Friday, September 20, 2019

Quick Sips - Nightmare #84

Art by Chorazin / Fotolia
The two stories of Nightmare's September issues take on horror tropes old and very, very new. From a found text detailing a strange being hidden in the distant past to a new game craze sweeping a future where immersive gaming is possible, the stories deal with situations where a story takes on a life of its own. Where the whispers in crowded markets and quiet, dusty libraries lead to a monster who looks like a man. Where the corporate greed of game makers to create the most perfect (and profitable) gaming experience waken something hiding at the edge of the collective unconscious. The stories are disturbing and visceral, and pack in some shock to go with the creeping dread. To the reviews!


“Beyond the High Altar” by Ray Nayler (5946 words)

No Spoilers: Framed as a found text, the story opens with a note on its provenance and some cryptic remarks as to the mystery of the rest of the story, which is framed as a series of letters from M to her sister back in England. M is far from home, having traveled with her husband in search for a being that might be a kind of deity, or might just be a man. The letter relate the expedition, the warnings and anger from their guides, the way that M’s husband, Richard, stays on in search of this being. There’s also an undercurrent of something else, though, of M’s dissatisfaction with how her life had gone, with having been pruned into an ornamental person when she wants to do something else with her life. The sister she writes to seems to be more into women’s rights (the letters are from the late 1800s), and there are some ruminations on things that layer the text a bit. It’s a piece that captures the gothic horror traditions quite well, in style and in voice, and it makes for an interesting experience.
Keywords: Found Text, Expeditions, Time, Immortals, Marriage, Letters
Review: This story is heavily rooted in the long traditions of horror, and especially gothic horror, with the reliance on the found narrative framework and the period language. I actually have a lot to say about the use of provenance in horror, but will try to restrain myself and stick to the matter at hand. The framing actually is lightly done, not really bothering to reveal the identity of the person who found the letters, just placing them in geographic location and generally assuring the reader that these might not be completely fabricated. The horror, here, is a bit different from your average gothic horror. At least, it’s not a ghost or a great monster (exactly) that M and Richard are facing. They have found a man who claims to have lived for a very long time, and there is perhaps some horror there, at the prospect of it, and in the danger that the two are in because their guides might worship this man as a god. At least, that’s how Richard treats it. I’m more interest in M’s theories, though, and her very different kind of unease and fear about this man in the mountains. Not the sage that her husband sees but something very different. And I like that she sees this precisely because she has had to go through a lot more, linking her own hardships and survival with in some ways hardening her, and then imagining this man who has lived so long having been hardened too far, to the point where no softness remains, and while Richard can’t see the danger there, M can. Unfortunately it might not do her all that much, in the end, but I do like how the piece deals with the dangers of long life, and the monstrosity (in some ways) of someone who lives forever. A fascinating read!

“Sweet Dreams Are Made of You” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (2417 words)

No Spoilers: This story focuses on a game called Vore, where two people enter into pods and then virtually experience being eaten together. It’s...strange. And unsettling. But oddly compelling, the idea one that I could see the appeal of, a sort of freeing act where through this painless devouring the girl also devours their worries and their anxieties and stresses. Unless, of course, something goes terribly, terribly wrong. But what are the odds of that? The piece is rather graphic and, for me, disturbing, but also an interesting exploration into viral experiences and a hunger that, once let out into the world, can’t be shut back up again.
Keywords: Games, Dreams, Companies, Social Media, CW- Cannibalism(?)
Review: I love the idea of this girl as something bigger than just a character in a video game. It starts early enough, the feeling that there is something deeper than marketing going on. That the girl defies being named, that she has some sort of power to erase things that shouldn’t be possible to erase. And that part of what’s giving her that power is the popularity of the experience. The people. Because it taps into something very primally important in our current state. Our current system. It pokes this driving insecurity that dominate many people, this need to always have control, to always be working toward something. The girl becomes a sin-eater, taking all of that away, leaving the players cleansed of it. Kind of. Because the sin-eater here also draws power from that eating, and the girl is not exactly benign. Instead, that hunger becomes something that grows and grows, that turns from something consensual to something that is much less so, that is ravenous and relentless and harassing. And for me it springs from this attempt to wring money out of something that’s almost therapy. Not that the aims of the game were bad but that from the start it was a company looking for its payday. So it sought to exploit the way that people need to be eaten, need to have their physical forms devoured. It’s takes that symbolic act of trust, that a person can finally release control and still experience no pain, and tries to attach a cash-spigot. Which ends in tragedy for everyone in a rather creepy-as-fuck manner, as the story does a great job of getting under your skin—by eating its way there. Which is an experience I’m not sure I’ve ever had with a story before and it makes for unsettling, wonderful reading. Go check it out!


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