For the next ten or so days there is going to be a lot of filler content, because I’ll be out all day and probably won’t feel much like blogging in the evening.
Once I get myself better organised, I intend to start posting reviews from recent(ish) issues of Black Static, but for the moment we’ll stay with the halcyon days of The Third Alternative.
This review appeared in #40 of that fine publication:-
A DIRGE FOR THE TEMPORAL by DARREN SPEEGLE
Raw Dog Screaming Press pb, 208pp, $14.95 http://www.rawdogscreaming.com
This second collection from Darren Speegle contains over thirty stories, most of them very short and with a greater emphasis on the prose style than in Gothic Wine, which I reviewed in the last TTA, bringing to mind the lavish use of language in the work of writers such as Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith, though with a distinctive sense of modernity and forward looking. The narrative constructs often seem somewhat more tenuous and less focused, so that while there is still very much here to enjoy when looked at as a whole the collection is not as consistently satisfying as its predecessor and may well be more of an acquired taste.
Some of the stories fall squarely in the Science Fiction ball park, though Speegle has his own unique approach to the genre, one that you won’t find much represented in the pages of Analog and Asimov, with obliqueness and the fantastic an essential part of the mix. These were the stories I found least to my taste, as with ‘The Whole Circus’, which portrays an Orlando of the future where everything has been sacrificed to entertainment, a disappointing story that seems to wander aimlessly on the route to nowhere, or the slight and, to me anyway, confusing ‘The Ego Game’, which sets out to question the nature of identity through the mechanism of a man encountering an android version of himself. Sometimes though Speegle does pull it off, as with the magical future venue depicted in ‘Shades of New Geneva’, a story that hints at mythic archetypes as its hero attempts to retrieve something lost there by a woman long ago. In ‘Rupture Zone’, a compelling story with plenty of action and a cinematic appeal, a man is pursued across some blighted future terrain into an area where otherworldly creatures have broken through into our own reality.
But it’s the Horror elements that make the latter story succeed, and it’s in his dealings with this genre that Speegle excels. Yes, he does have a tendency, like many of his peers, on occasion to produce work that is slight and/or derivative, as for example with ‘Triangle’, which reprises a plot already used by Fredric Brown and Ray Bradbury, among others, adding nothing new to the mix, while ‘The Curse of Lianderin’ is your bog standard haunted castle story, though here Speegle redeems the banality of the material with a delicious twist at the end. However, such pieces are against the general run of play. At his best Speegle offers a unique voice and a startling imagination, and the stories in A Dirge for the Temporal show him at his best far more than not.
The depiction of madness is one of Speegle’s strong suits, as with the protagonist of ‘Indulgence’, who dresses like a clown in honour of his dead father, the story hinting at something truly sinister lurking back of the flow of words. In ‘Illusions of Amber’ a killer visiting a small town finds that there are much worse things than he, a story strong on atmosphere and slightly reminiscent of Jackson’s The Lottery as tables are deftly turned, while in ‘Merging Tableaux’ a man returns to the scene of an injustice many years ago only to get caught up in a recreation of the crime, an intriguing piece and evocatively written. One of the highlights of the collection, ‘The Call of Morzine’ sees a plague visited on a small town by a possibly demonic visitor, with the boy who witnesses this himself transformed forever, a story with insight into human nature and a love of urban legends. In ‘Dance Therapeutic’ a homicide detective with a special gift realises that the killer he seeks is his own father, and each death tableau has a personal message for him, a darkly satisfying story of aberrant psychology with some gruesome scenes of carnage. The stylish ‘Mousse’ has a male killer meeting his female opposite number, a run of the mill case of like calling to like elevated out of the ordinary by the dazzling prose. In the excellent ‘Eyes of Hazel, Kiss the Earth’ a dealer in unwanted children is taught a grim lesson when Satanists ask for one of his charges, while ‘A Nasty Set of Circumstances’ is a telling snapshot of a relationship grounded in S&M practises.
Sexuality on the edge is a recurring theme, as with the brief but powerful ‘Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall’, in which a couple’s sex games take a bizarre turn while ‘The Smell of Sex’ chronicles an encounter between a tormented woman with enough sexual hang ups to see her psychiatrist set up for life and a lycanthrope of some sort, deftly delineating character and effect. ‘Junkyard Fetish’ is another star turn, giving us a man with sexual leanings that are unusual to say the least, and making it all totally believable and sickly compelling.
There’s humour here too, albeit mainly black, and the occasional diversion into a gentler mood. ‘The Day it Rained Apricots’ is a delightful fantasy about the rivalry between two bakers while in ‘Papa Bo’s Big-Ass Barbecue’ the rustic backdrop courtesy of Dukes of Hazzard gives way to something much more sinister, a story that creates a genuine sense of unease despite being almost wholly predictable in its denouement. In fantasy piece ‘The Glass Encrusted Nest’ a man discovers an unusual egg, with all hell breaking loose when it hatches to provide a satisfying sting in the tail. For feel good though you can’t beat ‘A Fixture on River Street’, in which tourists in New Orleans have an encounter with a famous jazz musician, a beautifully written and quietly elegiac story with an ending that took me completely by surprise.
While there may have been the occasional piece not quite to my taste, I thoroughly enjoyed most of these stories and Speegle is a writer of vivid prose snapshots that will linger in the mind long after the book is put aside. His work is recommended to connoisseurs of the weird and unusual.