Mark Howard Jones' Star-Spawned: Lovecraftian Horrors & Strange Stories was published by Macabre Ink in March 2022.
by Mark Howard Jones
In these twenty tales of the weird and twisted you will visit temples dedicated to the worship of dark gods spawned under the diseased light of long-dead stars; find yourself lost in damned places where truth and sanity vanish like mist in sunlight; meet strangers who make you pray that all you think you know is wrong; and discover that love is really just another gateway to unending despair.
You may even find confirmation of the dreadful fact that you are what you always feared you might be.
REVIEW: STAR-SPAWNED: LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR & STRANGE STORIES BY MARK HOWARD JONES
Mark Howard Jones' Star-Spawned: Lovecraftian Horrors & Strange Stories is a compelling and unsettling collection of beautifully written and atmospheric weird tales that will both astonish and unsettle the reader. As a big fan of literary strange fiction and Lovecraftian weird fiction, I can mention that I consider this collection to be one of highlights of the year, because it contains excellent stories that will mesmerise those who love weird fiction and especially Lovecraftian weird fiction.
What is it about Lovecraftian weird fiction that keeps us enthralled by it? Is it the unsettling atmosphere, the macabre events, the little hints about something eldritch and unimaginable, the mind-boggling visions of ancient gods from other dimensions, or is it perhaps the beautiful literary prose? Or is it the combination of all of these elements? To me, it is all of these things, because there would be no Lovecraftian weird fiction without them. I'm sure that it is the same for other readers too, because these elements are the main reason why we love Lovecraftian stories and keep on reading them. This collection features all of these elements and I was very pleased by what I read, because the stories appealed to my refined literary taste.
This collection is pure delight to those who are familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft and hold his fiction in high regard. They will also appeal to everybody who loves stories by Arthur Machen, W.H. Pugmire and Algernon Blackwood. The influence of Lovecraft and Machen can clearly be seen in the stories, because they have a similar kind of feel to them.
This collection contains the following stories:
- Beneath Black Spires
- Put on the Mask
- The Turn of the Tide
- The Cobwebbed Bird House
- The Last Ones
- Sunday (Early Evening Ecstasy)
- Taking the Cure
- The Rolling of Old Thunder
- Red Walls
- Out of Stock
- Finest Garments Repaired
- In the Deeps of Dream
- By a Scarlet Thread
- Side 1, Track 3
- Treading the Lost Path (Descending Aklo Songs)
- A Meeting Beneath the Moon
- For the Love of Insects
- Late Night, Caradoc Street
- The Sixth Guardian
- Doorgrave to the Bittersea
All of these stories are marvellous examples of excellent modern weird fiction that has depth, style and substance. They're satisfyingly strange, atmospheric, twisted and unsettling in the best possible way.
These stories are marked by beautiful prose, atmospheric storytelling and sparkling originality. Whether you're looking for a strange story that is beautifully written or simply want to experience something unsettling and deeply compelling, you'll find what you're looking for in this collection, because this is modern weird fiction at its utmost best and most memorable.
Mark Howard Jones has a literary voice of his own, which will impress readers who are fascinated by original stories and want to read good and nuanced prose. I find the author's prose beautiful and evocative, because his expressions and his way of writing about the events has a distinct feel of quality to it that is easy to notice by those who love the weirder side of literary speculative fiction.
Here's a bit of information about the stories and my thoughts about them:
Beneath Black Spires:
- This atmospheric and unsettling opening story begins with a man - who doesn't remember what has happened to him - seeking help from a woman who agrees to meet him at an old Victorian church.
- The author's lush descriptions about the man's journey and what he finds in the second part of the story is captivating in its strangeness and awaken unearthly images in the reader's mind.
- This is an excellent story that serves as a wonderful introduction to the author's Lovecraftian tales, because it's an original Lovecraftian story that has been written in the author's own unique voice.
Put on the Mask:
- This is a marvellously strange and imaginative story about a man who wakes up in a hospital, but doesn't remember what has happened to him.
- I was already familiar with this story when I began to read it, but it was a pleasure to re-read it.
- I personally consider this story to be one of the best literary strange fiction stories ever written, because it becomes increasingly strange as it unfolds and the prose is exquisitely beautiful.
The Turn of the Tide:
- A story about a group of people spending time in a cottage and noticing weird things happening around them.
- I find this story compelling, because the author writes excellently about the characters (his characterisation is intriguingly honest when he writes about the protagonist, his nephew and a woman who is interested in both of them) and gently lures the reader into a web of unsettling events and delivers sights that will linger on the reader's mind for a long time after the final page has been read.
The Cobwebbed Bird House:
- An achingly beautiful and chilling tale about a lonely woman.
- This story is one of the highlights of this collection, because the author writes incredibly well about how the woman is haunted by her vague memories and how she struggles to remember certain things.
- In my opinion, this story serves as a prime example of how good and captivating literary strange fiction can be at its best, because it's a genuine gem of a story. If you love beautifully written strange fiction and love atmospheric storytelling, this story will undoubtedly impress you in a deep way.
The Last Ones:
- A story about Professor Patrick Neede who travels from the Midlands university to Narmouth , which lies on the west coast of Wales. There, he intends to research Saint Deigion, who erected a line of crosses on the beach and later walked into the sea during the throes of a religious ecstasy.
- This story has been written in the vein of classic weird fiction, because it is a tale about a man who comes across strange things in a small town, but is fascinatingly original and atmospheric.
- I enjoyed this story very much, because it feels like a homage to H.P. Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth".
Sunday (Early Evening Ecstasy):
- In this story, a drunken man hears the voice of the woman he loved coming from within the wall. The woman is dead, but he clearly hears her voice and tried to free her.
- This is brilliant short story about a man's desperate need and struggle to find and free his loved one. The author writes perfectly about what the man finds and what happens to him at the end.
- The ending of this story is satisfyingly chilling and unsettling.
Taking the Cure:
- This is a story about Steve and Ann who receive bad news about Ann's health. Ann is dying, but all hope may not be lost, because she thinks that there's a man who might be able to help her.
- I find this story utterly intriguing, because it tells of a seriously ill woman who, due to having no other options, finds an unlikely source of help. I've read a couple of stories in which the characters try to cure their illnesses by unnatural and magical ways, but this story surpasses them, because it's much darker and thus ultimately more compelling.
The Rolling of Old Thunder:
- A marvellous and fascinating story about a determined medical student Richardson and an arcane book that he has inherited from his father. The events in this story take place in the 19th century.
- This story is pure delight to those who love classic and beautifully written weird fiction, because it has been written in the vein of classic tales. It has a wonderfully Gothic feel to it that I find compelling.
- If there are readers out there who are familiar with R.L. Stevenson's "The Body Snatcher" and the notorious Burke and Hare murders, this story will be of great interest to them. I think that those who have read H.P. Lovecraft's "Herbert West: Reanimator" will also be delighted to read this story.
- One of the things that I find especially intriguing about this story is that the author has managed to infuse it with a dose of good old-fashioned weirdness. This is something that only a few modern authors are capable of doing in the field of weird fiction.
- A powerful and bizarre story that has strong imagery that will stick to your mind. In this story, a man witnesses strange things and tries to make sense of what's happening.
- This is a marvellous example of a weird short story that is both different and original. It also features excellent prose and unforgettable visions of a hellish place.
- The ending of this story is truly memorable and satisfyingly bleak.
Out of Stock:
- A story about Rowe who drives by car to the supermarket to get a vital ingredient for her wife's recipe.
- This is an unusual story with intriguing descriptions of customers and how they behave in the supermarket, and it also has strangely insightful rumination about supermarkets with a healthy dash of oddness.
- There's something about this story that slightly reminds of me stories written by Rhys Hughes. It has the same kind of wickedly funny and sharp edge to it as some of Hughes' stories.
Finest Garments Repaired:
- A story about Nick, who's an investigative journalist. He goes to a tailor shop to confront its owner about his wicked and disturbing past.
- This is one of the best Carcosa related stories I've read to date, because it differs from other stories of its kind by having an investigative journalist as the protagonist who tries to expose those who have committed atrocities.
- This story has an excellent and chillingly brutal ending that will be difficult to forget.
In the Deeps of Dream:
- A story about a woman who has agreed to meet a man at a coffee late at night. The man sees strange and unsettling dreams that bother him and thinks that the woman might be able to help him.
- In this story, the author writes fascinatingly about dreams and how they can affect a person. The man's anxiety can clearly be felt when you read the story, because he is deeply unsettled by his dreams.
By a Scarlet Thread:
- In this story, John comes across a strange exhibition in a derelict hotel and decides to take a look at it. As he enters the exhibition, he gradually finds out that he may not be able to leave it...
- This is an excellent and disturbing story about a religious order and their strange practices. What happens to John will linger on the reader's mind, because John experiences quite a creepy and distressing surprise at the exhibition.
- I was impressed by this story, because it reminds me of Clive Barker's Books of Blood series and Brendan Connell's "The Maker of Fine Instruments". It's similar to them and has the same kind of bizarre and disturbing atmosphere that will leave readers wanting more of the same.
Side 1, Track 3:
- A story about Davey, an insurance assessor, who meets a woman called Willow. Willow introduces Davey to an album by a new band. The album has one track that is not an ordinary track...
- There's something about this horror story that vaguely reminds me of a couple of stories by Alexander Zelenyj.
- This is a compelling story with a great ending. I'm sure that this story will please those who love modern weird fiction with a touch of cosmic horror.
Treading the Lost Path (Descending Aklo Songs):
- An amazing and memorable story about a man who doesn't enjoy his job and doesn't fit in. One night - as if by accident - he hears notes floating on the night air and becomes intrigued by the music. The music comes from a mysterious white girl who often manifests herself to him.
- The author writes excellently about the man's life and work. I find his descriptions intriguing and engaging, because there's a dash of honesty in them that appeals to me. He writes especially well about the man's relationship with his daughter and ex-girlfriend, but also about his past and his brother.
- This previously unpublished story is one of the absolute highlights of this collection. It's a beautifully written and mesmerising story that is speckled with elements of alluring weirdness and a sense of something strange that is hidden from us.
- This is another story that is kind of reminiscent of stories by Alexander Zelenyj. It also reminds me of fantasy based weird fiction stories that reveal what lies hidden before our very eyes, but we can briefly glimpse at when the conditions are favourable.
A Meeting Beneath the Moon:
- A story about a gardener who tends a garden at night and takes care of the plants. The gardener comes to the garden each night and one night he meets another person there.
- In my honest opinion, this story is satisfyingly strange and nuanced. It was fascinating for me to read about the gardener and how he wandered around the garden and experienced things. The author writes impeccably about the plants and their unusual nature.
- Because I'm personally interested in gardening, horticulture and plants, I find this story utterly compelling.
For the Love of Insects:
- An irresistibly compelling and unsettling story about Alex who visits the house of an enigmatic painter, Modril, who paints weird paintings.
- I was already familiar with this story, but now that I re-read it once again, I can mention that I love it even more. This is the kind of unsettling fiction that encapsulates the core elements of literary weird fiction: it is deeply unsettling, macabre, beautifully written and captivating in its terrifying strangeness.
- This story alone is reason enough for readers to acquire this collection, because the story grows increasingly strange towards the final pages and ends in the best possible way: the ending is both chilling and memorable (I can guarantee that you won't be able to forget this story once you've read it).
Late Night, Caradoc Street:
- In this story, Dave comes to town for his mother's funeral and sorts out her things.
- I was already familiar with this story too, but I enjoyed re-reading it, because the author writes about the protagonist, his feelings and his relationship with his mother and other members of the family in an excellent way.
- This is a little gem of a story with unnerving elements and a well written ending.
The Sixth Guardian:
- In this story, Jan returns to his childhood town for the funeral of his uncle Bernardus de Vries, who has been obsessed with the occult.
- This story features excellent depictions of Jan's memories about his childhood, because he remembers well his uncle's cruelty and his obsessions. The author excels at bringing these memories alive by pointing out how Jan feels about returning to his hometown from which he escaped and how he is still deeply affected by living with his uncle and participating in his occult practices.
- An excellent and atmospheric story with a perfect ending.
Doorgrave to the Bittersea:
- This final story is simply amazing in its strange imagery and atmosphere.
- I was impressed by this story, because the things the protagonist sees through a scrying lens, which he acquired from white-clad sisters who were practitioners of a science of the mind long condemned, are strangely captivating.
- In my honest opinion, this is one of the best weird stories you could ever hope to read, because it's approriately strange and well written. It's something different and compelling, as modern weird fiction should be.
Each of the above mentioned stories will stimulate the reader's imagination. These stories are different from each other, but they're all imaginative and intriguingly nuanced with a pleasing amount of depth and style. I personally find them highly compelling, because the author excels at writing about strange events and what happens to the characters. I love the author's way of writing about the characters and their fates, because he doesn't dwell on unnecessary things, but delivers surprises and often ends his stories at a perfect moment when something is about to happen to characters or they have glimpsed at something that they shouldn't have and can't escape their fates.
One of the things that readers will notice when they read these stories is the diversity of the author's literary ouput and his passion towards the weird fiction genre. Although there are many recognisable elements in the stories, the reader can't help but wonder about the range of the author's imagination and his ability to write consistently good and unsettling stories with plenty of originality. Readers will also notice how fluently the author writes about surreal and bizarre elements.
Before I finish writing this review, I want to mention that the cover image ("View from Yuggoth" by Tais Teng) looks beautiful and atmospheric. It perfectly fits this collection.
I highly recommend Mark Howard Jones' Star-Spawned: Lovecraftian Horrors & Strange Stories to everybody who wants the best from their weird fiction, because this is the must-read collection of the year. It's an essential book for those who love beautifully written and original weird fiction.