Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: The Color Over Occam by Jonathan Thomas

Publisher Larry Roberts has been consistently putting out some wonderful work. Arcane Wisdom Press is one of his imprints, and one series under the imprint is the Modern Mythos Library. Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi and Larry Roberts have teamed up to print what S.T. Joshi's blog refers to as "vital and significant contemporary works of Cthulhu Mythos fiction by leading authors." As to date the series is two volumes strong; Cthulhu Cult by Rick Dakan, and The Color Over Occam by Jonathan Thomas.

In the introduction S.T. Joshi explains how Thomas approached him and proceeded to woo him with some short fiction. One thing led to another, and as of now Thomas has two short story collections, Midnight Call and Other Stories, and Tempting Providence and Other Stories (both of which are published by Hippocampus Press). The Color Over Occam is Thomas's first published novel, and upon reading it's easy to see why Joshi scooped up on the chance to include it in the Modern Mythos Library.

Any Lovecraft fan should read this title and instantly recognize what this novel is based on: H.P. Lovecraft's 1927 tale The Colour Out of Space. For readers who are not familiar, The Colour Out of Space is one of Lovecraft's more famous stories, and one that is more overtly science fiction than most of his other works. It also bears the distinction among Lovecraft's stories as being the one most adapted to film. The story is about a meteor that crash lands on an Arkham farm in 1882. The "being" that came with it is basically a non corporeal life form that appears as a shimmering color. Weird horror follows.

It is worth noting that it is not necessary to have read The Colour Out of Space before delving into The Color Over Occam, but of course it does enhance the reading experience to be familiar with the tale it's based on.

The novel follows Jeffrey Slater, city clerk by day and amateur paranormal sleuth by evening. Slater and his friend Wil run a public access cable show of the "ghost-hunters" variety. While out one evening investigating "corpse lights" at the local reservoir, they have a strange encounter which prompts further investigation by Jeff, leading him down a proverbial rabbit hole. It is apparent that something buried under the reservoir is finally making it's move, and is beginning to affect the town of Occam (renamed from Arkham) in numerous ways. Jeff begins a one man campaign to investigate this mystery and do what he can to save the town of Occam, although it's apparent from early on that he's fighting an uphill battle.

The entire novel is told in first-person from Jeff's point of view, and has a very noir-ish flavor all throughout. Jeff is an interesting character to follow, and is not without his faults. He is a cynic, he only has one friend, and while Jeff is intelligent he sometimes doesn't do the smartest things, although he is usually quick to catch himself after the fact. His dealings with the matter starts to induce a high level of paranoia, and it's not long before Jeff finds himself totally alone, convinced that everyone is part of a conspiracy and out to get him. As the story progresses Jeff becomes more and more obsessed with the mystery of "The Color", and makes a few desperate, ill-thought out attempts to do something about it.

While the noir style of narration is a huge strength of the novel, it's also the way in which Thomas handles the ideas and concepts from Lovecraft's stories. Thomas effectively and respectively utilizes some of the core ideas and concepts, all while making the story his own. There are some moments of hair-raising horror, and some moments of just plain strangeness. Also Lovecraft fans should pay attention to many of the character's surnames, as there are plenty there to tie many of Lovecraft's stories together in the present day setting.

It's obvious that Thomas put a lot of time and effort into this novel, and as a sequel it works perfectly. The noir-style of narration is spot on, and couldn't be done any better. In the Lovecraftian realm of fiction it is the short story and novella that dominate, and it's not very often a novel-length work comes along. The Color Over Occam is a more than welcome addition, and fans of Lovecraft's classic tale of alien horror will find a lot to enjoyable. Also, fans of supernatural noir or the X-Files wouldn't be remiss to check this one out.

The Color Over Occam had a limited run of 150 signed copies. The book is of great quality, and I recommend grabbing one now before the publisher runs out. You can order one at Miskatonic Books. If you order one, be sure to mention The Arkham Digest!

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