“Peace” Gene Wolfe – an ambitious ghost story

After writing about great weird sci-fi The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, I decided to take a closer look at Gene Wolfe’s Novel – Peace. While this book can often be found on sci-fi listings, I believe there is more to it. That in fact it’s an ambitious, wonderfully orchestrated ghost story. Enjoy.

"Peace" Gene Wolfe - review

In one of his interviews, Neil Gaiman said, that Peace is not only one of his favorite novels, but also one of a few modern ones which he admires. It comes as no surprise – Gene Wolfe managed to create a complexed, dark story, not unlike those we get from the author of The American Gods. First things first, though – Peace is a challenging book, and its slightly over two hundred thirty pages might be deceiving. At first glance, it tells a story of some older senior citizen – Alden Weer, who can manipulate memories. We get to know some anecdotes from his life – from childhood until the bitter end. It looks like a simple story with fantastic elements, right?. But is it really? While reading Peace, you will often have a weird feeling, that something about this story just isn’t right, but it’s difficult to identify what exactly. What’s actually hidden in the depths of Weer’s memories?

I think that it is worth to pay attention to the title of the novel. The word “peace” means a situation or state in which there is no violence or other disturbing factors. In my opinion, this is the key to discover real ending intended by Gene Wolfe – a dark and blood-chilling one. What is the meaning of the elm planted in front of Weer’s house? What’s wrong with the narrator’s memories? You will have to find out for yourself.

If I were to give some hints concerning the reading of Peace, I advise you not to trust the narrator – he is not always reliable. Also, pay attention to all the details in his flashbacks, especially when it comes to fairy tales – they hide keys needed to decipher Weer’s story and find out the truth about his family.

Similarly to, for instance, Peter Watts’ Blindsight, Peace almost immediately throws us into the deep end – we don’t know most of the characters and their significance. While a little bit confusing, it was intended by the author – the book was written to be read more than once. Otherwise, it might be an arduous task to fully appreciate the ghost story masterpiece created by Wolfe. For my part, I can assure you that it’s worth the effort.

Paradoxically that’s also one of the main drawbacks of Gene Wolfe’s Peace – the entry barrier here is very high. It requires the reader to be focused all the time and read the book at least twice. If you are not looking for a demanding novel, which will make you deeply analyze its content – you will probably get tired with Peace very fast. In other case – you are in for a real treat.

What role do memories play in our lives? Do they, in the end, become some kind of space we can happily return to or maybe a prison which prevents us from moving on? What’s your opinion on the subject? Please let me know in the comment section.

Summing up


Peace is a unique novel, requiring its reader to devote enough time and energy needed to discover the truth hiding behind Weer’s story. If you are looking for an ambitious ghost story that will make you feel uncomfortable and stay in your memory long after finishing it – don’t hesitate and plunge into the weird world of Alder Weer’s memories.
Grade: 9/10

Have you read Peace by Gene Wolfe? What are your thoughts about this novel?

PS. You can buy the book here:

PKD "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch"

“The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch” Philip K. Dick – weird sci-fi

After Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti, I decided to write about another literary gem – The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. In my opinion, Philip K. Dick is one of the most overlooked authors, when it comes to the weird fiction. While usually associated with science fiction, many of his works can very often be classified as horror masterpieces. One of them, undoubtedly, is The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. What makes this novel so unique? Let’s find out. 

"The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch" Philip K. Dick - review

Peculiar vision

The action of the novel takes place in the future. The world is struggling with such problems as rapidly growing greenhouse effect, shifting of glaciers which make living on Earth almosts unbearable or eugenic program accelerating the evolution of the wealthiest citizens. Moreover, anyone can be forced to move to Mars or another planet to live in harsh conditions, while terraforming it. The only entertainment available for the colonists is a drug called Can-D. Combined with Perky Pat (Ken and Barbie-like dolls), it allows them to enter a trance and feel as if they were back on Earth. Those are conditions in which we meet the main characters of the novel – Leo Bulero, the head of corporation distributing the aforementioned hallucinogenic substance and Barney Mayerson, his employee. 

Eternal loneliness

The order of things gets disturbed when a wealthy entrepreneur, Palmer Eldritch, after many years spent in Proxima galaxy, returns to the solar system. He brings a new, strange drug, designed to provide sensations far more intense than Can-D. What is the advantage of Chew-Z? To what extent did the journey change Palmer Eldritch? Is he still human?

God promises eternal life. We deliver it. 

While Can-D allows you to temporarily share experiences with other people, after taking the substance brought by Eldritch, you find yourself in a world where, among other things, you can try to change your past or affect the future. Can you though? Like in many other Philip K. Dick’s stories, reality is always being questioned. We never exactly know if the events shown in the novel are actually happening or are they just narcotic visions. Eldritch fulfills, at least to some extent, the divine promise, while bereaving it of the element of holiness. He gives Chew-Z users eternal life, but also condemns them to eternal loneliness. At some moment, one of the characters asks – Isn’t a miserable reality better than the most interesting illusion? It’s one of the main themes discussed in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

In search of God

I looked up at the sky and saw a face. I didn’t really see it, but the face was there, and it was not a human face; it was a vast visage of perfect evil… it was immense; it filled a quarter of the sky. It had slots for eyes – it was metal and cruel and, worst of all, it was God

That’s how Philip K. Dick described the vision that inspired him to write The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Therefore it’s not surprising, that motifs such as search of god or differences between narcotic trance and the revelations experienced by the faithful appear throughout the novel. While reading this book, I recommend you to take a closer look at the characters’ views on religion and how they evolve. 

An interesting example of it is the story of deeply religious Anne Hawthorne and atheist Barney Mayerson. The woman volunteers to participate in the colonization of Mars in order to discourage other members of the mission from taking drugs and eventually convert them. Unfortunately for here, after reaching the travel destination, it turns out that despite her best intentions, she is not able to cope with the hopelessness and alienation associated with life on the red planet. She quickly loses faith and begins to look for another way to escape from reality. On the other hand we have Mayers, who begins to notice his previous sins and to some extent abandons his earlier views. He starts to believe, that there must be something else somewhere, some divine power, and it’s not necessarily the nightmarish Palmer Eldritch. I think that it’s one of the most interesting themes in the novel. 

Weird in Three Stigmas of Palmer Eldritch

The first contact with an alien civilization is one of the most popular subjects discussed in science fiction novels. In both books and movies, you may come across several different approaches to this topic. Usually aliens are, more or less, but humanoid creatures, with need similar to ours (e.g., Three-Body Problem by Cixing Liu) or just strange and often dangerous animals (e.g., Xenomorph in Alien series). What makes us think, however, that entities from a completely different part of the universe will be able to communicate with us? What happens if it turns out that we are so different, that any communication or even noticing each other is impossible?

Such a disturbing, but in my opinion probable, idea was used in, for instance, Blindsight by Peter Watts and Stanisław Lem’s Solaris. The beings portrayed in those novels are something completely different, not fitting the world we know. Philip K. Dick followed a similar path in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. The first contact presented in his novel basically makes our reality and beliefs collapse, distorts them, and then turn them into some kind of narcotic nightmare. Sounds like a real treat for weird fiction fans, right? The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is one of the most disturbing novels I have ever read. In my opinion, it should rightfully be mentioned in conversations discussing masterpieces of this genre.  

Something which stands with empty, open hands is not God. It’s a creature fashioned by something higher than itself, as we were; God wasn’t fashioned and He isn’t puzzled.

What if we found out that God is a Palmer Eldritch-like entity? Would we be able to accept living in such a reality? Or maybe we would try to get rid out of him and try to take his place? The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch provoke the reader to ask himself such questions. 

Summing up:

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is without a doubt one of the best weird sci-fi novels ever written. By sending us into a world harrassed by Palmer Eldritch’s disturbing visions, Philip K. Dick makes us question the reality as we know it and ask ourselves a lot of questions concerning faith, God and possible first contact with other civilization. If you are looking for a good, ambitious novel – this one shouldn’t disappoint you.

Have you read The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch? What are your thoughts? Which Philip K. Dick’s novel is your favorite? Please let me know in the comments.

You can buy the book here:

Thomas Ligotti "Teatro Grottesco"

“Teatro Grottesco” Thomas Ligotti – book review

I have recently written posts about weird fiction novels such as The Fisherman by Joseph Langan, Borne by Jeff VanderMeer and Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany. This time I decided to take a closer look at Thomas Ligotti’s short story collection – Teatro Grottesco. Is it really a masterpiece of weird literature? Let’s find out. 

"Teatro Grottesco" Thomas Ligotti - Weird Pond review

Thomas Ligotti

I think that for starters, we should mention a few words about Teatro Grottesco’s author and also the weird fiction genre itself. As a teenager, Ligotti liked to read horror stories written by famous writers like Algernon Blackwood or M.R. James. He admits though that Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Brunon Schulz had a bigger influence on his works. Now he is considered to be one of the leading authors when it comes to philosophical horror, and his stories are slowly beginning to gain recognition also in the eyes of readers, who are not weird fiction passionates. Interestingly, you can find references to Ligotti’s works in top-rated TV series – True Detective

Nothing belongs to us. Everything is something that is rented out. Our very heads are filled with rented ideas passed on from one generation to the next.

Weird fiction literature 

What makes weird fiction different from ordinary horror? Well, the main goal of authors creating in this genre is not to simply frighten the reader, but to evoke in him feeling of anxiety, usually caused by confrontation with the unknown. I think that Ligotti’s works perfectly fit this definition. Their task is to draw the reader into a surreal, nightmare-like world, which will stay in his imagination long after finishing the book. If you would like to learn more about the weird fiction genre, I can recommend, for example, reading this article by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Ligotti’s short stories

The attic is not haunting your head – your head is haunting the attic. Some heads are more haunted than others, whether they are haunted by ghosts or by gods or by creatures from outer space.

Unlike authors such as H.P. Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard, Ligotti did not create one consistent universe for works. While reading, however, you can see some similarities between places mentioned in his stories – they are usually degenerated, fallen towns. The “town near the northern border” and its grotesque inhabitants are a perfect example of this.  

While taking a closer look at characters in Ligotti’s stories, it’s easy to notice that we usually don’t get much information about them – only that they suffer from some physical or mental ailments and are social outcasts. Then, suddenly, in one way or another, they are confronted with some distortion of reality – stranger recordings, peculiar amusement park or a mysterious organization hunting artists. If we take under consideration the fact, that Ligotti’s characters are ofter on the verge of madness from the get-go, we can never be really sure whether the encounter with the unknown actually took place or whether it was merely a delusion of sick person. I think, however, that this issue if of marginal importance when it comes to this writer’s works. In his stories, the human psyche and how it reacts when collided with the weird take the spotlight. 

There is no way out of the nightmare once you have gone so far into its depths.

I think that it’s also worth to notice, that Ligotti’s character’s mental states, usually correspond with the distortions of reality around them. To some extent, it even reflects their minds. 

Teatro Grottesco

In this short story collection, we can find some of the author’s most famous works. The first one is Purity – a text, which in my opinion, inspired an excellent browser game My father’s long long legs. A family moves into a fallen town, and the father decides to start using the basement for his mysterious research.

The next story is The Town Manager. Shortly after the official mentioned in the title disappear, which, as it turns out, is nothing new for the local community, residents start to look for his successor. You can quickly notice that each next manager is more degenerated manifestation, brought to life by some unknown force whose one and only goal seems to sow chaos.  

One of my favorite short stories included in Teatro Grottesco is definitely The Clown Puppet. The main character has visions of a weird jester-like creature manifestations, and in the end, he has to confront his nightmare in a really disturbing finale. Truly a tremendous weird fiction story.

If asked to name the definitive image in Lovecraft, one might likely say its tentacles flailing from the body of a monster. For me, it would probably be puppets, manikins, and clown-like things, even though these are more often a matter of metaphor than a literal presence of a monstrous type. Nevertheless, if Lovecraft’s tentacle monsters and my puppets and so on fought each other, I think the monsters would win. Thomas Ligotti

However, I was impressed the most by Teatro Grottesco, Gas station carnivals, and The Bungalow House. Each of them is a true masterpiece when it comes to build a nightmarish, disturbing atmosphere. If I had to recommend someone a shorty story capable of showing what’s best in weird fiction, I would probably pick of the texts mentioned above. 

I think that it’s also worth to mention that Teatro Grottesco includes stories belonging to sub-genre called corporate horror. The author, for instance, tells us a story about a world which is being slowly taken over by a big pharmaceutical company. Actually the history presented in the text sounds disturbingly probable. All in all – every story included in this collection is definitely worth reading. 

Summing up:

Weird fiction stories by Thomas Ligotti are perfect examples showing, that horror, often associated with light entertainment, can be a really ambitious literature. In my opinion, Teatro Grottesco is a masterpiece that I can honestly recommend to any book lover, who is ready to plunge into a disturbing, surreal world of nightmares created by the author. 

Grade: 10/10

Have you read any short stories by Thomas Ligotti? Which one is your favorite, and why? Please let me know in the comments section.

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Thomas Ligotti "Teatro Grottesco"

“Teatro Grottesco” Thomas Ligotti

I have recently written posts about weird fiction novels such as The Fisherman by Joseph Langan, Borne by Jeff VanderMeer and Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany. This time I decided to take a closer look at Thomas Ligotti’s short story collection – Teatro Grottesco. Is it really a masterpiece of weird literature? Let’s find out. 

"Teatro Grottesco" Thomas Ligotti - Weird Pond review

Thomas Ligotti

I think that for starters, we should mention a few words about Teatro Grottesco’s author and also the weird fiction genre itself. As a teenager, Ligotti liked to read horror stories written by famous writers like Algernon Blackwood or M.R. James. He admits though that Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Brunon Schulz had a bigger influence on his works. Now he is considered to be one of the leading authors when it comes to philosophical horror, and his stories are slowly beginning to gain recognition also in the eyes of readers, who are not weird fiction passionates. Interestingly, you can find references to Ligotti’s works in top-rated TV series – True Detective

Nothing belongs to us. Everything is something that is rented out. Our very heads are filled with rented ideas passed on from one generation to the next.

Weird fiction literature 

What makes weird fiction different from ordinary horror? Well, the main goal of authors creating in this genre is not to simply frighten the reader, but to evoke in him feeling of anxiety, usually caused by confrontation with the unknown. I think that Ligotti’s works perfectly fit this definition. Their task is to draw the reader into a surreal, nightmare-like world, which will stay in his imagination long after finishing the book. If you would like to learn more about the weird fiction genre, I can recommend, for example, reading this article by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Ligotti’s short stories

The attic is not haunting your head – your head is haunting the attic. Some heads are more haunted than others, whether they are haunted by ghosts or by gods or by creatures from outer space.

Unlike authors such as H.P. Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard, Ligotti did not create one consistent universe for works. While reading, however, you can see some similarities between places mentioned in his stories – they are usually degenerated, fallen towns. The “town near the northern border” and its grotesque inhabitants are a perfect example of this.  

While taking a closer look at characters in Ligotti’s stories, it’s easy to notice that we usually don’t get much information about them – only that they suffer from some physical or mental ailments and are social outcasts. Then, suddenly, in one way or another, they are confronted with some distortion of reality – stranger recordings, peculiar amusement park or a mysterious organization hunting artists. If we take under consideration the fact, that Ligotti’s characters are ofter on the verge of madness from the get-go, we can never be really sure whether the encounter with the unknown actually took place or whether it was merely a delusion of sick person. I think, however, that this issue if of marginal importance when it comes to this writer’s works. In his stories, the human psyche and how it reacts when collided with the weird take the spotlight. 

There is no way out of the nightmare once you have gone so far into its depths.

I think that it’s also worth to notice, that Ligotti’s character’s mental states, usually correspond with the distortions of reality around them. To some extent, it even reflects their minds. 

Teatro Grottesco

In this short story collection, we can find some of the author’s most famous works. The first one is Purity – a text, which in my opinion, inspired an excellent browser game My father’s long long legs. A family moves into a fallen town, and the father decides to start using the basement for his mysterious research.

The next story is The Town Manager. Shortly after the official mentioned in the title disappear, which, as it turns out, is nothing new for the local community, residents start to look for his successor. You can quickly notice that each next manager is more degenerated manifestation, brought to life by some unknown force whose one and only goal seems to sow chaos.  

One of my favorite short stories included in Teatro Grottesco is definitely The Clown Puppet. The main character has visions of a weird jester-like creature manifestations, and in the end, he has to confront his nightmare in a really disturbing finale. Truly a tremendous weird fiction story.

If asked to name the definitive image in Lovecraft, one might likely say its tentacles flailing from the body of a monster. For me, it would probably be puppets, manikins, and clown-like things, even though these are more often a matter of metaphor than a literal presence of a monstrous type. Nevertheless, if Lovecraft’s tentacle monsters and my puppets and so on fought each other, I think the monsters would win. Thomas Ligotti

However, I was impressed the most by Teatro Grottesco, Gas station carnivals, and The Bungalow House. Each of them is a true masterpiece when it comes to build a nightmarish, disturbing atmosphere. If I had to recommend someone a shorty story capable of showing what’s best in weird fiction, I would probably pick of the texts mentioned above. 

I think that it’s also worth to mention that Teatro Grottesco includes stories belonging to sub-genre called corporate horror. The author, for instance, tells us a story about a world which is being slowly taken over by a big pharmaceutical company. Actually the history presented in the text sounds disturbingly probable. All in all – every story included in this collection is definitely worth reading. 

Summing up:

Weird fiction stories by Thomas Ligotti are perfect examples showing, that horror, often associated with light entertainment, can be a really ambitious literature. In my opinion, Teatro Grottesco is a masterpiece that I can honestly recommend to any book lover, who is ready to plunge into a disturbing, surreal world of nightmares created by the author. 

Grade: 10/10

Have you read any short stories by Thomas Ligotti? Which one is your favorite, and why? Please let me know in the comments section.

You can buy the book here:

Samuel R. Delany - "Dhalgren"

“Dhalgren” Samuel R. Delany – book review

Some time ago, during shopping for books on Amazon, I stumbled upon the series called SF Masterworks. One of the titles immediately picked my curiosity — Dhalgren by Samuel Delany. Science fiction novel with weird fiction elements? Count me in! Was it worth reading? Let’s find out.

PS. You might also want to check out our previous reviews – The Fisherman by John Langan and Borne by Jeff VanderMeer.

"Dhalgren" Samuel R. Delany - review

Dhalgren is one of the most controversial sci-fi novels I have heard of — some call it a masterpiece, while others consider it to be incomprehensible gibberish (for instance Philip K. Dick thought so). Well, I think it’s a little bit of both.

You have confused the true and real

First of all, let’s take a look at the times in which Dhalgren was created (1974). Those were really intense year in the United States — protests against war, the fight for human rights or the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Also, shortly before writing his most know novel, Samuel Delany suffered a serious nervous breakdown. All aforementioned factors inspired a book, which William Gibson, the author of, for instance, Neuromancer) called a riddle not meant to be solved

The action takes place in a ruined, fallen city called Bellona, which brings to mind associations with the nightmarish Hideo Kojima’s Silent Hill. Due to some disaster, the town’s population fell from two million to about a thousand. The remaining inhabitants created bizarre communities, they don’t have even the slightest idea what year is his (tho local newspaper changes the randomly changes the dates every day), two moons are visible in the sky, and in many places, you can see posters of some well know rapist. Moral principles don’t exist anymore. The picture of destroyed, mysterious Bellona is, in my opinion, the most impressive element of this novel and it stayed with me for a long time after I had finished Dhalgren. 

The main character of Samuel Delany’s novel is a man in his late twenties, schizophrenic who does not remember his name. The author repeatedly shows us ambiguities concerning him — a hero and criminal, gentle and brutal, poet and a cheater or the fact, that he looks much younger than he actually is. While reading Dhalgren you can notice some similarities between the main character and Samuel Delany himself — for instance, mental illness or problems with determining his sexual orientation. How will the stay in surreal Bellona end for the man? Well, the novel doesn’t really offer the answer to this question, or at least not in the traditional sense.

Dhalgren also reminded me of the works of David Lynch. In the novel, you can find the overwhelming, oneiric atmosphere, strange, even absurd at times dialogues and dream-like visions, natural for this director. However, when it comes to accessibility, Delany’s book is much more like Inland Empire than for example first two seasons of Twin Peaks. Despite their absurdity, most Lynch films tell a story and in one way or another, reward the patient viewer who decided to make an effort and delve into the world depicted in the movie. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way with Dhalgren.  

There is no articulate resonance. The common problem, I suppose, is to have more to say than vocabulary and syntax can bear. That is why I am hunting in these desiccated streets. The smoke hides the sky’s variety, stains consciousness, covers the holocaust with something safe and insubstantial. It protects from greater flame. It indicates fire, but obscures the source. This is not a useful city. Very little here approaches any eidolon of the beautiful.

I definitely agree with William Gibson and his opinion, that Delany’s novel is a mystery without solution and after finishing it, we fall into the loop which leads us straight to the beginning of the book. The disturbing vision of the world without rules, overexaggerating the events which took place in the 1960s and 70s, elements of various mythologies, distorting people and their sense of morality allowed Delany to create a place, where weird feels known and normal, while the reality as we know it seems strange and distant. 

There are many theories trying to solve Dhalgren’s riddle. Which one is correct? Well, in my opinion, there is no one right answer to this question. I think that Delany’s main goal was to give us certain weird experience and if it’s true — he definitely succeeded. 

Summing up:

Despite the fact that during my adventure with Dhalgren I often doubted if I will be able to finish the book (especially in the second half which is really brutal) and no real answer to the novel’s riddle, I don’t regret reading it. As I said, Delany’s book is a piece of art, it’s aim is to leave us with a certain feeling. For me, the fallen city of Bellona is one of the most haunting literary experiences and a real treat for every weird fiction fan. I think, that Dhalgren is at worst worth giving it a try.

Grade: 7/10

Have you read this book? What do you think about Dhalgren? Please let us know in the comments.

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Samuel R. Delany - "Dhalgren"

“Dhalgren” Samuel R. Delany – review

Some time ago, during shopping for books on Amazon, I stumbled upon the series called SF Masterworks. One of the titles immediately picked my curiosity — Dhalgren by Samuel Delany. Science fiction novel with weird fiction elements? Count me in! Was it worth reading? Let’s find out.

PS. You might also want to check out our previous reviews – The Fisherman by John Langan and Borne by Jeff VanderMeer.

"Dhalgren" Samuel R. Delany - review

Dhalgren is one of the most controversial sci-fi novels I have heard of — some call it a masterpiece, while others consider it to be incomprehensible gibberish (for instance Philip K. Dick thought so). Well, I think it’s a little bit of both.

You have confused the true and real

First of all, let’s take a look at the times in which Dhalgren was created (1974). Those were really intense year in the United States — protests against war, the fight for human rights or the possibility of nuclear annihilation. Also, shortly before writing his most know novel, Samuel Delany suffered a serious nervous breakdown. All aforementioned factors inspired a book, which William Gibson, the author of, for instance, Neuromancer) called a riddle not meant to be solved

The action takes place in a ruined, fallen city called Bellona, which brings to mind associations with the nightmarish Hideo Kojima’s Silent Hill. Due to some disaster, the town’s population fell from two million to about a thousand. The remaining inhabitants created bizarre communities, they don’t have even the slightest idea what year is his (tho local newspaper changes the randomly changes the dates every day), two moons are visible in the sky, and in many places, you can see posters of some well know rapist. Moral principles don’t exist anymore. The picture of destroyed, mysterious Bellona is, in my opinion, the most impressive element of this novel and it stayed with me for a long time after I had finished Dhalgren. 

The main character of Samuel Delany’s novel is a man in his late twenties, schizophrenic who does not remember his name. The author repeatedly shows us ambiguities concerning him — a hero and criminal, gentle and brutal, poet and a cheater or the fact, that he looks much younger than he actually is. While reading Dhalgren you can notice some similarities between the main character and Samuel Delany himself — for instance, mental illness or problems with determining his sexual orientation. How will the stay in surreal Bellona end for the man? Well, the novel doesn’t really offer the answer to this question, or at least not in the traditional sense.

Dhalgren also reminded me of the works of David Lynch. In the novel, you can find the overwhelming, oneiric atmosphere, strange, even absurd at times dialogues and dream-like visions, natural for this director. However, when it comes to accessibility, Delany’s book is much more like Inland Empire than for example first two seasons of Twin Peaks. Despite their absurdity, most Lynch films tell a story and in one way or another, reward the patient viewer who decided to make an effort and delve into the world depicted in the movie. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way with Dhalgren.  

There is no articulate resonance. The common problem, I suppose, is to have more to say than vocabulary and syntax can bear. That is why I am hunting in these desiccated streets. The smoke hides the sky’s variety, stains consciousness, covers the holocaust with something safe and insubstantial. It protects from greater flame. It indicates fire, but obscures the source. This is not a useful city. Very little here approaches any eidolon of the beautiful.

I definitely agree with William Gibson and his opinion, that Delany’s novel is a mystery without solution and after finishing it, we fall into the loop which leads us straight to the beginning of the book. The disturbing vision of the world without rules, overexaggerating the events which took place in the 1960s and 70s, elements of various mythologies, distorting people and their sense of morality allowed Delany to create a place, where weird feels known and normal, while the reality as we know it seems strange and distant. 

There are many theories trying to solve Dhalgren’s riddle. Which one is correct? Well, in my opinion, there is no one right answer to this question. I think that Delany’s main goal was to give us certain weird experience and if it’s true — he definitely succeeded. 

Summing up:

Despite the fact that during my adventure with Dhalgren I often doubted if I will be able to finish the book (especially in the second half which is really brutal) and no real answer to the novel’s riddle, I don’t regret reading it. As I said, Delany’s book is a piece of art, it’s aim is to leave us with a certain feeling. For me, the fallen city of Bellona is one of the most haunting literary experiences and a real treat for every weird fiction fan. I think, that Dhalgren is at worst worth giving it a try.

Grade: 7/10

Have you read this book? What do you think about Dhalgren? Please let us know in the comments.

You can buy the book here:

“Borne” Jeff VanderMeer – book review

After reading great Jeff VanderMeer’s anthology The Weird, I decided to also check out other books by this author and my first choice was Borne. Quickly after being published, the novel became a bestseller and received widespread critical acclaim. Why? Let’s find out.

PS. If you like weird fiction, you might also be interested in our previous review – The Fisherman by John Langan. 

"Borne" Jeff VanderMeer - review

“We all just want to be people, and none of us know what that really means.”

Borne’s action takes place in a ruined, nameless city, which fell victim to some unspecified ecological disaster. In addition to the remains of humanity divided into several rival factions, the town is also inhabited by genetically modified animals — remnants of experiments conducted by mysterious Company. gruesomely deformed children and the king of this fallen world — giant flying bear called Mord. In order for the picture of the universe skillfully created by Jeff VanderMeer to be complete, you simply cannot forget about the poisonous river flowing through the city, ofter acid rains and the atmosphere of decay prevailing pretty much everywhere. That’s the world where the heroine of the novel, Rahel, finds peculiar, anemone-like creature — Borne.

Preliminary sketch of the Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer (other graphics are available on the author’s Twitter)

Despite the lack of information about the creature’s history or abilities, the woman decides to take care of him. Two of them quickly bond and over time their relationship starts to resemble the one between mother and child. Besides Borne and Rachel, one of the main characters in the novel is Wick — biotechnology trader and former employee of the Company. What secrets does the past of each of these characters hide? What kind of role did they play in the spectacular fall of the city? What is hidden at the lower levels of the Company’s ruins? You can find answers to all these questions in Borne.

From the first to the last page of VanderMeer’s novel, the reader is accompanied by a bizarre, often disturbing atmosphere, pretty typical when it comes to this author’s works. One of the main topics discussed in Borne is our identity and what does it really mean to be human. Thanks to the huge amount of understatements and mysteries complimented by dense post-apocalyptic surroundings, the author forces us to put the story together by ourselves, which in the end leads us to a kind of dark reverie and makes us think about future of our species. 

Well-constructed characters (maybe with a small exception) are also a big advantage of VanderMeer’s weird fiction novel. They always make decisions in accordance with their personalities and previous experience. Using the relationship between Rachel and Borne, the author repeatedly provokes the reader to consider to what extent can we change someone’s nature. The creature often asks his foster mother a really difficult question “Am I a real person?”. As you can imagine, the answer is not simple. 

One of the most interesting themes appearing in Born is the story of the mysterious Company, whose ruins are full of failed genetic experiments and dark, bizarre secrets. By choosing to leave it actually nameless, the author not only leaves another puzzle for the reader but also directs the spotlights to what is the most important in Borne — tales of each person’s tragedy. In my opinion, mentioning that all main characters are connected with the Company with one war or another, will not be a spoiler.

I must admit that the experience of reading Born, for me, was really similar to the one I had with Gene Wolfe’s Peace. Some parts of the story you have to figure out by yourself, others start making sense only when you read them again, while few of them never get any definite answer. Although very demanding and sometimes just hard to read, VanderMeer’s Borne, in my opinion, is undoubtedly worth the effort.

When it comes to drawbacks of the novel, I think that similarly to the aforementioned Gene Wolfe’s Peace, the entry barrier for the reader is pretty high. If you don’t focus on the details and breadcrumbs left by the author, Borne will turn out to be just another post-apocalyptic story.

Summing up:

Borne is a very original post-apocalyptic weird fiction novel, definitely worth reading. With an interesting, thought-provoking story and well-constructed characters, VanderMeer’s book is a tempting proposition for any reader ready to take on the challenge. If you are looking for an ambitious novel, Borne, in my opinion, shouldn’t disappoint you. 

Grade: 8/10

What do you think about Borne? Have you read any other VanderMeer’s books? 

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“Borne” Jeff VanderMeer

After reading great Jeff VanderMeer’s anthology The Weird, I decided to also check out other books by this author and my first choice was Borne. Quickly after being published, the novel became a bestseller and received widespread critical acclaim. Why? Let’s find out.

PS. If you like weird fiction, you might also be interested in our previous review – The Fisherman by John Langan. 

"Borne" Jeff VanderMeer - review

“We all just want to be people, and none of us know what that really means.”

Borne’s action takes place in a ruined, nameless city, which fell victim to some unspecified ecological disaster. In addition to the remains of humanity divided into several rival factions, the town is also inhabited by genetically modified animals — remnants of experiments conducted by mysterious Company. gruesomely deformed children and the king of this fallen world — giant flying bear called Mord. In order for the picture of the universe skillfully created by Jeff VanderMeer to be complete, you simply cannot forget about the poisonous river flowing through the city, ofter acid rains and the atmosphere of decay prevailing pretty much everywhere. That’s the world where the heroine of the novel, Rahel, finds peculiar, anemone-like creature — Borne.

Preliminary sketch of the Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer (other graphics are available on the author’s Twitter)

Despite the lack of information about the creature’s history or abilities, the woman decides to take care of him. Two of them quickly bond and over time their relationship starts to resemble the one between mother and child. Besides Borne and Rachel, one of the main characters in the novel is Wick — biotechnology trader and former employee of the Company. What secrets does the past of each of these characters hide? What kind of role did they play in the spectacular fall of the city? What is hidden at the lower levels of the Company’s ruins? You can find answers to all these questions in Borne.

From the first to the last page of VanderMeer’s novel, the reader is accompanied by a bizarre, often disturbing atmosphere, pretty typical when it comes to this author’s works. One of the main topics discussed in Borne is our identity and what does it really mean to be human. Thanks to the huge amount of understatements and mysteries complimented by dense post-apocalyptic surroundings, the author forces us to put the story together by ourselves, which in the end leads us to a kind of dark reverie and makes us think about future of our species. 

Well-constructed characters (maybe with a small exception) are also a big advantage of VanderMeer’s weird fiction novel. They always make decisions in accordance with their personalities and previous experience. Using the relationship between Rachel and Borne, the author repeatedly provokes the reader to consider to what extent can we change someone’s nature. The creature often asks his foster mother a really difficult question “Am I a real person?”. As you can imagine, the answer is not simple. 

One of the most interesting themes appearing in Born is the story of the mysterious Company, whose ruins are full of failed genetic experiments and dark, bizarre secrets. By choosing to leave it actually nameless, the author not only leaves another puzzle for the reader but also directs the spotlights to what is the most important in Borne — tales of each person’s tragedy. In my opinion, mentioning that all main characters are connected with the Company with one war or another, will not be a spoiler.

I must admit that the experience of reading Born, for me, was really similar to the one I had with Gene Wolfe’s Peace. Some parts of the story you have to figure out by yourself, others start making sense only when you read them again, while few of them never get any definite answer. Although very demanding and sometimes just hard to read, VanderMeer’s Borne, in my opinion, is undoubtedly worth the effort.

When it comes to drawbacks of the novel, I think that similarly to the aforementioned Gene Wolfe’s Peace, the entry barrier for the reader is pretty high. If you don’t focus on the details and breadcrumbs left by the author, Borne will turn out to be just another post-apocalyptic story.

Summing up:

Borne is a very original post-apocalyptic weird fiction novel, definitely worth reading. With an interesting, thought-provoking story and well-constructed characters, VanderMeer’s book is a tempting proposition for any reader ready to take on the challenge. If you are looking for an ambitious novel, Borne, in my opinion, shouldn’t disappoint you. 

Grade: 8/10

What do you think about Borne? Have you read any other VanderMeer’s books? 

You can buy the book here:

“The Fisherman” John Langan – book review

After publishing a few articles concerning weird fiction books and stories, I have decided to start reading another highly rated novel from this genre — John Langan’s The Fisherman. Is the Bram Stoker Award’s winner really worth the read? Let’s find out.

"The Fisherman" John Langan - review

I’ve stood on the shore of an ocean whose waves were as black as the ink trailing from the tip of this pen. I’ve watched a woman with skin pale as moonlight open her mouth, and open it, and open it, into a cavern set with rows of serrated teeth that would have been at home in a shark’s jaw.

Before we take a closer look at The Fisherman’s plot, I would like to dedicate a few words to the edition itself. The choice of the cover illustration was a brilliant move by Word Horde publishing house. Albert Bierstadt’s Puget Sound of the Pacific Coast perfectly fits the story told by John Langan and after you are done reading the book, I strongly recommend taking another look at the cover. Ok, now that the credit has been given, where the credit’s due, we can move on to the novel’s plot.

The Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, Albert Bierstadt, 1870.

The Fisherman — the story of overcoming grief

What’s lost is lost.

One of the main topics discussed in John Langan’s The Fisherman is pain associated with the loss of our closest ones. At the very beginning of the novel, Abe, the narrator, whose wife died of cancer, states that other people’s compassion quickly fades away and sooner or later you are left alone with your pain. Trying to deal with his pain, The Fisherman’s protagonist decides to take up a new hobby, which might distract him from his sorrow. The choice is fishing.

After few years Abe is joined on his trips by his colleague from work Dan — a man who also lost family in a terrible accident. Right now it’s worth to mention that characters created by John Langan are painfully credible which allows the reader to identify and sympathize with them in their suffering.

Some things are so bad that just to have been near them taints you, leaves a spot of badness in your soul like a bare patch in the forest where nothing will grow.

Having read The Fisherman, you might interpret the quote above in two different ways. Firstly it’s really easy to just assume that it concerns the Lovecraftian nightmares hiding behind the veil of reality. That after interacting with something otherworldly disturbing, a person simply cannot keep to its sanity. On the other hand though, if the focus on the pain both main characters had experienced before taking a sneak peek under the world’s mask, we can see that the aforementioned quote, in fact, concerns the pain associated with losing someone we love. In his novel, John Langan decided to confront his protagonists with a dark folk legend, which might give them a glimmer of hope to somehow reconnect with their deceased loved ones. How far will they go to reach this goal? How much are they willing to sacrifice?

The Fisherman — a weird fiction masterpiece

Maybe whoever, or whatever, is running the show isn’t so nice. Maybe he’s evil, or mad, or bored, disinterested. Maybe we’ve got everything completely wrong, everything, and if we could look through the mas, what we’d see would destroy us.

John Langan skillfully, with great attention to detail, creates an atmosphere of terror and uneasiness, while slowly introducing us to the novel’s universe. It’s hard to argue with Laird Barron’s opinion, The Fisherman sometimes brings to mind the stories by M.R. James and Robert E. Howard. Some parts of Langan’s book look like a classic slow burner, where we from time to time get scraps of information, which bring us closer to a dark revelation. After a moment, though, Langan serves us exciting, energetic action, with which even Conan’s creator wouldn’t be ashamed of. For my part, I would also like to add that suggestive descriptions of nature and surrealistic reality created by Langan bring to mind an association with another weird fiction classic — Algernon Blackwood.

Characters in weird fiction stories usually at some point interact with something weird (mostly in a dark way), somehow inappropriate for the reality as we know it. It’s no different when it comes to The Fisherman. Getting to know the dark folk legend of Der Fisher is such an experience for Abe and Dan. Black magic, exorcisms, surrealistic visions resembling our worst nightmares and powerful, hard to comprehend forces, which might easily find their places in Lovecraft’s universe — you will find all those things and more in Langan’s novel.

The story inside a story

One of The Fisherman’s characters mentions, that telling stories is an integral part of fishing. In books, movies or computer games we can often encounter old, experienced fisherman sharing terrifying stories from his time at sea. Obviously, there is a downpour outside and lightning from time to time brightens the sky. In my opinion, The Fisherman is, to some extent, a tribute to this kind of storytelling.

In his novel, Langan included two stories, distant by time, but otherwise strongly related. The first one focuses on the aforementioned characters — Abe and Dan, while the other one is told by the owner of a bar for fishermen. The second one clearly refers to Henry Melville’s Moby Dick (we can even find a quote from this classic at the very beginning of The Fisherman). If you take a closer look at the story I’m sure you will be able to find many more references to other famous books and authors.

Summing up:

The Fisherman is one of the best weird fiction novels I have ever read. The wonderful, fluid narrative, surreal visions, and disturbing atmosphere make reading John Langan’s book pure pleasure. A real treat for the fans of horror literature.

Grade: 9/10

Have you read The Fisherman? What are your thoughts after finishing this novel?

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“The Fisherman” John Langan – weird fiction masterpiece

After publishing a few articles concerning weird fiction books and stories, I have decided to start reading another highly rated novel from this genre — John Langan’s The Fisherman. Is the Bram Stoker Award’s winner really worth the read? Let’s find out.

"The Fisherman" John Langan - review

I’ve stood on the shore of an ocean whose waves were as black as the ink trailing from the tip of this pen. I’ve watched a woman with skin pale as moonlight open her mouth, and open it, and open it, into a cavern set with rows of serrated teeth that would have been at home in a shark’s jaw.

Before we take a closer look at The Fisherman’s plot, I would like to dedicate a few words to the edition itself. The choice of the cover illustration was a brilliant move by Word Horde publishing house. Albert Bierstadt’s Puget Sound of the Pacific Coast perfectly fits the story told by John Langan and after you are done reading the book, I strongly recommend taking another look at the cover. Ok, now that the credit has been given, where the credit’s due, we can move on to the novel’s plot.

The Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, Albert Bierstadt, 1870.

The Fisherman — the story of overcoming grief

What’s lost is lost.

One of the main topics discussed in John Langan’s The Fisherman is pain associated with the loss of our closest ones. At the very beginning of the novel, Abe, the narrator, whose wife died of cancer, states that other people’s compassion quickly fades away and sooner or later you are left alone with your pain. Trying to deal with his pain, The Fisherman’s protagonist decides to take up a new hobby, which might distract him from his sorrow. The choice is fishing.

After few years Abe is joined on his trips by his colleague from work Dan — a man who also lost family in a terrible accident. Right now it’s worth to mention that characters created by John Langan are painfully credible which allows the reader to identify and sympathize with them in their suffering.

Some things are so bad that just to have been near them taints you, leaves a spot of badness in your soul like a bare patch in the forest where nothing will grow.

Having read The Fisherman, you might interpret the quote above in two different ways. Firstly it’s really easy to just assume that it concerns the Lovecraftian nightmares hiding behind the veil of reality. That after interacting with something otherworldly disturbing, a person simply cannot keep to its sanity. On the other hand though, if the focus on the pain both main characters had experienced before taking a sneak peek under the world’s mask, we can see that the aforementioned quote, in fact, concerns the pain associated with losing someone we love. In his novel, John Langan decided to confront his protagonists with a dark folk legend, which might give them a glimmer of hope to somehow reconnect with their deceased loved ones. How far will they go to reach this goal? How much are they willing to sacrifice?

The Fisherman — a weird fiction masterpiece

Maybe whoever, or whatever, is running the show isn’t so nice. Maybe he’s evil, or mad, or bored, disinterested. Maybe we’ve got everything completely wrong, everything, and if we could look through the mas, what we’d see would destroy us.

John Langan skillfully, with great attention to detail, creates an atmosphere of terror and uneasiness, while slowly introducing us to the novel’s universe. It’s hard to argue with Laird Barron’s opinion, The Fisherman sometimes brings to mind the stories by M.R. James and Robert E. Howard. Some parts of Langan’s book look like a classic slow burner, where we from time to time get scraps of information, which bring us closer to a dark revelation. After a moment, though, Langan serves us exciting, energetic action, with which even Conan’s creator wouldn’t be ashamed of. For my part, I would also like to add that suggestive descriptions of nature and surrealistic reality created by Langan bring to mind an association with another weird fiction classic — Algernon Blackwood.

Characters in weird fiction stories usually at some point interact with something weird (mostly in a dark way), somehow inappropriate for the reality as we know it. It’s no different when it comes to The Fisherman. Getting to know the dark folk legend of Der Fisher is such an experience for Abe and Dan. Black magic, exorcisms, surrealistic visions resembling our worst nightmares and powerful, hard to comprehend forces, which might easily find their places in Lovecraft’s universe — you will find all those things and more in Langan’s novel.

The story inside a story

One of The Fisherman’s characters mentions, that telling stories is an integral part of fishing. In books, movies or computer games we can often encounter old, experienced fisherman sharing terrifying stories from his time at sea. Obviously, there is a downpour outside and lightning from time to time brightens the sky. In my opinion, The Fisherman is, to some extent, a tribute to this kind of storytelling.

In his novel, Langan included two stories, distant by time, but otherwise strongly related. The first one focuses on the aforementioned characters — Abe and Dan, while the other one is told by the owner of a bar for fishermen. The second one clearly refers to Henry Melville’s Moby Dick (we can even find a quote from this classic at the very beginning of The Fisherman). If you take a closer look at the story I’m sure you will be able to find many more references to other famous books and authors.

Summing up:

The Fisherman is one of the best weird fiction novels I have ever read. The wonderful, fluid narrative, surreal visions, and disturbing atmosphere make reading John Langan’s book pure pleasure. A real treat for the fans of horror literature.

Grade: 9/10

Have you read The Fisherman? What are your thoughts after finishing this novel?

You can buy the book here: