A solid collection of unsettling short stories in the vein of Machen, Poe, and Ligotti.
Mark Samuels appears to be able to hold his own when compared to these giants. His command of language is only matched by his superb imagination. Darkness infuses every atmospheric example of traditional storytelling. While the stories in this book are not wildly experimental, they are not predictable or conventional. I would say a few of them verge on cheesy, but the tone and description are handled very well. The characters do not act like idiots, as in most horror films, but the events definitely assume a cinematic allure.
The stories to be found here are:
preface – Mark Samuels is genuinely recognized as a paramour within the genre of weird fiction. The easiest comparison is Ligotti, though you will find touches of influence and originality ranging the gamut of weird authors.
Glyphotech – a startling tale about the perils of corporate group think, with a B-movie ending.
Sentinels – Another likable protagonist, encountering horror in the everyday. Derelict places in the city achieve prominence as effective motifs.
Patient 704 – being trapped in an insane asylum is a well-used concept. This was a provocative example. Television static emerges as a theme within the author’s work, conveying a subliminal layer of unearthly or demonic maliciousness.
Shallaballah – very creepy. Mannikin’s become a theme. More run-down tenement buildings, grungy, gritty locales, and physically repulsive characters doing shocking things.
Cesare Thodol: Some Lines Written on a Wall – Found text as a motif. The cliche of mental patients scribbling on walls combined with a fungal anomaly. Well-honed horror tropes employed with aplomb.
The Cannibal Kings of Horror
Destination Nihil by Edmund Bertrand
The Vanishing Point
Regina vs. Zoskia – A legal case lingering through the ages, concealing deeply insane motives. Posits that the universe at large exhibits insanity.
A Gentleman from Mexico – A tribute to Lovecraft and a metafictional found text story. Very atmospheric and satisfying.
While I was not bowled over by this collection, I was entertained all the way through and enthralled on a few occasions. I’ll devour many more short stories by this author before I grow weary, and if there is more variety in future volumes, I may become addicted to the easy-to-read style. A highly recommended entry point into cosmic horror.