Tuesday, April 29, 2014

BURNT BLACK SUNS by Simon Strantzas


That Simon Strantzas is not only one of my favourite contemporary authors of weird fiction but also one of my closest friends is likely no secret to anyone who even occasionally visits this blog. I look forward to each new collection Simon releases because I know I am guaranteed not just a rarefied and singular prose style, but also a fresh array of unique terrors. These two qualities are ones I value most highly because they evidence care and attention to language and a willingness to break new ground, to avoid mining a comfortable rut.

With Burnt Black Suns, Simon's fourth collection (due next month from Hippocampus Press), he has not only broached uncharted terrains but has hoisted his craft to an almost dizzying height. This collection offers much meatier narratives (several of the book's nine pieces reach novelette or novella length) and a much broader palette. With his 2011 collection Nightingale Songs, Strantzas conjured the delicateness and strangeness worthy of de la Mare or Aickman. The stories in Burnt Black Suns crackle with greater urgency. They are ballsier, more stifling, earthier. 

"Strong as a Rock", for example, weaves seamlessly between a wild and almost punitive Nature and the tenderness of two brothers mourning the loss of their mother, each in very different ways. "Dwelling on the Past" is a layered tale of Native land rights, grief, and retribution set in a palpably real small Ontario town. It is evocative of T.E.D. Klein. 

There are Lovecraftian motifs and themes in the book's tense opener "On Ice" and in the Pickmanesque "Emotional Dues." Both are successful, but "On Ice" is award-worthy cosmic terror. After a foray into science fictional Horror ("One Last Bloom"), and evocations of both Ligottian bleakness ("By Invisible Hands") and Carcosa ("Beyond the Banks of the River Seine") the book closes with the titular novella. "Burnt Black Suns" is a tour-de-force, with a climax so shocking I felt a curious pride at my friend for pushing the envelope when in past efforts he may have politely suggested. Its scorched landscape and hideous deity amplify the emotional torment of its characters as they search for a man's missing ex-wife and their son.

Burnt Black Suns is a landmark collection and is easily Simon's strongest and most diverse. Location, tone, and theme vary wildly from story to story, yet the quality of the work is enviably consistent. Though we are peers and are often mentioned in the same breath, Simon Strantzas clearly works in a class by himself.

Copies of this book can (and should) be ordered here