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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: Ride the Star Wind

22nd Nov, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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For our final anthology of work inspired by Lovecraft's mythos we have Ride the Star Wind, edited by Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski, and released in September of 2017 by Broken Eye Books. In his introduction co-editor Gable sets out the two aims of this anthology, to combine the cosmic weird with the trappings of space opera, and to find diverse takes on the cosmic weird, with twenty nine authors delivering the goods.

Opening story "The Children of Leng" by Remy Nakamura has colonists arrive on Leng only to be transformed by its fruiting bodies creating new life with a colonising zeal. It's a fascinating story, one with an awareness of tradition and a compelling vision of different life forms, from the almost human AI with its nurturing nature to the alien fungi that offers hope of a kind. Lucy A. Snyder's "Blossoms Blackened Like Dead Stars" has Earth at war with the spawn of Azathoth and the protagonist transformed into a biological weapon to take the war back to the enemy. This is a beautifully written story, one that develops at a credible pace with lovely touches of detail along the way,including the horror in Beatrice's past and her accommodation with former fascist Joe, and echoes of stories such as Heinlein's Starship Trooper and Haldeman's Forever War. Chydi in "The Eater of Stars" by J.E. Bates has visions of the end of human life at the hands of other-dimensional aliens. With a wealth of detail and alien races, this is an absorbing read, made even more so by Chydi's conflicts with her father regarding her gender, and with an ending that manages to be both downbeat and optimistic at the same time.

Gord Sellar's "Vol De Nuit" takes a long, hard look at a post-human fighting a war against alien gods, but succeeds rather too well in capturing the abstracted nature of his protagonist in that I felt both intrigued and indifferent to what I was reading. In "Lord of the Vats" by Brian Evenson, Villads is revived from suspension and attempts to discover what has happened to the spaceship on which he is travelling by doing scans of the brains of dead crew members. This is a clever piece with some crackling dialogue as Villads tries to stop the others realising what has happened to them, with the story examining the nature of sentience along the way. Heather Hatch's "Be On Your Way" has cultists on board a spaceship and an attempt to control the numinous. The story is rich in backdrop, with the picture of new kinds of technology and the suggestion of a religion in schism, while the main characters, with their stilted words, help bring the alien-ness of it all to life.

The "Cargo" being transported in Desirina Boskovich's story is a girl with psychic abilities and along the way the ship encounters something monstrous. This is another story with a wonderful cast of fully drawn characters in the ship's crew, while the subtext of the story has much to say on the nature of slavery and freedom. In "The Blood Will Come Later" by DaVaun Sanders a woman with telepathic ability is the only one who can keep a ship's crew safe when they land on a planet that eats thoughts. Lots of good stuff here, again with strong characterisation and an interesting backdrop, while the nature of the menace the crew must face is intriguingly minatory. D. W. Baldwin's "Starship in the Night Sky" is the story of Ilyana, who fought the King in Yellow, but at great personal cost, and how she came to a world where the Sleeper is protecting the embryonic remnants of numerous races destroyed by King. This is a fascinating and far reaching story, one that turns the mythic King in Yellow into an alien tyrant, while preserving his essentially unknowable nature. Ilyana's bravery, her fatal illness, her fear for her husband and child, her relationship with the AI Petrov, all help us to identify with and care for her, while at the same time the powerful Sleeper offers a moral alternative to the evil of the King.

"Behold, A White Ship" by J. Edward Tremlett is set in a far distant future and concerns the search for ancient artefacts and the subsequent changing of the universe. The story is written with plenty of invention and colour, a sense of antiquity that sits well with the advanced technology, and some larger than life characters, with nobody sure of who will survive or how. Earth students are sent on an exchange trip to another planet in "Vishwajeet: Conqueror of the Universe", but their ship is infiltrated by alien spores that cause transformation. D.A. Xiaolin Spires gives us an unusual story, one where themes of decay proliferate with a spaceship made up of dead animal bodies, with strong contrasts between the ordinariness of the students and the arch weirdness of what is happening to them, the whole ending on a note of ambiguity so we can't really know if protagonist Azalea has broken free of her hallucinatory state or not. "The Multiplication" by Tom Dullemond is set in a future where living starship engines are worshipped by engineers, who inexplicably kill themselves when something unexpected occurs. It's a fascinating concept, and given a very human slant through the person of cook/failed engineer Arnovic, who is in love with the engine and wants to give it freedom.

Premee Mohamed's story has a rescue mission to the colony planet "Fortunato" going horribly wrong when it is found the colonists have reverted to cannibalism and worship of strange gods. This was an intriguing story, one in which the cultists are truly unnerving, with the battle against them pitched in such a way that you can't really be sure who has won, and the conflict between civilisation and the outlandish seen at its starkest. A research team on a newly discovered planet confront "The Writing Wall", a fungal pattern on rock, in Wendy N. Wagner's story, but one of them believes the planet is Yuggoth and the fungi intelligent. This is an action driven story, one with two sisters as leads and a leering, melodramatic villain, and some fascinating concepts out of the HPL canon. I had a lot of fun with it. Kara Dennison's story "Canary Down" has two students sent to examine the corpse of a star whale as their final exam, but instead they end up inside the body of a vast alien entity. There's some great stuff going on here, with the interplay between Ro and Trall and the Canary, a robot guide of sorts, whose responses are both creepy and amusing. The view inside the alien mind and the steps it takes to deter them are riveting.

"Song of the Seirenes" by Brandon O'Brien is pitched as communications, both official and personal, from a member of a team investigating the fate of a previous mission to an alien world where civilisation has fallen. As the protagonist gets ever closer to understanding what happened to those who had gone before his tone becomes more manic, more scared, in a tour de force of invention and conceptual daring. After Earth has been attacked by aliens a mission is sent out to "The Pillars of Creation" in search of revenge, but they have no idea what they are getting into. Heather Terry gives us a fast paced and entertaining story, one in which the insanity of humans is every bit as much of a problem as eldritch malice, and with a neat final twist. Wendy Nikel's short "When the Stars Were Wrong" has prisoners aboard a ship called Andromeda sacrificed to a deep space entity in a replay of the myth, but one of them seeks to turn the tables on the monster. The confusion of the narrator drives the story as she tries to make sense of what is happening, ending in a moment of blinding light and truth.

"Union" by Robert White tells of a space marine whose consciousness is absorbed by an alien entity, the perspective shifting from that of the marine to that of the entity. The story is action packed, at least initially, but then becomes more philosophical and morally ambiguous as we consider the implications of what the entity is doing. From Ingrid Garcia we have a marvellously upbeat story with "Under Venusian Skies" in which two researchers find themselves changed by the Fractal Forest. It's a visionary story, one in which the wonders of the setting are described with verve, making the reader understand what the characters are going through, the world of potential that they see opening up before them. In "Sense of Wonder" by Richard Lee Byers humans are transported through space and time by an alien entity, but one of them becomes fascinated with the beings alien-ness and the vastness and diversity of the universe, becoming a danger to them all when they encounter hostiles. This story does what it says on the tin, or at least to the point that the protagonist's wish for the wonderful drives his actions over and above considerations of duty, while the relationship with the entity is beautifully characterised.

"Departure Beach" is not written in Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. 's usual distinctive style, but a damned fine story all the same. A spaceship's crew has been charged with disposing of a dangerous alien artefact, but only one of them knows the truth of what is to happen. The personality of the narrator is everything here, his willingness to do what needs to be done no matter the pain it causes and the horrific actions he feels necessary. The story raises questions about the nature of morality, but having posed them realises that there are no easy answers. Tim Curran's "When Yiggrath Comes" presents us with the investigation of a deserted base on a dead planet, with the revelation of what happened to the preceding alien civilisation and how history is going to repeat itself. It's an action packed and gory slice of deep space adventure, but at back of it all is an existential terror of the vast emptiness of space and what may lurk out there. In "The Immortals" by Angus McIntyre a mad scientist awakens an alien entity on a distant planet. With some larger than life characters and a gripping plot, this was an excellent story, one that hints at the dangers of tampering with the unknown. In Ada Hoffmann's "Minor Heresies" shape shifting humans are used to sniff out heresies and an outsider finds himself wrongly accused. There's a subtext here on the dangers of religious fanaticism, wrapped up in a story that is full of ideas.

"A Superordinate Set of Principles" by Bogi Takács has a clash between aliens and humans shown in terms of their opposing geometries. Told from the point of view of the aliens, who grow the devices they need, it is a fascinating and gratifyingly different story. Wendi Dunlap's "The Sixth Vital Sign" reinvents the creation myth by having the Old Ones breed humans in search of a cure to an illness that is robbing them of their sanity. It's a clever variation on a theme, one in which the aliens are made to seem like reasonable and decent beings, not the monsters of Lovecraft's mythos that they later become, though we can also see the seeds of mankind's fear planted. I usually like Cody Goodfellow's stories, but I just couldn't get into "The Temptation of St. Ivo", in which a priest is trying to convert amoeba, or something like that, and didn't engage enough with the story to attempt a second reading in the hope things would become clearer. Sometimes the stars are wrong. Finally we have Nadia Bulkin's "A Dream, And A Monster At the End Of It" in which rival planets compete to possess a rogue asteroid travelling through their system. Underlying this story is a meditation on the nature of religious obsession and our inability to let go of the things we have set our hearts on, even though they are likely to damage us, with a subtext about the dangers of capitalism run amok. It's a fine end to an overall excellent anthology, one that shows there's still life in the Old Ones.




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