Filler content with dreams and nightmares – Part 2

Following on from Monday’s post, here are two further reviews that made up the feature on work ‘inspired’ by HPL that originally appeared in Black Static #46:-


Liz Drake, the heroine of Amanda Downum’s novel DREAMS OF SHREDS & TATTERS (Solaris pb, 256pp, £7.99), has heard nothing in a while from her best friend the artist Blake Enderly; the dreams she has speak of something terribly wrong, and Liz is used to trusting her dreams. So, with partner Alex, she sets off to Vancouver in search of reassurance, but instead she finds Blake in a coma, the sole survivor of an accident that cost his partner Alain his life. But Liz feels certain there is something more to it, that Blake’s art dealer friend Rainer, who is also an occultist, is holding back vital information. She slowly fills in the back story, learning of a new drug and monsters stalking the streets of Vancouver. To save Blake’s soul from an eternity of slavery she must enter the Dreamlands and confront the Yellow King.

According to the publisher’s blurb this is “Lovecraftian urban fantasy, but it’s Lovecraft with all the worst excesses taken out”, which is fair enough if you concede that, while invented by Robert W. Chambers, chief bad guy here the King in Yellow has been inducted into Lovecraft’s Mythos (and, to be fair, we do get hints that there is something even more monstrous behind old Yellow face). While Downum might eschew those worst excesses, she is a fine stylist in her own right, with a command of language and gift for the telling phrase, so that most of the scenes are vividly realised. There is a shifting perspective, but as each character takes the wheel of narrative they are given quirks and qualities of their own that define and make them distinctive, while providing a fascinating, kaleidoscopic view of the main narrative. Liz Drake is in many ways a haunted soul, cursed or blessed with a gift that she is afraid to use and with tragedy in her past, so that she carries a burden of guilt that drives her on to act as she does, even at risk of alienating partner Alex. The other characters are every bit as engaging and I found myself especially attracted to gallery owner Rainer, a magician who isn’t quite as in control as he believes himself to be, and his partner Antja, a femme fatale whose conversations with a demonic entity, perhaps even Old Nick himself, are one of the book’s many highlights, hinting as they do at a back story that is richly woven and fascinating.

The sense of the hidden world just a step away comes over strongly, and in a way the book reminded me very much of the film Prophecy with its warring angels. Downum is particularly adept at dealing with occult matters, giving us ceremonies and monstrous beings that appear entirely credible and enthralling at the same time. Liz’s foray into the Dreamlands and encounter with the Yellow King at the end of the book could so easily have been anti-climactic, but Downum gets it just right, the prefect combination of strangeness and the everyday, the sense of something wondrous and at the same time far more minatory. There is, in the characters who wander in and out of the plot, such as the mysterious Seker, and of course in Liz’s untapped potential as a dreamer, the hint of something more in the works, that this book could be the first in a series, and if so then I am looking forward to whatever’s coming down the pike, as this is a very impressive outing.

Finally, from Donald Tyson we have THE LOVECRAFT COVEN (Hippocampus Press pb, 218pp, $20), a book containing two novellas. The title piece opens with H. P. Lovecraft waking up and finding himself restrained in a straitjacket and the inmate of an asylum whose staff refer to him as Montague Berkley Willifred. Trapped in another body, HPL is perplexed, but then Monty’s girlfriend Janice rescues him from the asylum and explains that Monty was an occultist with a great admiration for Lovecraft and had been trying to resurrect him, until things went wrong. Lovecraft, Janice, and Luther, another member of their coven, must wander through the various realities Lovecraft wrote of in his fiction, encountering characters and monsters that the sceptical author believed he had invented, until a resolution can be found.

The idea of Lovecraft finding himself in another body and having to deal with the fact that all the frightful entities he thought he invented are in fact real is a fascinating concept, but Tyson doesn’t dwell on it much except to have HPL have a few golly, gosh, wow, that can’t be right moments. The main thrust of the story is in the quest for the Necronomicon and the realms through which the characters must travel, and as far as it goes this is an engaging and entertaining story, with lots of stuff for the Lovecraft aficionado to pick up on, people and events here seen from the viewpoint of the author on the inside. And, as an aside, we get fascinating and heart-warming glimpses of HPL’s early life, the days of his boyhood, with a blurring of the lines between dream and reality. Yet for all that, I could have wished it had dealt more with the metaphysical and philosophical aspects of what had happened, instead of devolving into a pure adventure story. It felt like a wasted opportunity.

The other novella on offer is somewhat more simplistic. After inheriting a large sum of money Nick quits his job and buys an isolated farm to live on, but his ambitious career woman wife decides to stay in the city. Buried in the grounds of the farm Nick finds an ‘Iron Chain’ and begins to unearth it, curious as to how long it is, where it leads, and what purpose was served by burying it. The task is one that will take him some considerable time, and meanwhile the world appears to be going to hell in a handbasket, with riots in every city, and his closest neighbour is acting very strange. There are hints that the end of the world is close at hand and Nick may be the only one who can prevent it happening. So far, so meh! The whole story seems rather contrived and lacking in credibility, so that while you read and are even intrigued by what is happening ultimately it is nothing more than a story, something you can’t actually believe in as a credible reality, a true account of events that actually took place. Along the way though we get some entertaining stuff, as with the antics of the Hoffman creature and the way in which it assumes the form of Nick’s estranged wife to beguile him, the central image of the mysterious chain, other things such as the barn that has been turned into a slaughterhouse of sorts. It’s a fun read, but in the final analysis a slight one, something that won’t be remembered for very long, the fictional equivalent of fast food. We never really seem to get under the skin of the characters or the sense of anything going on beneath the surface of the text.

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