Filler content with DarkFuse – Part 3

And following on from Thursday’s blog entry, here’s another five reviews and the final part of the feature on DarkFuse novellas that originally appeared in Black Static #41:-

DARKFUSE NOVELLAS (continued)

Nicole Cushing’s I AM THE NEW GOD (DarkFuse eBook, 92pp, $3.49) deals with similar themes of godhood and identity, but in an entirely different manner. Greg Bryce is a student who suddenly starts to receive letters from a man who calls himself the hierophant telling him that he is the new god, his destiny to recreate the world after completing the steps of the sevenfold path. The hierophant is a defrocked priest who takes instruction from the severed head of John the Baptist, which he first encountered on a pole in a field. Greg has spent time at a place called Restful Meadows and is off his medication, so the idea of being a god definitely appeals to him. There follow various exploits, beginning with the creation of Hop-Frog and a difference of opinion with his Japanese roommate, resulting in the need to vacate the premises. And that’s just the start of Greg’s problems, because being a god isn’t the cushy job you’d expect it to be. There are all sorts of sacrifices that have to be made.

In case you haven’t guessed from my plot synopsis, this is an utterly bonkers story, with Cushing feeding on the delirium of her two lead characters, piling one unlikelihood on top of another as their complementary manias run completely out of control. The matter of fact style of the telling only makes it seem all the stranger, with various adjunct sections, such as a policeman phoning Greg’s mother, that add to the verisimilitude of the whole. Eventually and possibly post-mortem, we have Greg observing the beginning of a new cult, one that celebrates his godhood, and addressing the reader directly, telling us what he has done to the world and instructing us to worship him, at which point the fourth wall gets completely broken down, and for the reader the real question is, to paraphrase the great Hawkwind in one of their finest moments, “Has the world gone mad or is it Greg?” Either way, this is a marvellous piece of gonzo storytelling, like Dunsany on drugs.

Gonzo storytelling is a classification that could be applied with as much if not more justification to Eric Shapiro’s LOVE AND ZOMBIES (DarkFuse eBook, 75pp, $2.99). In the wake of an event known as Bright Thursday the world suffered a zombie outbreak which was contained by the military, but there is always the threat of a recurrence. Henry gets hit up by his oldest friend Sam Kranson to drive to Las Vegas and the desert beyond, there to find a female zombie to deliver to the Christopher family to take part in a business venture they plan. He’s not really happy with the arrangement, but accepts anyway as it will enable him to earn a lot of money, enough to wed girlfriend Teresa. Henry and Teresa have an unusual relationship, in that he can only have sex with her when they bring a stripper into the equation. Naturally when they get out in the desert things go seriously awry, not least because Sam is an arsehole of the first rank, and poor Henry has to tackle zombies, mobsters, the police and a disgruntled girlfriend.

Yep, this is most definitely gonzo storytelling, with a plot that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, some over the top characters, plenty of gun toting/zombie shooting action, and a wealth of unlikely coincidences, such as Henry just happening to know the inventor of the zombie cure (they work at the same pizza place). It’s written in a slightly breathless style, with Henry addressing the reader directly and at times resorting to such things as compiling lists of events that happened in the past, or undermining the plot by telling people what he should do and then acting in exactly the opposite way. And then there is the whole thing with strippers, which seems to have been added simply for gratuitous thrills, and does nothing whatever to forward the action, but does mean some more interesting characters can be introduced into this helter skelter of a storyline. It all sounds like a mess and really shouldn’t work, but it does and entertainingly well. You just have to hold your breath when things go way over the top and release at the moments when they calm down again. I loved it, craziness and all.

When Henry and Sam were out in the desert I hope they kept an eye out for Emily, the protagonist of CEREMONY OF FLIES (DarkFuse eBook, 96pp, $2.99) by Kate Jonez. Emily accidentally kills a man in Las Vegas and goes on the run with a stranger in a car, only once you’ve killed one man it comes easy and before you can say abracadabra Emily (who sometimes goes by the name Kitty) is shooting anyone who looks at her wrong. Next up is the boy who keeps appearing and who they decide to adopt and call Harvey for no particular reason. At an isolated Spanish Mission in the desert they encounter nuns and a priest who has his own ideas about taking care of the boy, which has Emily waving her weapon again. And then there’s the Mayan apocalypse and a motorcycle gang of four, riders who may have traded in horses for horsepower. Intercut with all of this are infodump slices giving us the back story on the places the characters visit, the car they drive, the Mayan calendar etc.

I’ve mixed feelings about all this. The writing zings, grabbing you in the opening sections when Emily tells it like it is, but the longer the story goes on the less novel it seems. The overall effect is one of surrealism cranked up to the max, like a peyote dream of the end of days made into a David Lynch film. The characters didn’t grab me though, seeming to lack any real depth, just be shadows acting out the author’s script and with little sense of who they really are (e.g. Emily’s transformation from remorseful killer to ruthless gun girl didn’t quite ring true), their actions simply poses they adopt for the duration, with the fluidity of nomenclature hinting at this superficiality. I liked the infodumps; they didn’t really add anything to the story, but were an engaging attempt to do things differently, and made me think of Tom Robbins’ work. Doing things differently is what this book is all about, or that’s how it feels to me. Overall I don’t know if I enjoyed it or not, though I’m leaning towards not, but it certainly was a trip I’ll remember.

WHEN WE FALL (DarkFuse eBook, 84pp, $3.49) is my first encounter with the work of Peter Giglio, but hopefully won’t be the last. Thirteen year old Ben Brendel is going through hard times, following the death of his best friend Johnny and worst enemy Ryan. He finds consolation in the company of Aubrey, the seventeen year old daughter of family friend Roy Rose, who shares his love of making 8mm movies, and even though he knows it’s unwise Ben starts to have feelings for her that aren’t strictly to do with friendship. But Aubrey is having problems of her own, after the failure of her relationship with jock Craig, and Ben begins to see the ghosts of both Johnny and Ryan, one insulting him and the other asking for help. It all ties together in ways he can’t know and when his world falls apart Ben has to find a way to do the right thing, for the sake of both the living and the dead.

This is a powerful coming of age story set against the backdrop of small town America in the 1980s, a milieu that author Giglio brings to vivid life, with the characters arguing about Reagan, troubled by the spectre of Nam and indulging in Star Wars nostalgia. The heart of the novella has to do with Ben’s journey of self-discovery, his having to come to terms with Johnny’s death and forgiving himself for surviving, while at the same time learning to let go of the bad things in his past. His situation is mirrored in that of Aubrey, who is dealing with similar feelings of guilt and remorse, though for entirely different reasons, and the tragedy of the book is that she can’t follow the advice she gives to Ben.

The two characters are opposite sides of the same coin, with Giglio getting under their skin to reveal the terrible things they have to cope with. This is Bradbury’s Green Town, Illinois, moved on thirty years and seen through a glass darkly, and although there are supernatural grace notes, as with Ryan’s ghost, the real thrust of the narrative has to do with human fallibility. It is a pitch perfect rendition of teenage angst, the trials and tribulations of young love and learning to accept what you cannot change. There is wisdom in Giglio’s words, and for a Ben a lesson that is hard won.

While he doesn’t seem as preoccupied with sexual matters and the use of horny teenagers as protagonists, the writer Tim Curran most reminds me of is Richard Laymon. His philosophy seems to be why sod about with spectral effects and the like when you can go straight for the jugular with a bloody big butcher knife.

Case in point SOW (DarkFuse eBook, 92pp, $2.99) in which Richard is afraid that his pregnant wife Holly has been possessed, after they visited an abandoned farm with its dilapidated piggery. To everyone else she appears normal, the Hallmark picture of an expectant mother glowing with health, but to Richard she has been replaced by a vile, foul mouthed hag, and the only person she will allow to attend her is Mrs Crouch, a midwife who Richard fears is the reincarnation of a four hundred year dead witch. All his attempts to expose the truth come undone, until finally Richard can only return to the piggery for a final confrontation with a monstrous sow, an archetypal creature that has a plan for us all.

With echoes in the plot of The Omen and The Exorcist, plus Ligotti’s Great Black Swine, in other hands this might have played out as a clever psychological drama, but Curran is his own man, and from the very first we know that Richard is not hallucinating, that this terrible possession is a matter of reality, something against which he must fight, however futile it seems. And so instead of psychology we get pure schlock horror, with one repellent vision after another on the page as Richard grows increasingly desperate, culminating in an image of bleakness and defeat that is truly unsettling. The book is a tour de force of grotesque invention, piling one gruesome vision on top of another, taking the cherished ideal of motherhood and twisting it into something abhorrent, and while Curran provides a coherent and compelling storyline, you suspect that his plot is just a pretext for this gleeful atrocity show and tell. Sow won’t be for everyone, and you should avoid it like the plague if your sensibilities lie only in the Jamesian end of the horror spectrum. Me, I like a bit of gore on occasion, to wallow in excess when it’s done well and not simply gratuitous, and this is a splendid example of the type. Splatterpunks, eat your hearts out.

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