- Publisher: Chomu Press (May 10 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1907681272
- ISBN-13: 978-1907681271
- Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 0.9 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 181 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #882,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Written in Darkness Paperback – May 10 2017
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About the Author
Mark Samuels is a London-based writer working in the continuum of weird, strange and mystical fiction. Born in, and a life-long resident of London, he was first published in 1988, and his short stories often focus on detailing a shadowy modernity in which his protagonists gradually discover deeper vistas of reality. His tales have appeared in many prestigious anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic including The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, The Weird and A Mountain Walks. Forthcoming books by him include the novel A Pilgrim Stranger and a new collection of stories The Revelations of Doctor Prozess.
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Stories are as follows:
In "A Call to Greatness", one particularly dissilusioned EU diplomat encounters writings of early 20th century journalist who, for a time, followed Baron Maximilian - actual, fairly contraversial, historical figure - in his doomed struggle against Bolsheviks. There is some amount of ambiguity here, starting with the choice of opening Chesterton quote about immorality and inhumanity of certain philosophies as relating to Baron's infamous cruelty - follower of Eastern ways, he is possibly at that stage where one's freedom is complete and one's action leave no karmic consequences... at least in one's perception. Ending is fittingly open ended. Even the presence of supernatural is up to readers themselves, including the baron's transfiguration (nod to "The Great Return"?) near the end of jouralist's manuscript, and the conclusion itself. This piece is meant to be mulled over, tho I suspect that it will be more difficult and disturbing for those whose views are somewhat removed from Samuels' own.
In "The Other Tenant" unlikeable ex-journalist with a fatal disease is annoyed by the loud noises coming from the next door apartment's TV, always late at night. His exploration leads to his personal purification, in a rather grotesque and memorable manner. In his introduction, Oliver recognises parallels with one of Samuels' more popular earlier tales, “Apartment 205”, as well as how this story evolves into something very different in the end. He is right on both accounts.
"An Hourglass of the Soul" is a piece of technology-themed horror with a Twilight Zone-ish ending. Competently executed, and I liked the deterioration of our protagonist's sanity/reality itself as the finale closes by, but not one of the better stories here.
"The Ruins of Reality" is the most consciously Ligottian story in this collection. In a (much more) decayed West of some undefined near future, the N Factory appears - mysterious company that offers employment to unemployed masses, an end of suffering for suffering world. N factory indeed conducts a process that is meant to transform the world, tho not in a way than anyone expected or wanted. "...the New Creation cannot take place before this world is abolished once and for all. There is no question of regenerating what has degenerated; nothing will serve but to destroy the old world so that it can be re-created in toto."
"Alistair" starts as a more conventional yarn, centered around man's strained reality with his young son. His family has moved into ancient mansion, moodily described, of his wife's ancestors. Said mansion is set next to famous London cemetery. Twist includes clever take on one of Lovecraft's regulars, even evoking Henry Kuttner's take on that same motif in his famous "Graveyard Rats".
"My World Has No Memories" is one superb and disturbing piece of dreamlike (nightmare-like) weird fiction. Man awakens on a boat, lost at sea, with no recollection of his past life, where he is, or how he got there. From then on, things get only worse.
Atmospheric and bleak "Outside Interference" is classic Samuelsiana, evoking the themes of his excellent earlier tales like "Sentinels", and his short novel "The Face of Twilight".
"My Heretical Existence" is an elegant fusion of Samuels and one his European idols, Schulz.
"In Eternity—Two Lines Intersect" is a poignant Machensque story, ending this slim collection with something that is nowadays rarely seen in this genre: a dash of hope and joy, of regeneration and restoration.
And Samuels' collection is good weird fiction of a bleak yet, as Reggie Oliver notes in his introduction, exultant sort. The tone and effect may remind one of Thomas Ligotti, an author Samuels has called the greatest living writer of weird fiction. Yet Samuels rejects that writer's materialistic nihilism.
The most memorable, the most disturbing and, seemingly, least weird story is the opening one, "A Call to Greatness". Its setting is mostly historical; its concerns are very contemporary. Egremont, a wealthy, young, but world-weary functionary of a European Union he regards as sick and dead with apathy, sits in a cafe waiting to meet a stranger who has sent him some material to read. The stranger shows up, and we see what's in those documents: a 1921 account of the White Cassock Baron Maximilian. The Baron was a real person, Baron Robert Nicolaus Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg, and it's his picture on the cover of the book.
The story opens with a quote from the chilling Order 15 to the Baron's troops: ''Truth and mercy' are no longer permissible. Henceforth, there can only be 'Truth and merciless hardness'. The evil which has fallen upon the land, with the object of destroying the divine principle in the human soul, must be extirpated root and branch. Fury against the heads of the revolution, and its devoted followers, must know no boundaries."
Workplace horror in the manner of Thomas Ligotti's My Work Is Not Yet Done or "The Town Manager" show up in two other memorable tales.
"The Ruins of Reality" takes place in a really bleak future, so chaotic and depressed that mass unemployment and suicide are common and there's no longer resources for the usual pacifiers and distractors: tv, video games, the internet, drugs and alcohol, and sports. But salvation seem at hand as the N Factory comes to the narrator's town with its gruesome posters of modern ills it promises to correct.
"Outside Interference" mixes the ambiance of dead teenager and zombie movies with quotidian workplace drudgery. The narrator and his co-workers, the slacker contingent of their company, get sent to a remote and dilapidated building to transcribe that office's paper records to electronic forms before the location is closed. But, when one emerges from an elevator ride to the unknown subterranean levels of the complex with charred fleshed and unburned clothes and strange white eyes, the horror begins.
Workplace horror also features in "The Hourglass of the Soul" with its IT protagonist sent on a trip to his employer's secret subterranean complex in the Gobi Desert. But I found this story underdeveloped and too short after the revelation as to what that complex holds.
An retired tv journalist, not even liked by his fellow traveler Marxists in the profession, stars in "The Other Tenant". At home, he hears weird shrieks and babblings from the too-loud tv of the next door apartment. Complaints to management go unanswered, so he decides to investigate.
"Alistair" is the most traditional story of the collection with its tale of a man a bit puzzled as to why his wife wants to move back to her childhood home. He's also puzzled at his general lack of affection for his son, and jealous of the close bond between his wife and the boy. All is explained on the revelation of a secret. This one is set in London around Highgate Cemetery.
"My World Has No Memories" has bits of Baudelaire and H. P. Lovecraft (not in the Cthulhu Mythos sense) and, in its nautical setting, William Hope Hodgson. A man awakes at sea. Not only is he missing memories to locate his sense of self. He can't locate the ship's position in the world. The GPS and radio are out, and the stars seem different. And there's a repulsive something in a jar on board and human bodies bobbing outside. It was another of my favorites in the collection.
"My Heretical Existence" appeared in a tribute anthology to Bruno Schulz, a figure I'm totally unfamiliar with. Perhaps I would have liked the story better if I did. Unlike "The Hourglass of the Soul", it wasn't obscure. It just didn't move me. The narrator, who lives in a city of exiles, wanders into a secret street and has a disturbing encounter with the patrons of the Under the Sign of the Hourglass Stilled Pub.
"In Eternity -- Two Lines Intersect" was written for an Arthur Machen tribute anthology, and it shows some of that writer's themes: reverence for nature, the occult secrets of the city, and Christian mysticism. Its narrator, after being released from the hospital for some unknown malady, requires social isolation. Not having much money, he rents a vacated apartment filled with its previous tenant's possessions. There are odd annotations in the books, strange sounds from the radio, and the narrator begins to view the wooded hill outside his window differently.