“Agents of Dreamland” Caitlin R. Kiernan

Recently I have read two excellent short story collections – The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett and Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti, which I can honestly recommend to any weird fiction fan. This time I decided to read Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland, a novelette which won the Bram Stoker Award in 2017. Why is it worth reading? Let’s find out. 

"Agents of Dreamland" Caitlin R. Kiernan - Weird Pond Review

Eventually you’ve got to understand that an answer isn’t the same thing as a solution, and a story is sometimes only an excuse. Nic Pizzolatto

Lovecraftian horror at its best

The action of Agents of Dreamland begins when a government agent called The Signalman is waiting in a typical American diner for a meeting with Immacolata Sexton, who represents another agency. They want to discuss the case of Drew Standish – leader of a bizarre cult. As it turns out, the whole situation is somehow connected with the New Horizons space probe, forgotten movie by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and even monsters from the pages of H.P. Lovecraft’s books.

“Only our minds,” says the alchemist, “need to leave this sphere and make the long, cold journey through the dark. These bodies we wear are no more, my love, than tattered garments we’ve outgrown. In this new world we’ll have new forms, new bodies.

Caitlin R. Kiernan’s novel Agents of Dreamland is full of references to short stories written by the master of horror from Providence. The cult leader uses a mysterious Black Book, Fungi from Yuggoth play a significant role throughout the whole book, and the shrine of Nyarlathotep and Azathoth turns out to be a shelter for refugees trying to survive in a city full of monsters straight out of nightmare. 

Behold the black rivers of pitch that flow under those mysterious cyclopean bridges.

The similarities do not end here. Caitlin R. Kiernan also managed to convey the overwhelming atmosphere of hopelessness which H.P. Lovecraft’s stories are famous for. The protagonists of Agents of Dreamland are confronted with unknown forces, against whom they just don’t stand a chance. I believe that the unsettling, dark atmosphere accompanying the reader from the very beginning until the last page of the novel is its most significant advantage.

The X-Files in the world of Cthulhu Mythos

… some stains sink straight through to the souls and are never coming out. 

Have you read the great short story by Neil Gaiman – A Study in Emerald? The author placed the famous detective known from Arthur Conan Doyle’s book – Sherlock Holmes, in the universe created by H.P. Lovecraft. The result, as you may have seen, was fantastic. The situation is similar when it comes to Agents of Dreamland – Caitlin R. Kiernan utilized the world of Cthulhu Mythos and enriched it with government intrigues and intelligence agencies continually trying to maintain people in blissful ignorance. Sounds like a script for a perfect The X-Files episode, right? Let’s also add some elements straight out from David Lynch’s movies, and the result will be terrific.

Caitlin R. Kiernan slowly and skillfully reveals us further information concerning The Signalman, Immacolata, and the mysterious cult led by Drew Standish. With each new clue, we discover more and more dark secrets hidden in Agents of Dreamland plot, leading us to a terrifying finale. The author’s beautiful style, which significantly intensifies the feeling of anxiety accompanying us while reading, is just cherry the cherry on top. For instance, the unsettling image of fallen City, where mutated people and animals fight for survival, made a huge impression on me. I would definitely like to read a full-fledged novel or a collection of stories set in the universe created by Caitlin R. Kiernan. I am not even mentioning a TV series based on Agents of Dreamland, which for me, would be a dream come true.  

Summing up:

Agents of Dreamland gave me exactly what I expected from it – great entertainment mixed with the kind of anxiety, you can get only from good weird fiction works. If you have ever wondered how would a crossover between The X-Files and Lovecraft’s short stories look like – Caitlin R. Kiernan’s book, in my opinion, is as good an answer as you can get. Agents of Dreamland will undoubtedly join our list of interesting horror books which you should read. Highly recommended.  

Grade: 7.5/10

 

You can buy the book here:

“The Secret of Ventriloquism” Jon Padgett

I’ve recently written about excellent weird fiction short story collection Teatro Grottesco written by Thomas Ligotti, whereas this time I decided to take a closer look at Jon Padgett’s The Secret of Ventriloquism. Is it really a must-have for any fan of the genre? Let’s find out.

"The Secret of Ventriloquism" Jon Padgett - review

Jon Padgett

I think that before we move on to the short stories included in The Secret of Ventriloquism, the author himself deserves a few words. Jon Padgett, a rising start of weird fiction literature, is also the creator of a popular website dedicated to Thoms Ligotti and an editor of “Vastarien” magazine. Also, it’s worth to mention that the writer has experience in ventriloquism, which is one of the main topics of this short story collection. You can learn more about Jon Padgett’s works and inspirations in a fascinating introduction by another well-known writer – Matt Cardin.

Horror of ventriloquism

Finding examples of haunted dolls in pop-culture, especially when it comes to horror is a fairly simple task. For instance, The Conjuring series in cinemas, LORE Podcast and its great episode Unboxed or Goosebumps’ classic cycle The Night of The Living Dummy. The time I’ve watched Child’s Play without my parents’ permission is probably the biggest trauma of my childhood. But why is this kind of toy such a great material for horror producers?

The order of things in relationship with a doll is, or at least should be, pretty simple – we are the ones who give it name, character etc. However, the horror occurs, when these roles are reversed. In such a case, we are confronted with some unknown power, something which just doesn’t fit the reality as we know it. I have to admit that I expected a similar approach from the short story collection The Secret of Ventriloquism. I couldn’t be more wrong though – Jon Padgett followed completely different and surprising path.

In the stories written by the American author, dolls are shown in their original role – props, and the ventriloquism itself becomes the true source of horror. The author repeatedly draws our attention to the similarities between the toy and its owner, suggesting, that in fact, maybe we are also not fully responsible for our actions. This way, Jon Padgett breaks the boundaries that usually exist between a human and a doll, but instead of giving life to the latter, he questions our free will. What if there is some mysterious power behind our actions? Some peculiar ventriloquist controlling human dummies?

Accept as the days and nights go by that you are a walking skeleton, an ambulatory miracle of meat. New thoughts come, but they arrive from beyond the foam, beyond the foamy sponge of your brain. Now open your eyes.

Like some of the best writers of weird fiction genre, Jon Padgett also managed to find his original style. Thanks to which it would be difficult to confuse his works with those of some other artists.

The Secret of Ventriloquism

Now let’s take a closer look at the stories presented in JonPadgett’s short story collection The Secret of Ventriloquism. The first – The Mindfulness of Horror Practice is a disturbing instruction to guided meditation. It was inspired by Bodhipaksa’s Mindfulness of Breathing sessions. However, the conclusion here is surprising, in a dark way.

After this kind of preparation for further reading, we can move on to Murmurs of Voice Foreknown. Interestingly the title comes from the poem Warning written by another weird fiction classic – Clark Ashton Smith. In the story, we get to know two brothers. The older boy constantly abuses the younger one mentally, threatening him with an unsettling vision of a weird entity called Sam, who wants to over the child’s body. What’s more, the whole family seems to be hiding a secret. The story focuses on the personal nightmare of the younger brother and how it affects him. If you like this story, I recommend you also reading Sredni Vashtar by British writer Saki – the atmosphere there is pretty similar to Murmurs of Voice Foreknown.

Next, we can read The Indoor Swamp, which is a description of a bizarre attraction straight from some nightmarish amusement park. The thing is though, that even though no one wants to visit it, in the end everyone gets there – It’s a ride you can’t miss… no matter how terribly you wish you could. The fake, disturbing world created by Jon Padgett resembles a nightmare from some of David Lynch’s works. Great short story.

Everything that makes the world like it is now will be gone. We’ll have new rules and new ways of living. Maybe there’ll be a law not to live in houses, so then no one can hide from anyone else… – we can read this quote by Shirley Jackson at the beginning of the story Origami Dreams, and it fits the text perfectly. The narrator finds mysterious notes describing someone’s bizarre dream, or at least that’s what he wants to believe. Similarly to The Town Manager by Thomas Ligotti, also in Origami Dreams the nightmare logic of the events is the true source of horror. In this short story, we also get to know the town of Dunnstown, which will also appear in the next texts.

The instruction attached to the dummy Jon Padgett got in childhood was the inspiration for the 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism – although it had only seven steps and they were rather harmless. The first eight of them are just useful tips for anyone who would like to become a ventriloquist. Then the author gives us a choice – stop reading with basic knowledge of the art or try to explore its dark side and become so-called Greater Ventriloquist. It’s worth to mention that the manuscript of 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism will play a major role in the next texts.

Although I liked all the stories included in The Secret of Ventriloquism, The Infusorium is, without a doubt, my favorite. The description of the fallen city of Dunnstown, most of the time covered in black fog is a true weird fiction masterpiece. The protagonist here of the story is detective Tosto, who begins an investigation concerning strange events, which took place on the premises of the factory, which was closed for years. The story was inspired by the book When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and The Battle Against Pollution by Devra Davis and Berton Rouche’s article The Fog – both worth reading. The Infusorium is even more terrifying when we realize that the nightmarish black fog harassing Dunnstown is not just a literary fiction.

Organ Void, the next text included in The Secret of Ventriloquism, tells the story of a woman, who decided to buy a cardboard sign from a homeless person, having no idea what terrible consequences this decision would have. Quotes mentioned there usually come from the lecture of Eckhart Tolle, whose work had a significant impact on Jon Padgett’s book.

Now it’s time for one more weird fiction gem – The Secret of Ventriloquism itself. The story is a theater play, neatly linking all other stories together. The main character decides to use 20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism and become a Greater Ventriloquist. It’s definitely one of the most unsettling texts I have ever read, and I’m sure that no weird fiction fan will be disappointed with it. The next story, inspired by one of Thomas Ligotti’s works, Escape to Thin Mountain gracefully closes the whole book.

I think that to fully appreciate The Secret of Ventriloquism, you should consider reading it once again, already knowing the connections between the elements of the world masterfully created by Jon Padgett. As with Gene Wolfe’s Peace – it’s worth the effort.

Summing up:

The Secret of Ventriloquism is a real gem of weird fiction genre. The constant feeling of anxiety accompanying the reader throughout the whole book and unique description of the fallen Dunnstown will surely stay in the readers” memory long after putting the short story collection back on the shelf. I must admit that Jon Padgett joined my favorite weird fiction authors, and I’m looking forward to read his next works.

Have you read The Secret of Ventriloquism by Jon Padgett? Which short story is favorite? Please let me know in the comments.

You can buy the book here:

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 – 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

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 – 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: