Monday, December 1, 2014

Riffing On Some Weird Fiction Titles...

How about a few Weird Fiction titles that have left an impression on yours truly, circa 2014?  This is not comprehensive, though I expect to do reviews and/or little blurbs as part of my writing repertoire...again.  Again, though I cannot let it take over! I used to write music reviews, dear god, gods, and all in charge of distracting the writer, and lost track of my own writing, so...they'll come when they come, but I am consciously making an effort.  Not just for Weird Fiction as I'll get into Horror and all its motley relations--dark fiction in general--but I’ve been threatening to do this one for awhile, so now that I’ve completed my novel, Riding The Centipede, I can take a deep breath, read more, write outside of the parameters of that beast, and…let’s get to it.

Starting big...


 Ana Kai Tangata--Scott Nicolay

I’m going to ramble a bit as I’ve wanted to say something about Scott Nicolay’s astonishing debut collection ever since I finished reading it.  No, wait…it was probably around the time I finished reading “The Soft Frogs” I knew I had to say something.  So I wrote notes, a mess of them, fragments, observations.  Let’s see if I can make sense of them.

Shall we?

I remember reading the first story “alligators” a few years back, enjoyed the details, yet thought the ending was rushed.  I knew I wanted more, though, to follow Nicolay’s growth as a writer, because he had something here that compelled, despite my misgivings about the ending.

Growth was fully attained with the release of his debut collection, Ana Kai Tangata.  Though, to be honest and in retrospect, it was all there in “alligators,” intentions and presentation clearly defined.  I simply had to acclimate to what Nicolay was doing as a writer.

That said I skipped it, wanting to experience something else, something new.

The eight mostly long tales in Ana Kai Tangata posit a densely woven exploration of the exterior and interior landscapes to create a concise, hyper-realistic picture.  Layer upon layer, a CT scan delineated with words.  In every story, the psychological terrain is not only expressed by the motivation of characters, the terrain they are immersed in is paramount to the whole picture, bleeding into the character’s mindsets…or vice versa.  There’s deep knowledge and understanding of Weird fiction, but the tales are firmly set in the here and now, utterly distinct and uncompromising.  Nicolay has vision and sets forth with unwavering determination to convey this vision to the utmost of his immense talent.

He succeeds on every count.

I didn’t even read the title story.  I watched it as it played out on the cranial cinema in my head.  I may never have visualized a story as lucidly as this one, caver Max’s fumbling breakdown something to behold, the final image annihilating any pretext to hope.  As with many tales here, the casual asides are an essential part of the story architecture.  Offhand comments, many of them of a sexual nature, are also essential to each story’s psychological foundation.  

The only other tale I’d read by Nicolay before diving into AKT was “Eyes Exchange Bank,” from the Shirley Jackson award winning The Grimscribe’s Puppets anthology.  I could see again Nicolay was doing what he did in “alligators” until a paragraph toward the end ("Ray opened his mouth to reply, but his tongue had gone numb…”) stopped me dead in my tracks.  Nicolay had somehow touched perfection, an astonishing feat, a dense, beautiful depiction of dread, a kind of psychological (again, everything here touches on multiple layers with the perceptive reader) erosion manifested in an incapacitating way, a split second in one’s personal Hell.  I re-read the paragraph a few times before moving forward, absorbing what he had done. Fascinated…

This is something he does.  The compulsion is to re-read the tales because they so deeply cut into something inexplicable and beyond my understanding.  But I want more.  Nicolay is addictive. 

“Phragmites,”perhaps the most detailed story and threaded with Navajo nuances throughout—more than threaded, it's woven into the text—punches once, then once again, a brutal, harsh finale.

“The Soft Frogs” (probably my favorite story) sinks into the shallows of Jaycee, a lost soul driven by punk rock and blow jobs and not a whole lot more.  Connecting with a woman known as Eye at an abandoned Convent patrolled by the title amphibians, it may sound like a preposterous premise for a story, yet the details as always really flesh this one out, and the soft frogs made me think of early 20th century horror, as if they were born back then, but mutated into what they had become, now.  And, please, don’t take a look under Eye’s shirt…

“Geschafte” (probably my…favorite…story…) (ahem) is a masterful descent into urban dread, deeply hallucinatory, a fever dream of erosion on every level (outward, inward...), ending with a shocking image that feels like something culled from the finest of Japanese Horror.  A curious thought?  No matter, it’s brilliant.

(I've just noticed I've used the word 'erosion' three times already. Interesting...and I'm not changing it.)

“Tuckahoe,” a short novel, opens with an extra limb found at a car accident on the Parkway south of Tuckahoe.  This may “feel” like the most traditional tale, yet it’s still prime Nicolay, veering all over the place, from a realistic bout of rough sex, to a labyrinthine rural nightmare, to a finale that is about as cruelly horrific as any you might encounter…though at this point, we’ve encountered many worthy contenders among these pages.  

Perhaps the best way for the reader to acclimate to Nicolay’s mad scientist masterplan is with “The Bad Outer Space,” in which a precautious [edit: I meant precocious, excuse me] five year-old experiences a spin on weirdness that is of a level of expression that is crystal clear.  Simplified, if not simple.  And so different from anything expected.  But, again, that’s where all the tales go.

I noticed as I read the stories, I gathered a deeper understanding of what Nicolay was doing—not attempting, but doing—and my enjoyment of the stories as I read them grew exponentially.  After the final story, I went back and read the first story, “alligators,” and the ending was perfect, the final image and build-up before it, powerful.

I had learned well…

I could go on.  There’s a lot to embrace with these stories.  A lot to learn (hey, I know nothing about caving, but since a couple stories here touch on the subject with genuine depth and knowledge, now I do).  Read them all.  Don’t just read a couple and think, well, I’ll finish this later.  These tales are meant to be absorbed in large chunks over short time.  Ana Kai Tangata is a fully immersive, mind-altering masterpiece.  Required reading for anybody into Weird fiction...or anybody who wants to experience words as well as read them.  Mandatory...and, as noted at the beginning of my ramble, fairly astonishing. 

PS. Forgot to mention, David Verba's artwork is spot-on for what Nicolay does with words.  A perfect pairing.


Before I move on: Dynatox Ministries.  You need to clip and save the link and make regular stops at the site.  They specialize in limited edition chapbooks.  The Dunhams Manor Press imprint deals with Weird Fiction.  You need these titles, but need to be timely.  Here and gone asap…

Some examples... 


Far From Streets--Michael Griffin

“We can’t spend our lives in between.”

Married couple Dane and Carolyn take the road less travelled, losing track of life and, with Griffin’s measured, precise presentation, the sway of Time, splitting the seams that connect modern convenience with personal happiness and even sanity.  Dane’s quest for a simpler life wrought in the bones and atavistic at heart disintegrates for both of them into a harrowing nightmare of decay and malaise, all within a house in the woods, and the surrounding mysteries of a forest as much a character in the tale as Dane and Carolyn.  Psychological devastation has never been as subtle... 

Michael Griffin’s Far From Streets is a 21st century modern classic of the Weird, a tale I’m sure would meet with Algernon Blackwood’s approval.  Griffin is putting together a collection as I type this.  I cannot wait to read it!


Weird Tales of a Bangalorean--Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

A sense of being caught in between, in a limbo land of subtle dreads mounting a slow demise via attrition of self and soul, resonates powerfully in Satyamurthy’s haunted tales full of decay and filth, embroidered with the culture of India and religious/spiritual subtexts.  We start nowhere, we end nowhere, but it’s not the same nowhere.  There is a singular mood that dominates the collection, a shroud cover that almost suffocates, not unlike the work of Simon Strantzes.  Excellent!


Christopher Slatsky—No One is Sleeping in This World.

A brief tale about the influence of architecture, of “sacred geometry,” perhaps...or is it the schizophrenic have found their god?  The city as sentient being?  Strangely captivating.  More, please.  An inspiring tale, triggering a lot of deep thought from yours truly.

The following title is not from Dunhams Manor Press, but deserves your attention.

Gateways to Abomination--Matthew M. Bartlett

Bartlett spins the dial to a radio jacked into the psyche, where the nightmare world unravels and a surreal dream-logic pushes the tales along with real intent in this curious and most satisfying collection that seems at all times to be spilling off the edge of the page.  That's the dream-logic in motion and often taking over; at times, what happens seems to have come to Bartlett right then, at the moment he types whatever mad words are to follow.  Some tales come off as bruised snapshots suggesting something more, but the collection as a whole resonates with a distinct tone that connects them all.  Fascinating and…self-published?  Some smart publisher needs to sign Bartlett up Now.  He knows what he’s doing and I Want More.


There’s more Dunhams Manor titles for me to catch up on (T. E. Grau’s The Lost Aklo Stories, Joseph S. Pulver’s Fatally-Coloured Gestures [excuse me for this, but Pulver deserves a special mention here: if you want to read a masterful meshing of Noir and Weird, by all means, pick up his novel, The Orphan Palace; you may know his short work—and should—but that novel is something special], and a few more), as well as some Horror titles, too.  I started Kate Jonez’ Ceremony of Flies and was immediately hooked, so looking to get back into that, as well as a couple of releases by one of my fave writers, Lucy Taylor (Fatal Journeys and A Respite for the Dead), S.P. Miskowski’s finale for the Skillute Cycle, In The Light, and many, many more. 
(We all speak of our TBR piles.  Who are we kidding.  There's no catching up.  It grows, we dip in, we make strides, it grows more.  Never catching up...)

I’m leaving out tons.  Excuse me.

Have you read Ian Welke’s The Whisperer in Dissonance? Sly, deceptive, subtly devastating.

Okay, Now I will stop.

Just read.  There’s so much wonder to be had.
Over 'n' Out...for now.