Saturday, August 31, 2013

Guest Review by Alex Lugo: Supernatural Tales #24

The Arkham Digest proudly welcomes Alex Lugo as our first guest reviewer.

Alex Lugo, Jeffrey Thomas, Justin Steele. Necronomicon 2013.

I had been in Providence last weekend for this little thing called NecronomiCon 2013. In case you haven’t heard about it, the convention was, quite frankly, the greatest Lovecraftian event of all time. I won’t divulge too many details of that wonderfully weird weekend, but needless to say, I came back with a sack of books weighing somewhere around twenty pounds.

And here I am reviewing a book I received the day after the convention officially ended.
With twenty pounds of seriously powerful shit, from Laird Barron’s latest collection The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All to Joe Pulver’s mammoth Portraits of Ruin, I needed something of a warm up before diving into the madness I had brought home from Rhode Island. And Supernatural Tales #24 was a surprisingly excellent means of getting me back into the reading mood after the physical and emotional wrecking ball that was NecronomiCon.

Supernatural Tales is a UK magazine known for publishing stories of quiet terror in the vein of Aickman and M.R. James. Its editor, David Longhorn, has quite a roster of fantastic writers under the magazine’s belt: Reggie Oliver, Simon Strantzas, and Peter Bell (all masters in their own right) come to mind as some of the biggest names which have graced the magazine’s pages. However, when reading Supernatural Tales #24, I was not familiar with any of the writers included in the publication, with the exception of Michael J. Abolafia, who was kind enough to give me the copy of the journal. Still, I had not read Abolafia’s tale prior to receiving the journal, and came to read this book completely oblivious and without any preset expectations. In retrospect, this was quite rewarding. Every tale offered a fresh, exciting, and occasionally terrifying experience that kept me guessing in frightful and semi-maniacal anticipation. So if, dear reader, you do not recognize a name or two among Supernatural Tales #24’s table of contents, just…chill out. It’s cool. Trust me. Really.

Supernatural Tales #24 consists of seven stories (and a few reviews by the editor), of which none were of poor quality. However, some were much better than others and I have chosen three exceptional tales out of the seven which I feel stood out from the rest.

In The Wife’s Lament, Lynda E. Rucker tells a deceptively simple tale of a woman who flees her country with a mysterious man on a whim of sexual indulgence and wanderlust. The main character, Penny, who comes to England to live with Ian, her lover of merely four weeks, begins her slow descent into the supernatural upon discovering a mysterious stone-encrusted brooch hidden in the leaves of the neighborhood forest. With deft skill and near-perfect buildup, Rucker plunges poor Penny into a maelstrom of hideous dreams, occulted folklore, sexually powered angst and a growing aura of striking paranoia and otherworldly tension that leave the reader in a state of cringe-worth awe upon reaching Rucker’s utterly vile twist ending. Being that this is the first story in the publication, it leaves a rather profound impression.

Imagine the cold, quiet atmosphere of M.R. James. Combine that with the magnificent spirituality, the unabashed heathenry of Machen’s disturbing, yet transcendental worldview. Now, throw in the forbidden books and witch-haunted locales of Lovecraft, as well as the rich, poetic power of Clark Ashton Smith and perhaps even W.H. Pugmire, and you have the groundwork for Michael J. Abolafia’s Omnia Exeunt in Mysterium. Abolafia tells the tale of a lonely boy, in mourning of his mother’s death, who, wandering through the cellar of his ancestral home, discovers a most curious rosewood necklace, decked with sigils and a rather curious woodcut engraving. His boyhood curiosity soon sends him adrift in the frost-bitten woods that surround his house, where he begins to piece together the fragments of an occulted past, leading him into a state of Machen-esque ecstasy as opposed to the Lovecraftian damnation readers of the weird may come to expect. This tale of underlined necromancy and non-stop attention to atmosphere goes to show that Michael J. Abolafia is bound to become a future force in the realm of the weird.

I’ve been reading horror for as long as I’ve been able to read. Due to this, it has often become difficult for a piece of horror fiction to actually scare me. I’m simply too desensitized (woe is me)! However, when a tale actually does scare me, it’s usually quite a strong indication of the horrifying power the piece possesses. Sam Dawson’s Man Under scared the shit out of me. Period. This is made even more surprising due to the fact that, of all the stories, I’d say this one was the least supernatural. With the exception of some disturbing dreams and one particularly ambiguous encounter, this story relies more on menacing atmosphere and bloodcurdling imagery than actual supernatural activity. In fact, this is the only story in the publication that could very well lack any actual supernatural presence. The story follows a woman who, after witnessing a deadly train collision, enlists the help of two urban explorers in order to re-visit the train station (a decade abandoned) as a means of confronting (and perhaps validating) the strange images of her nightmares. Over ten pages (but it feels like three), Man Under succeeds in scaring the crap out of readers, not so much by the plot itself, but by the blunt, in-your-face nature of the prose style and atmosphere. There is no build-up, no carefully building tension mounting into a cathartic climax. Dawson assaults the reader with no pause, no warning, like staring at a silent train as it inevitably collides with your soft flesh. It is simply terrifying.

Supernatural Tales #24 is an excellent journal of consistent, disturbing, well written supernatural fiction. Although the aforementioned tales shine a bit stronger than the rest, there really isn’t a poor story in this issue. Highly recommended.

And now that I’m out of my post NecronomiCon fugue, I’ve got a twenty pound bag of books to get to. 

Supernatural Tales #24 can be purchased HERE

Alex Lugo, Richard Gavin, Sam Cowan, Justin Steele. Necronomicon 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Well thank you very much indeed Alex.
    Sam Dawson