoccupied cottage opposite his own residence and, eventually, the manifestation of his innermost imaginings. The Area has been translated into English by Miroslaw Lipinski in the collection The Dark Domain.

Technicolor by John Langan: In this short Langan investigates the use of colour by Edgar Allen Poe in The Masque of the Red Death. It takes the form of a university lecture outline the mysterious circumstances that influenced Poe to write his tale. I can’t heap enough praise on John Langan. The collection that contains TechnicolorThe Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, is a masterpiece of weird fiction. I would probably have included all the stories in this collection but thought I should go for a wee bit of variety. 😉

Our Temporary Supervisor by Thomas Ligotti: I’ve mentioned before that I am a massive Ligotti aficionado. His unrelenting negativity and extremely black humour has a very particular appeal to me. Of all the stories I have read by Ligotti however it is Our Temporary Supervisor that has had the most impact upon me. Part of his series of corporate horror stories involving the Quine Organisation this story, more than any of his others, for me perfectly encapsulates the pointlessness and  spirit crushing nature of most work in modern capitalism. The story of a worker who assembles metal pieces all day long, who has no idea what they do other than, he assumes, that they fit into a larger whole. The alienation and dehumanisation of abstract labour. Our Temporary Supervisor is available in the collection Teatro Grottesco.

So there you go. Five weird tales and collections to check out should you so wish. And you do. Wish to. Go on. Buy them. 😉