Friday, 22 November 2013

Get it Down, and Other Weird Stories


Image of Get It Down & Other Weird Stories *signed*
Martin Hayes featured in ST#17 with '13 Nassau Street', a sort of ghost-story-with-a-twist. It seems slightly out of place here, as most of the tales on offer in this collection are outright horror and tend to have a sci-fi vibe.

The shadow of Lovecraft falls across some of the most interesting stories. Luckily, Hayes isn't one of those who assumes that references to the Necronomicon and so forth make a Mythos tale work. Instead he takes Lovecraft's basic premise - ancient, terrible beings lurk out there, or down there, or somewhere - and runs with it in some interesting directions. 

Thus in 'Me Am Petri' a meteorite brings an alien entity into the ideal location - a scientist's laboratory. Unfortunately for our would-be invader, certain aspects of modern human society prove far more monstrous than it is. More serious and altogether darker is 'Beneath the Cold Black Sea', detailing a confrontation with the Deep Ones in an American coastal town. There's a final revelation that would have appealed to old Howard.

Old Ones, Great Ones, or maybe just plain Ones also feature in 'Peeling Back the Skin Will Reveal the Sagittal Suture'. If you can't guess that this is not for the squeamish, you are probably reading the wrong blog. It's a clever variation on the idea used by, among others, Stephen King in 'I Am the Doorway', but is a bit nastier, though not as nasty as 'Get It Down'. Here urban planning blight is revealed as a way to invoke strange, anarchic powers that might well lead to a kind of grubby transcendence.

A quest for higher truth - that old favourite - features in several tales. The lyrical 'Concerning Tavia' reminded me slightly of Frederick Pohl's 'The Words of Guru'. In both cases a lonely child is entranced by a strange being who offers him special powers. The difference is that Hayes links an apocalyptic theme with the painful, desperate need of the unhappy misfit to be loved. The world doesn't end in 'Every Thing That Lives is Holy', but it's grim depiction of the fate of a would-be visionary is arguably more appalling than large-scale destruction.

Cynicism about our human condition - and how inhuman we can be - pervades most of the tales here, and I suspect some may find that off-putting. I can take it in short bursts, especially when the writing is this good. The first sentence of the first story in this collection is, aptly enough: 'It was the first big story of my career'. The last sentence of the last story is: 'The police found traces of blood on the keyboard, and five dead owls in the kitchen cupboard.' In between those two interesting statements, a lot of stuff happens, most of it unconnected with owls. But they do suggest the overall tone of the collection.

There's a bit of humour, as in 'Spamface', which offers a fun variation on that dodgy old 'imagine if you could become the god of a primitive tribe' idea. Another story warns school leavers to beware of recruting drives by the Space Corps, which is sensible as it's a very badly-managed outfit if 'Gibson' - the cautionary tale of an angry spacefarer - is anything to go by.

This is, I think, a pretty impressive collection of stories, most of which pack a lot into very few words. Strong stuff, interesting stuff, and above all promising stuff from a writer with the ability to surprise.

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