Filler content from F&B – Part 2

Following on from last Friday’s post, the second part of a feature on ‘recent’ releases from American publisher Fedogan & Bremer that originally appeared in Black Static #55:-
FEDOGAN & BREMER (continued)

Edited by Lovecraft scholar and critic S. T. Joshi, the anthology SEARCHERS AFTER HORROR (F&B hc, 352pp, trade $30/limited $95) comes with the subtitle ‘New Tales of the Weird and Fantastic’. There’s a full colour cover by Richard Corben, and Rodger Gerberding provides the interior artwork.

After an introduction in which the editor discusses “the motif of the ‘weird place’”, we get down to business with Melanie Tem’s ‘Iced In’, the story of Kelly, an elderly woman trapped by an ice storm in an isolated house, but as her situation worsens there is a strong hint that she faces this predicament because of her own chilly nature, which has driven away all the people who cared about her. It is a story in which the outer landscape mirrors and reinforces the interior psychology of the character. One of the highlights of the anthology and among the cleverest of what’s on offer, ‘The Girl Between the Slats’ by Michael Aronovitz wrong foots the reader with a series of nested narratives, so that we constantly re-evaluate what has gone before. The story that finally seems to emerge is one of a father trying to deal with grief and loss through the medium of fiction, reinventing the world in ways which are more acceptable to his need for validation, along the way offering some pointed critiques of the ways in which horror fiction works. ‘The Patter of Tiny Feet’ by Richard Gavin has a man out scouting for a horror movie location finding rather more than he bargained for, with an ironic twist in which his desire for a child is given a horrific interpretation. It’s a story that sets up its atmosphere very nicely, with the isolated house brought to vivid life on the page, while personal concerns are woven seamlessly into the text, reinforcing and underlining the outré elements, and all leading in to the final, nasty twist.

Ramsey Campbell is at the top of his game with ‘At Lorn Hall’ in which Randolph’s visit to a somewhat less than stately home takes a turn for the worse. Stirring unease from the get go, it’s a series of steadily mounting effects that take our initially oblivious protagonist into the far realms of terror firma with skill and panache, ensnaring him in a terrible family history. The protagonist of ‘Blind Fish’ by Caitlin R. Kiernan is haunted by what he saw on a scientific expedition to the bottom of the ocean and fear of what the government might do with the discovery. Set in 2031 it’s a claustrophobic piece, rank with the smell of paranoia, asking questions about the evolutionary supremacy of mankind and what it actually means to be human. ‘An Element of Nightmare’ by W. H. Pugmire has a young man inspired by poetry come to Sesqua Valley in search of wonder and finding what he seeks, though not in one of its more common forms. Beautifully written, this is a subtle piece in which the ineffable rubs shoulders with the mundane.

David and Helen retire from teaching and move to a country setting in Gary Fry’s ‘The Reeds’, but there is a certain uneasiness between them – Helen has grown distant thanks to the trauma of school days and the sorrow she feels at not having had children of her own. In the reeds of the title she finds a different kind of offspring, creatures she can shape in her own image and be shaped in theirs. While the supranatural elements of the plot are essential to its resolution, the story is driven by the psychology of the characters, and we end on a strong note of ambiguity, with David about to uncover the truth of what is happening and the reader left guessing. It is a tour de force of masterful storytelling and suggestion, Fry effortlessly interweaving the outré and human concerns, using one to illuminate the other. In Steve Rasnic Tem’s story Josh returns to Rayburn Twist, the isolated mountain town his mother took him away from when he was only five. He’s looking for his past, but what he discovers is the horrific meaning of the word ‘Crawldaddies’ and the genetic heritage he bears in his own DNA, the story clever and unsettling, though at its heart there is only the fear of what is different and of being different yourself.

An investor looking to purchase a hotel in Brittany discovers an artefact that confers on him ‘Three Dreams of Ys’, a long lost city. Jonathan Thomas’ story is evocative and mildly unsettling, with its most intriguing concept the idea that our own natures shape how we regard the past, the things on which we focus. There’s an elegiac quality to ‘Miranda’s Tree’ by Hannes Bok, written in the mid-1950s and published for the first time here. Miranda comes to stay with her sister Edna, and is abused by the family except for husband Ralph, who still holds a torch for her. She finds solace clinging to the oak tree that stands in the grounds and that is the key to her eventual liberation. It is a poignant tale, one that is astute in its characterisation, with the manipulative members of the family preying on the star crossed lovers, offering us a paean for all the things that have been lost to time, with a wonderfully understated ending. There’s also a tree in ‘The Beautiful Fog Ascending’ by Simon Strantzas, but the story itself is weak, an uninteresting account of a man dealing with the loss of his beloved wife through a kind of nature magic. In a way it reprises the themes of the Bok, but with far less verve and originality.

Written with a manic energy, Nick Mamatas’ ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ tells of an encounter with a demon hitchhiker and how a town manages to balance its books by this means. Easily one of the best pieces in the collection, it is a thrill ride that crackles with static electricity and has a gonzo quality that elevates it far above the essential silliness of the material. In ‘Going to Ground’ by Darrell Schweitzer a man who has murdered his family is delivered into the hands of ghosts. It’s a story that feels very much like going through the motions, a familiar trope that is striving hopelessly for a shot of originality through the isolated setting, but to my mind doesn’t quite do enough to rise above its own triteness. A poet has an encounter with a dryad and fauns in ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ by Brian Stableford, the story deftly interweaving Greek myth and Cthulhu mythos, offering up a eulogy for the passing of the old ways and at the same time marking the dawn of a new age of iron and steel, war and commerce, that contains within it the seed of its own undoing.

Jason V. Brock’s ‘The Shadow of Heaven’ has the crew of a ship answering a distress call in the Antarctic bear witness to the awakening of ancient life forms that will rule on Earth in the future. It’s a tale that struck me as a little too long for its own good, attempting unconvincingly to meld science and the supernatural, and failing to bring the frozen landscape to life. Nancy Kilpatrick’s ‘Flesh and Bones’ tells of a couple with complementary obsessions that result in a kind of parasitism in death, the individual neuroses convincingly chronicled and their motivations made entirely credible as the characters race headlong to the crypt for which they yearn. ‘The Sculptures in the House’ by John D. Haefele has a protagonist who believes that sculptures created by Clark Ashton Smith are the key to unleashing cosmic forces that cause people to disappear, as happened to his girlfriend Taylor. It’s an engaging tale, with each piece of the puzzle neatly slotted into place and a truly memorable end game with a horrific fate meted out to the undeserving Taylor, one that contains the suggestion of something much greater. Finally we have Donald Tyson’s ‘Ice Fishing’ in which two anglers are taken from their fishing shack by a creature that lives beneath the ice, the story not especially striking or original, but well done, with some excellent dialogue that captures perfectly the camaraderie of these two men and hints of something more than is dreamt of in our philosophies. It’s a good end to a strong collection.

NB: The anthology contains three further stories which I’ve ignored here as they were discussed in last issue’s Hippocampus Press feature – ‘At Home with Azathoth’ by John Shirley, ‘Willie the Protector’ by Lois H. Gresh, and ‘Dark Equinox’ by Ann K. Schwader.

TO BE CONTINUED

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