Archive | December, 2015

Review: Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales by Christopher Slatsky (Dynatox Ministries; 2015)

11 Dec

  
“Loveliness like a Shadow”

This first story in this collection has a crisp, clean, traditional style. 

It unnerved me first with this passage:

“She was about 5 when she first experienced it. Sleeping on the bottom bunk, her older sister snoring on top. A thin naked woman had settled on her chest, a coiled weight, loose skin slopping over her ribs into the floor. Wild confusion of hair trembling in the air like shock lines around a comic strip character’s head. A stunningly beautiful face. Mask of someone else’s mask. All that hair whipping and hissing with blind aggression.”

Yet it also contains haunted frames of contemporary malaise: 

“All of her actions were familiar, like an old videotape recorded over long forgotten shows, fleeting images of the original programming peaking through.” 

Although the style is orderly, the ambiguous ending and the desolately lonely madness of the atmosphere recalled Robert Aickman and Karl Edward Wagner. 

“An Infestation of Stars” 

Wow. This one, by its end, reached undreamed-of, dizzyingly weird heights. Let me leave you with an odd phrase as a hint or clue: “insect morality.” Trust me, it won’t make sense until you conclude this cosmic-horror-meets-Kafka-meets-Eyes-Wide-Shut tale. 

“Corporautolysis” 

A subtle tale with a strong sense of dread and remorse. The mysterious, Kafka and MC Escher-ish nightmare that the narrator encounters is made even eerier by the fact that the specifics of the tragedy are never addressed. Terrible smells accompany a surreal and haunting visual at the tale’s end.

“No One is Sleeping in This World”

Slatsky has an impeccable eye for weird-tale world-building detail as seen here:

“I often dream of alien lands, obelisks wrapped in parasitic vines, foliage leeching minerals from the stone; glass and resin buildings shaped into spirals of filigree; mile-high mounds of compacted soil, crumbling surfaces pocked with networks of tunnels. I’d catch furtive glimpses of unusual folk, presumably masked, peeking from strangely configured clerestory windows or behind columns sculpted from enormous vertebrae.”

We enter a strange and intriguing premise: two filmmaker’s record the insides of a strange architects building of the “Luciferianism”-style. The pair bring an anarchic spirit to their projects, sometimes getting denied visas because of their methods. When they are barred from entering a certain building designed by this cult architect, they must find another way inside.

I won’t spoil what they find but only offer that the idea of a sentient city forms part of the Lovecraftian canvas painted at the tale’s crescendo.

“Making Snakes”

It certainly was terrifying to encounter the “powdery man”:

“The man’s eyes were deeply set in a wrinkly face powdered with stage makeup, like an actor from the silent era. A cigar dangled between his gray lips. He spoke in the high pitched voice of a prepubescent boy. Wanna make snakes?” 

A reek of trauma infests this tale as well, the terrifying image found on the abandoned dump referring back to the imagery of “Corporautolysis” slightly. 

The idea of the “powdery man”, his abilities, and his only repeated phrase reminded me of that German book Der Struwwelpeter.

An odd interest in the fissures and decay of buildings, of stains, and of the supernatural ingrained in the dejected or overlooked spots of our material reality. 

“The Ocean Is Eating Our Graves”

An incredible amount of research must have gone into he writing of this tale about Levi and Mariee, twin Native Americans who grew up on a reservation and discovered a mutant skeleton while they were children.

Levi moves off the reservation and gets a respectable job while Marie stays and also acquires a respectable job. New remains have been discovered, yet some have been tampered with. Then Mariee disappears and Levi investigates several collections, including his sisters garage where he finds a complete mutant skeleton. I’ll end my summary there so as not to give too much away. 

These are a few spellbinding passages I couldn’t refrain from quoting:

“His mind couldn’t quite interpret what he was seeing. The vague notion that an albino ribbon worm rose before him into the air so high it might punch through the clouds was all he could process. It’s tubular body glowed with an inner luminescence, radiant against the black rain clouds as it swayed in place. The stench of organic matter long decomposing on the ocean floor wafted across the beach.”

and:

“He arrived home in Salem just as the sun was rising. Exhaustion and grief pulled him down onto the couch. He dreamt he was flying over the ocean, the sky filled with the flapping wings of death owls. He felt sleek, like he’d grown a layer of otter’s skin. But the death owls were not birds. They were plump, albino things flopping in the dark and suddenly Levi wasn’t in the air but deep underwater. He plunged into a crevasse. Into abject blackness.”

“This Fragmented Body”

Like an avant-garde Child’s Play, this story is truly wonderful. 

I’m going to read this one again.

After we catch a nightmarish glimpse of a doll petting a boy’s head from the perspective of the doll (“The Doll touches the boy’s hair and marvels at how soft it is. So unlike the cold, smooth surface of its own head.”), we are introduced to Jarrod and Mark. 

They met during college at a Black Flag show; they were two of the only Black kids in a predominantly white 80s punk scene–they are also gay. There’s some discussion about Darby Crash having to hide his sexuality–“Germ burns” are also referenced; I presume this refers to tattoos of The Germs symbol (a blue circle).

Why Jarrod becomes “concerned about their neighbors” a few pages in remains mysterious to me [Note: on a third reread, my guess would be the power outage.] It turns out one of their neighbors is a girl missing an arm (Jared is missing a leg). But, unlike him, she does not have a prosthetic limb. 

Two other neighbors are also amputees. 

I won’t spoil all the twists and turns of this magnificent tale, but will say there are all a multitude of ideas, perspective, and classic horror tropes turned upside down to surprise even the most jaded literary horror fan. 

“Tellurian Facade” 

This one reveals itself gradually although never completely. It’s like looking through slits in shutters and catching horrible glimpses of scenes of domestic heartbreak where Lovecraftian shadows may also linger. 

“Film Maudit”

Another brilliant one. I’ll have to leave you with the last line; no, it won’t be a spoiler. You’ll have no idea how he got here: “A light as harsh and raw as peeled stars flooded the theater.” 

This one unexpectedly crescendoed with an intense emotional insight, despite the lurid content–although, since it is about a cineaste, that content was filtered and separated by the eye, the bulb, the screen, the projector’s glass…or was it? 

“A Plague of Naked Movie Stars”

Wow. The stories keep getting better and better. This was definitely a favorite–right up there with “This Fragmented Body” and “Film Maudit.”

This one blends sci-fi, cosmic horror, mystery, and 80s horror cinema expertly. 
Slatsky has an ability to draw the reader in with a plain, neutral voice but then offers twists, visions, and threatening implications that are entirely his own, bizarre, and frightening in their alien shapes and daring permutations. 

“Scarcely Have They Been Planted”

Very Faulknerian.

“Intaglios”

This one reminded me a bit of Stephen King’s “Trucks” due to the way the fierce and threatening inanimate objects were written about. 

“Alectryomancer”

This one is quite experimental and wild. I found the burning mechanical horse imagery beautiful and the scenes of the cockfight riveting. 

There was also something palpable, vivid, and physical about this tale, despite many confounding but brilliant moments. 

Definitely one to reread, allowing it to shed its many meanings like the skin of a snake. 

If you have any interest at all in weird fiction, you NEED to read this book.

Read Alectryomancer and Other Weird Tales by Christopher Slatsky

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Review: Ecstatic Inferno by Autumn Christian (Fungasm Press; 2016)

3 Dec

  

“They Promised Dreamless Death”

A future is stained by urges for psychical annihilation because vampires stand at bedsides howling for 20 years. 

Reading this first story made me think of another Fungasm author: Violet LeVoit. They both blend genre tropes with mesmerizingly poetic lines–that’s not to say that their voices are similar but that they approach writing from a similar angle. 

This line stood out: 

“Life would be better if we weren’t present during our difficult transitory periods, if we shut off the part of us that thought and felt and tasted, and slid our heads down on dark waters while the machines lived for us.” 

A scary yet prescient line indeed in our age when we frequently disappear into our technology. 

Another poetic and startling line:

“I had to plaster every deer that stepped in the headlights and keep melting the asphalt with Jeanine’s teeth and my foot on the pedal and her warm honey shy eyes in my stomach because I’d never feel that way again.” 

One can sense the pleasure overwhelming and reordering reality and spatial planes here. 

Sometimes weird and wonderful ideas might slip past you in the seductive, otherworldly flow of the language–such as here: 

“I think that while the world is sleeping a new entity will enter our universe, like a thief in the night, creep over our head-fog, and take away our bodies and our space, infiltrate our energy and our nightmarescapes. If the world ever walks, I don’t think it will ever know what it used to be.” 

The world–having been taken over by an evil entity–will not remember what it used to be if it walks. You could build an entire story around this casually mentioned concept! 

When Jeanine calls the narrator a “deadhead,” I did wonder if he’d had one of the machines in his head since he couldn’t recall why he had refused the operation. That coupled with the fact that Boxy only answers to Jeanine (“the name of every pretty girl”) suggests that there’s something screwy with the narrator’s perceptions as he jumps into the lake even though he mentioned earlier they’d be going there “so we’re not going to die.” 

“Crystalmouth”

The imagery in this story about skull-conjoined sisters is terrifying in both its precision and originality:

“His mouth stretched. Heavy. Yawning. Burrowing, big mouth. Big tongue. Crystals studded his tongue. They shredded the roof of his mouth so that the skin hung down in thick strips, and when he breathed the strips fluttered.” 

and:

“The crystals grew heavy in his mouth, and when he unlatched the window they sparkled in darklight. My sister’s snowpowder hair fell off the bed and he bent down and wound it around his wrists to drag himself closer to us.”

I picture the most evil cereal box cartoon monster ever here. Although perhaps that is a misleading statement for this story is bleak: “I imagine she wanted to dip us in formaldehyde and nail us to a piece of wood to sell to a curio shop.” 

After the conjoined sisters startle and assault a terrified boy in the woods, the smaller sister says “It’s fun to be a monster.” 

Later they go on a date which goes awry–however, they eventually get revenge on the incubus by ripping out his crystal tongue. This story is somehow wacky, devastating, and creepy. 

“Your Demiurge is Dead”

I enjoyed the surreal world-building in this one during passages like this:

“There were three trash bags of summer-heated, red exposed fetid god flesh that washed up on the Gulf of Mexico.”

This tale is more of a slow-burner than the other two. 

I particularly enjoyed the weird imagery of the faery hole.

“Sunshine, Sunshine”

The “sunshine man” is an eerie figure who will search “for women so he could bury his hands into their hair, make love to them not with skin but with needles and blood finger-painting, transform them with wounds and later dissect them upon his tables.”‘

There is a breathtaking originality and strangeness to lines containing ideas like making love with “blood finger-painting” and to “transform them with wounds”–it’s as if destruction and mutilation is viewed as a delicate and artistic virtue. I’ll quote a bit more from this stellar paragraph:

“He collected these women like butterflies beautifully pressed between pins, and his sunshine house hid a labyrinthine cellar maze underneath full of freezers and tubes and monsters that lived in family portraits. He killed delicately, spread out bones and skin like wings, preserving them in ice and serum, stored inside locker rooms that he visited sometimes like favorite poems, counting off delicate, torn paper haloes. Freckles and indigo eyes were favorite lines, and he gently touched the places he drained of blood, sensual but not exactly sexual, like he smell that lingers after rain.” 

“Pink Crane Girls”

Loved the idea of “simulated sunlight cafes” in this one.

Also, this odd glimpse:
“Behind him a girl sat, her back to the line going out the door, her pink dress unzipped and revealing the layout of her protruding spine. It didn’t seem like a real body part, but something holographic, simulated, a real spine wouldn’t be on a girl constantly humming and vibrating to frequencies we couldn’t comprehend.” 

“Out of the Slip Planet”

I found the imagery in this anthropomorphic passage to be quite potent and affecting: 

“I wanted to save them. I waned to get up and run out to greet them like a war hero, press my shoulders into their sides and push them back into the ocean. Except I imagined once I touched them their bottlenecks would become aquiline noses, their seaweed entangled throats would turn into wet hair. I would touch gray skin and it would become pink and cool. They would turn over on their backs and look at me with dying woman eyes that had seen leviathans, shipwrecked vessels, the blue heart of coral reefs.”

“Honeycomb Heads”

The land where the protagonists travel lies somewhere between an alien fortress and an otherworldly beehive.

“The Dog That Bit Her”

Didn’t appreciate the insult to Kafka. 

Some great surreal touches in this nightmarish piece featuring recurring attacks by a rabid dog, such as here:

“I often rolled over and climbed up the attic ladder to find her at the canvas wearing her bloody sweater, head bent to the brush, red hair alive.”

I loved the twisted ambition of June throughout the tale to “bite him back” and the transformation scenes were incredibly vivid and original–much more disgusting, somehow, than a typical werewolf transformation sequence. 

“The Bad Baby Meniscus”

This line startled me with its eerie beauty:

“I got the feeling that underwater lived another me, a liquid, luminous blue me, who parted the reeds and struck me on the mouth.” 

As did these ones (although they’re a bit more grotesque): 

“The butterfly bite started looking even worse. Its poisonous cat-eye center dripped orange pus and black ichor.” 

One of my favorites. The idea of death as the perfect mathematical creation as created by a god was a fascinating one–as was the metaphor of existence as a vast labyrinth one must traverse in preparation. 
“The Singing Grass”

This has to be one of the strangest opening lines/hooks to a story that I have ever encountered:

“I told him that in the singing grass I saw a deer tear out the head of a cougar, but instead of staying away he went out there to paint.” 

In this story again we find these sudden, surreal, macabre moments mentioned casually like here:

“No girl from the town could’ve snapped her head back until it touched the tip of her spine. No, she emerged out of the singing grass, out of the electric song that whipped through the meadow and straight through me.” 

This story was definitely my favorite. 

These stories will wound you, warp you, steal your dreams, and entangle your soul with a weird otherworldly vision that is Autumn Christian’s. I loved the odd logic, surreal visuals, midnight loneliness, and speculative dream-visions in these tales. There is also a lyrical quality to many of the mind-bending lines, offering stories rich in detail and kaleidoscopic in construction, rewarding multiple rereadings.

Read Ecstatic Inferno by Autumn Christian