Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Uncertainty of All Earthy Things - Running Review

A new small press publisher (to me) is Germany's Zagava, which produces limited hardback editions, but also offers unlimited paperbacks. A good policy! The first book they sent me for review is by ST regular, Machen scholar, bibliophile and all-round good egg Mark Valentine. I pinched this image from Zagava's Facebook page (see link above) which also links to its online store here.

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So here I go, reviewing a book by someone I know and like. That's pretty much how 90 per cent of 'proper' book reviewing works, of course. But various things happening lately in the rather incestuous world of small press publishing makes me digress here. I will not give something a free pass if I don't think it's good enough. If an author I know and count as a friend writes a stinker I may be unwilling to pan it, but I will not praise it to the skies.

Right, let us move on. The first story in TUOAET is 'To the Eternal One'. It's a period piece, set 'between the wars', in which a group of (somewhat) likeable con-artists travel to Palmyra. The gang have been making a good living forging title documents for people who want to be princes, archbishops etc. The trick - a clever one - is to use the titles of the old Crusader Kingdoms of the Middle East. But things get a little hot for the in England, so they go to the ancient Syrian city to attempt something more ambitious - passports to the afterlife. As the protagonist investigates the city's darker areas to glean 'authentic' artefacts and images, he begins to sense the presence of what might be The Unknown God of the Palmyrans.

This summary is very crude and perhaps misleading. If this is a horror story, it is about the horror we all feel when life is too chaotic and shoddy to be borne, but the alternative seems even worse. It is certainly a weird tale, firmly rooted in the tradition of Machen and Blackwood. There can be no easy resolutions, because deities - or things like them - are not easygoing. It is a fine start to the collection.

More soon from this running, or possibly shambling, review.

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