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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: Whispers From the Abyss 2

8th Nov, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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The first Whispers From the Abyss, 'An Anthology of H. P. Lovecraft Inspired Short Fiction', appeared in 2013 and I reviewed it in Black Static #46 as part of that HPL feature I mentioned a couple of blog posts back. Two years later editor Kat Rocha and 01 Publishing returned to the fray with Whispers From the Abyss 2 and the tag line 'The Horrors That Are & Shall Be'. I didn't review that one at the time, but I'll do it now.

After an introduction by Michele Brittany, we get started with "We Are Not These Bodies, Strung Between the Stars" by A. C. Wise, which is set in a world where the Great Old Ones have already returned and everything is in flux, and against this backdrop we get the tale of a doomed love affair. It's a moving piece, both for the scale and unfathomable nature of what has happened to the world, and also for the heartfelt emotions of the narrator, who knows that her love will never be reciprocated and yet endures in her feelings. It's a promising start to this anthology. John C. Foster's "His Carnivorous Regard" has the world's wealthiest man trying to communicate with the infinite through creating a necronaut, with an investigator sent to discover what has gone wrong. It's an engaging piece, with some lively dialogue and invention, while confirming what most of us have known all along, that the 1% are every bit as eldritch and horrific as anything in HPL's pantheon.

Dreamers can enter "The Labyrinth of Sleep" in Orrin Grey's story, but in doing so they make a horrific discovery regarding what underlays our reality. As with many other stories here, the backdrop to this narrative was conceptually dazzling, giving us both cosmic horror and a philosophical reevaluation of consciousness. In Nathan Wunner's "Death May Die" an intergalactic tomb raider gets more than he bargained for when he disturbs the wrong mausoleum. There's an element of the expected to this, but the execution is excellent, with the final payoff delivering maximum chills. "The Knot" by Dennis Detwiller touches on some vast conspiracy, its protagonist encountering a time traveller who intervenes at crucial moments to preserve humanity, but has his own agenda. It's an intriguing story, one that hints at far more than is revealed. In Jonathan Sharp's "Skoptsy" two killers for hire are sent to clear squatters from an isolated farm, but encounter far more than they bargained for. There's an urgency to the prose here, while the depiction of the life of a hired gun is convincing, but the truly unsettling element of the story comes courtesy of the cultists squatting at the farm (google the title, if you need to know more).

"Red Americans" by Cody Goodfellow has the American manager at a factory in China finding out just how unusual the facility is, and even more so the staff. It's a nightmarish depiction of unbridled productivity in which people are completely dehumanised, while possibly at the same time offering comments on American capitalism and Chinese exploitation of racial minorities to show that the two are not as far apart as we might wish to think. For both there is a bottom line that needs to be met. Ferrett Steinmetz gives us the "Shadow Transit" who take into their charge children who may be able to communicate with sleeping Cthulhu, with Michelle visiting her daughter Lizzie. It's an emotive story, one in which the feelings are to the fore, with Michelle realising how much her daughter is changing, finding it increasingly hard to cling on to her humanity, and the implications of that for the whole world, with the mother and daughter bond still strong despite everything. "Baby Rhyme Time: Youngsters Enjoy Initiation at Innsmouth Public Library" by Deborah Walker is a delicious, tongue in cheek short that does exactly what it says in the title.

Tom Pinchuk's story has transient Serge seeking to follow"Nyarlathotep's Way" in the hope of improving his situation, only to find that gods will double cross you just as well as humans. It's a subtle piece, with some fine characterisation and 'engaging' cynicism at its heart. In "Strident Caller" by Laird Barron, drifter Craven finds that the wealthy woman he has fallen in with has plans for him involving an ancient ritual. Beautifully written, this is probably the best story in the anthology, one in which larger than life characters vie with madness and eldritch magic, the story pitched in ambiguous terms that add to the disturbing mood of the whole. There's a similar plot trajectory to John Palisano's "Lucky Chuck Takes the Sunshine Express" with our hero reeled in by a young girl only to find her cult has plans for him. It's a very modern take on the whole idea of Cthulhu cultists, making them seem almost happy clappy in the way they conduct themselves, but with something truly menacing at back of it all when the mask is finally pulled away.

In "Notebook Concerning the Class Struggle in Dunwich, Found in the Ruins of a Construction Site" by Kevin Wetmore an idealistic student plans to build housing for the poor on Whateley land, with predictable results. It's a textbook example of failing to ignore warnings, thinking you know better, with the character of protagonist Neil allowing the author to point a satirical finger at overly idealistic do-gooders. Michael Hudson's "Five Minutes or Less" has a dysfunctional household brought to boiling point when doorstep cultists seek to recruit the husband. It's a piece with some lovely details as the cultists make their pitch, while Ray finds their proposal very much to his liking, showing that it is only our own natures that make us vulnerable - he wants to behave badly (euphemism) and they give him a solid reason to do so. Chad Fifer's short is one of the most disturbing in the book, for what is not told about "The Baby Downstairs". I loved it. In "Gifts" by Robert Stahl a descendant of Erich Zann falls in love with the wrong woman and loses his will to keep the forces of darkness at bay. It's an intriguing fusion of Lovecraft and obsession, with some delicious grace notes along the way.

Joel Enos has alien entities that feed on human attributes emerging from a dark spot in "Now We Are Nine", the story building gradually and unsettling as the implications become obvious, the ways in which the human couple are stripped of the qualities that make them who they are to bulwark the numinous. A young boy summons a policeman to deal with "The Thing in the Fridge" with, inevitably, dire consequences in Samuel Poots' story. There's a comedic slant to this one, but I didn't feel it really worked, as if the author couldn't commit to going full on gonzo and so fell short of his intentions, the story slightly ridiculous rather than amusing. In "God Does Damn the Mind" by Marc E. Fitch a staff member at a mental hospital finds himself possessed by disturbing thoughts, gifted to him by another nurse. There's plenty to unsettle the reader in this one, both on the physical level with descriptions of nurse Ginny and the metaphysical with the implications of the whispering that the protagonist hears. Along the way the story addresses philosophical concerns as to whether suicide is the only viable option when faced by life's meaninglessness. Personally I put on a Springsteen CD.

Greg Stolze melds religion and sexual attraction and hallucinatory drugs to good effect in "I Saw the Light". In attempting to raise his consciousness the protagonist succeeds all too well, to his cost. It's an engaging story, albeit for a time one that seems reluctant to settle down, for the narrative to bed in. Perhaps the wittiest piece in the book, "Kickstarter" by Richard Lee Byers has Hezekiah Whateley trying to raise the money to wake Cthulhu, with a wonderful sales pitch and some tempting reward levels. I especially liked the line 'Have you ever wished the world could be more like a Michael Bay movie?' In David Busboom's "The Vindication of Y'Ha-Nthlei" a guy in a bar thinks it's acceptable behaviour to insult a former inhabitant of Innsmouth, and gets somewhat more than his just desserts when he takes his wife on a honeymoon cruise. It's a good tale, with the protagonist's insults muddying the water as to who is in the wrong here, making us sympathise a tad with the Innsmouther, though his revenge is totally out of proportion.

When rat things start to crawl out of her toilet, senior citizen Gladys seeks help to deal with "Echoes in Porcelain". Konstantine Paradias tells a story with a mock comic undertone, one in which feisty pensioners always win out, even if it takes a little help from 'drownies' as they are known. Monks encounter an outré evil in "Shadows of the Darkest Jade" by Sarah Hans, the story reading like an oriental version of HPL's "Festival", with some nice touches in the relationship between the older monk and his impressionable young protege. Finally we have Martin James Hunter with "The Dreadful Machine" in which a dystopian future is portrayed where the chosen unthinkingly serve the machine, doing whatever horrid tasks are asked of them. It's a rather grim story, one in which there is no slither of hope for anyone, with everybody fated to serve and die, never given a moment's respite from the torment of their daily lives. So much then for the idea of fiction as escapism. A downbeat note with which to end this rewarding anthology, and appropriately so given 'The Horrors That Are & Shall Be' qualifier at the start.




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