Saturday, 16 March 2013

Review - In A Season of Dead Weather

Canadian author Mark Fuller Dillon approached me and explained that he'd published a collection of stories on Smashwords. He asked if I could recommend any way to promote the ebook. I told him that, if he sent me a copy, I would read it and - if I liked the stories - I'd put a review on my blog. So, here it is.

In A Season of Dead Weather consists of seven stories, all of which might loosely be termed supernatural or weird fiction. They all skirt the ill-defined boundaries of horror, fantasy, and the thriller. They are all of a very high literary standard, too. It seems that there is a new 'Canadian wave' in the field of quiet horror, and that's a good thing.

The first story, 'Lamia Dance', offers a fairly conventional beginning - a lonely medical student escapes the pressures of intense study by going to a cinema. The short feature, however, is a bizarre and disturbingly erotic fantasy that affects the protagonist so severely that he leaves before the main feature. I can't really describe the strange power of this story, but that's true of all of them, really. Suffice to say that the concept of the lamia is used to very good effect.

'Never Noticed, Never There', has a slight hint of Richard Matheson and The Twilight Zone, with its account of an ordinary suburban male who leaves home 'on a wet Sunday afternoon in April', and vanishes without trace. In a more conventional tale this might lead to an account of abduction by aliens or vampires, but here things are much odder. The man's wife becomes convinced he is still alive, somewhere in the fabric of the house. Later, a different person finds evidence that the missing man has somehow been absorbed into a strange ur-world that exists alongside everyday reality.

'Shadows in the Sunrise' sees someone setting out to walk across country on a late autumn day. We learn, through incidental detail, that this is the near-ish future, a world struck by the Great Deflation, a world of power cuts and self-canned goods. Stranger shadows gather. A strange light dazzles. Winter comes. Has the outer world been destroyed? Has some alien force taken over? Or is the mysterious lattice work in the sky a symptom of madness brought on by chronic isolation? Perhaps one person, too much alone, makes their world afresh.

'When the Echo Hates the Voice' is different again, offering something a bit more like a conventional horror story. First we hear from an obstetrician who, when he delivers his first baby, hallucinates a bizarre entity. Then comes the account of the baby growing to be a smart, popular boy, albeit one with a penchant for drawing strange, disturbing faces. He is convinced that something is seeking to destroy or possess him. Here the author places his thumb on the balance to make clear that there is more than madness at work.

Another rural tale, 'What Would Remain?', is enlivened by Dillon's gift for descriptive writing. Too often writers let down a good idea with poorly-realised settings and a too-vague account of who goes where and how they do it. This story of a woman searching for her mother in foul weather harks back to Blackwood's pantheist/animist notions, but is much bleaker. The idea is that the earth might be cleared of human beings, but perhaps some will be left.

'The Weight of Its Awareness' is - here it comes - a slightly Aickmanesque story of a middle-aged man trying to visit a walled off residential area that aroused his interest when he was young. He finds that a fondly-recalled park is now cluttered with weird sculptures. And what lurks behind the blank windows of the strange, quiet houses? Something that knows you, and knows what you fear.

'The Vast Impatience of the Night' is almost cosy in its evocation of a group of young widows in rural Canada (a landscape Dillon clearly knows and finds inspiring, much as Lovecraft was inspired by rural Vermont). But what makes so many women widows? There is, again, a whiff of science fiction here, but it is reminiscent of the deliberately transgressive 'New Wave' writing of the late Sixties and early Seventies.

I enjoyed this collection, not least because I felt I was sharing the imaginative world of someone who doesn't seek easy answers or rely on obvious gimmicks. I hope you'll give Mark Fuller Dillon's stories a chance. Like many good short story writers, he is unlikely to ever receive the considerable backing of a major publisher, despite being vastly more gifted than the average bestselling hack.

1 comment:

Todd T said...

Thanks for this, David. I have downloaded it and look forward to it eagerly.