Jason V Brock provides a most invigorating and informative introduction to the anthology he has edited, “A Darke Phantastique.” Essentially, his aim is a return to basics, like Poe’s “unity of effect,” as well as achieve a finer focus on dark fantasy, horror, and magic realism. In his view, and he would certainly not be alone in this, the best horror includes, amid everyday reality, “a touch of the strange,” that dark matter which sets the wheels in motion.
Brock aspires to a more palpable dark fantasy, a fresh new look at the fantastic. Brock provides a chilling and inventive example with his own contribution, “A Darke Phantastique.” It sets the tone for the wide variety of content you’ll find here. Brock gives us a devilishly dark creation myth. We have an initial fear of the unknown that develops into something more. And, in the process, we find ourselves on a most unusual path from dark to light.
Leafing through, one story jumped right out at me, with its bravado mix of humor and horror, and I’m calling it this book’s mascot. That’s Ray Garton’s “Lizzard Man Dispatches.” It has a really nice slow boil. The characters are so banal and relatable that you’re quickly lulled into their world of blogging and pet reptiles. A little further in, and we can induldge in all manner of conspiracy theory. Where this leads us is a gradual acceptance of something supernatural and far beyond our control.
The book is broken down into five sections which helps give you more of sense of the book’s vision. There is “Magical Realities,” “Lost Innocence,” “Forbidden Knowledge,” “Hidden Truths,” and “Uncanny Encounters.”
William F. Nolan’s “The Last Witch” is another fine tale in the first section. It fits in quite well with the theme of magical realities as you come to find that even a witch is more than she may seem. With a touch of humor, Nolan lures us into the horror that will follow.
Don Webb’s “Lovecraft’s Pillow” is such a bittersweet ode to lost innocence. It is also a hilarious send-up to the whole horror book industry. A jaded best-selling horror author considers himself no better than a fraud. But he may find what he’s looking for when he acquires the death bed pillow of none other than H.P. Lovecraft.
Lois H. Gresh’s “Old Enough to Drink” is quite the creepy cautionary tale to forbidden knowledge. Told with such a gusto, this story blends fairy tales with vivid nightmares.
S. T. Joshi’s “You’ll Reach There in Time” confronts hidden truths in a fun story. A fractured narrative structure gradually reveals how a criminal gets what he deserves.
Tom Conoboy’s “Phoenix on the Orange River” gives us his answer to a series of uncanny encounters. It’s a kaleidoscopic journey and a protracted dance with Death. It’s the last of nearly 50 contributions in this 728-page book complete with story notes from each contributor. Conoboy’s tale is a fitting end to this remarkable collection.
Among other treats you’ll find here is “Genius,” a screenplay by Greg Bear. It’s the only screenplay in this anthology and it is quite a delight to read. Bear has made his mark in pop culture in many ways beginning as one of the five co-founders of the San Diego Comic-Con. In “Genius,” he gives us an intriguing look at characters caught up in something far bigger than themselves. And that’s the problem, this challenge is so big that it threatens to destroy them and all of humanity. This is a moving story of human connection amid very dark matter. It’s a very good example on what price is paid for genius.
And just one more, the first contribution, Paul Kane’s “Michael the Monster,” which is a glorious opener. This is an unabashed celebration of monsters. It is Halloween, and Michael, an actual boy monster, revels in the one night that he can be himself in plain sight. A time for monsters! This is a perfect way to start a book where monsters are so welcome.
And so there’s a taste of “A Darke Phantastique: Encounters with the Uncanny and Other Magical Things.” The book itself is a joy to hold and behold. Great care has been given to making this a pleasurable reading experience. Everything from choice of font to layout to use of illustrations guides the eye. The hardcover is a well-crafted treat. Given the book’s generous page count, it is an ideal size to leisurely pass the time with. This is a beautiful book full of deliciously scary and compelling work. I’m so glad that Jason V Brock put so much care into this collection of some of the best contemporary dark fantasy, horror, and magic realism.
The following lists the contents to the book with a link to or related to each contributor. I think the links are essential as they give you an opportunity to pause and appreciate this book some more:
The Beginnings of Imagination
by Ray Bradbury (Foreword)
An Abiding Darkness, A Phantastique Light
by Jason V Brock (Introduction)
*SECTION ONE: Magical Realities*
Michael the Monster
by Paul Kane
A Darke Phantastique
Charles Out of La-La Land
by Bruce Taylor
The Wisest Stone and the Zoo
Out of the Blue, and Into the Black
Lizard Man Dispatches
by Ray Garton
Real Live Lobsters
by D. T. Kastn
The Last Witch
*SECTION TWO: Lost Innocence*
by Don Webb
by Misty Dahl (flash)
Birth of an Apocalypse
Apples and Peaches
by Gio Clairval
La Joie de Vivre, or Picasso and the Satyr
by Ralph Sevush
Timbrel and Pipe
by Melanie Tem
*SECTION THREE: Forbidden Knowledge*
Old Enough to Drink
by JG Faherty
“In Your Dark”: Differing Strategies in Subhuman Integration
Through “Monster Academies”
[S. Armand & J. Miller, Unpublished Manuscript]
by Jason Maurer
Transformations at the Inn of the Golden Pheasant
by Gene O’Neill
Lords of Chaos
by Wade German (poem)
by Mike Allen
Dust Made of Words
by Greg Bear (screenplay)
*SECTION FOUR: Hidden Truths*
Breakfast in Tasmania
Water over Stone
by W. H. Pugmire (sonnet)
Paper and Pencil, Skin and Ink
by Chris Marrs
The Weight Lost
The Case of the Four-Acre Haunt
“You’ll Reach There in Time”
by S. T. Joshi
*SECTION FIVE: Uncanny Encounters*
Three Fables: 1) In the Hood, 2) Krustallos, 3) The Fiction Lover
by E. E. King
Down the Hatch
by Marge Simon (poems)
by J. C. Koch
Promise to Nessie
by Jerry Airth
by Ian Futter (poem)
I Keep the Dark That is Your Pain
In the Wardrobe
The Fine Art of Courage
by Weston Ochse
Phoenix on the Orange River
by Tom Conoboy
“A Darke Phantastique: Encounters with the Uncanny and Other Magical Things” is available through JaSunni Productions. Take a moment to look around. You will also find, for instance, Brock’s vastly informative new collection of essays and interviews, “Disorders of Magnitude.” Visit our friends at JaSunni Productions right here.
A DARKE PHANTASTIQUE, as well as DISORDERS OF MAGNITUDE, have each been nominated for the prestigious Bram Stoker Award. The awards ceremony takes place at the World Horror Convention, enjoying its 25th anniversary, to be held in Atlanta, May 7-10, 2015. For more details on this year’s World Horror Con, visit their website right here.