Simon Strantzas' Burnt Black Suns will be published by Hippocampus Press in May 2014.
Information about Simon Strantzas:
Simon Strantzas is the author of the story collections Beneath the Surface (2008), Cold to the Touch (2009), and Nightingale Songs (2011). His stories have appeared in The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, the Black Wings series, and elsewhere. He resides in Toronto, Canada.
Click here to visit the author's official website.
Information about Burnt Black Suns:
In this fourth collection of stories, Simon Strantzas establishes himself as one of the most dynamic figures in contemporary weird fiction. The nine stories in this volume exhibit Strantzas's wide range in theme and subject matter, from the Lovecraftian "Thistle's Find" to the Robert W. Chambers homage "Beyond the Banks of the River Seine." But Strantzas's imagination, while drawing upon the best weird fiction of the past, ventures into new territory in such works as "On Ice," a grim novella of arctic horror; "One Last Bloom," a grisly account of a scientific experiment gone hideously awry; and the title story, an emotionally wrenching account of terror and loss in the baked Mexican desert. With this volume, Strantzas lays claim to be discussed in the company of Caitlín R. Kiernan and Laird Barron as one of the premier weird fictionists of our time.
A REVIEW OF SIMON STRANTZAS' BURNT BLACK SUNS
Simon Strantzas' Burnt Black Suns is a collection of weird stories. It's the author's fourth short story collection (his previous collections are Beneath the Surface, Cold to the Touch and Nightingale Songs).
Burnt Black Suns is an excellent short story collection. It contains weird fiction stories that range from the modern Lovecraftian Thistle's Find to One Last Bloom that's pure scientific horror at its best and most effective.
I can honestly say that it's been a while since I've been this impressed by a weird fiction collection. I've read lots of weird fiction collections and I've enjoyed reading all of them, but collections like this one are rare, because all the stories in it are excellent and worth reading. There are no weak stories in this collection.
Burnt Black Suns contains the following nine stories (it also contains a foreword by Laird Barron):
- On Ice
- Dwelling on the Past
- Strong as a Rock
- By Invisible Hands
- One Last Bloom
- Thistle's Find
- Beyond the Banks of the River Seine
- Emotional Dues
- Burnt Black Suns
Simon Strantzas uses several classic weird fiction elements in a modern way in these stories. He writes creepy, disturbing and unsettling stories that can be categorized as weird fiction, horror and dark fantasy. He easily conjures up nightmarish images and visions that are difficult to forget, and shows his readers how the characters in his stories come face to face with unnatural and supernatural threats.
These stories are just like good old-fashioned weird fiction stories, because they're weird and unsettling stories. Some of them are creepy while others are disturbing - there's originality, creepiness and disturbing elements in them.
Here's a bit more information about the stories:
On Ice: A story about men who travel to Melville Island to explore fossils. The oil companies did a research there, but they weren't looking for rocks and didn't notice certain things. Some of the men feel that they're confined there. Soon they notice that something strange is going on there...
Dwelling on the Past: Harvey has lost his daughter, Emily, and works for the Henco Industries (his sorrow for Emily is handled well by the author). The Henco Industries have problems with the Six Nations protestors. The Six Nations have been digging for something that looks almost like a dwelling...
Strong as a Rock: Garrison and Rex are brothers who have lost their mother. Rex takes Garrison to climb rocks, because he loves rock climbing. When Garrison injures himself, they begin to search for a hospital...
By Invisible Hands: An old puppetmaker has sacrificed all for his puppets. He wishes that the end would come for him. Dr. Toth contacts him and he finds out that Dr. Toth has needs of his services...
One Last Bloom: A story about Randal and Olivia who work with Dr. Markowitz at the Microbiology Department. Randal and Olivia are worried about the missing Dr. Markowitz and Linden. Dr. Markowitz and Linden have supposedly died while doing underwater research. Soon things escalate into a scientific nightmare as Randal and Olivia begin to investigate what Dr. Markowitz sent them...
Thistle's Find: Owen is acquainted with Dr. Thistle and visits him when he's in trouble. The doctor shows Owen something that he's built...
Beyond the Banks of the River Seine: A story about Valise and Henri who are composers and friends. Valise is more successful than Henri. When Henri becomes obsessed with a project, Valise begins to worry about his friend...
Emotional Dues: An intriguing story about Girder and his paintings. Girder decides to approach Mr. Rasp directly and not throught the gallery, so he visits Mr. Rasp and shows him one of his paintings. When Mr. Rasp invites Girder to stay with him, things become weirder...
Burnt Black Suns: Noah and pregnant Rachel travel on the bus to Astilla de la Cruz. They're trying to find Noah's ex-wife, Sonia, and his son, Eli. When they arrive to their destination, the weather is hot. Noah and Rachel meet a priest who tells them of old gods and a cult, the Tletliztlii...
It's nice that Simon Strantzas has a talent for keeping the readers interested in his stories. He gradually builds tension and then shocks his readers with horrifying revelations. For example, the journey towards the end in the final story, Burnt Black Suns, is amazing and when the ending is reached, it's a brilliant and unforgettable ending.
Simon Strantzas writes fluently about love, loss, sorrow, melancholy and life in general. His descriptions of love, loss and sorrow portray skillfully how the characters feel about their loved ones and objects of affection. For example, in One Last Bloom the author writes well about Randal and how he feels about Olivia. In Beyond the Banks of River Seine the author writes longingly about Valise's feelings towards Elyse, and in Burnt Black Suns he writes about Noah's longing and desperate search for his son.
Simon Strantzas writes about relationships and difficult choices in a realistic and unflinching way. For example, in Burnt Black Suns the author writes perfectly about what kind of a strain Noah's search for his son causes on his relationship with Rachel. When Rachel asks Noah to make a choice between her and Eli, Noah acts in a desperate, but realistic way that reflects his feelings.
On Ice and Thistle's Find deserve a special mention, because they're wonderfully Lovecraftian stories. As a big fan of Lovecraftian stories (and stories containing Lovecraftian elements) I was delighted to read these stories, because they were excellent and unsettling stories. These stories differ greatly from each other, but they're both well written stories. On Ice is a perfectly written story about Arctic nightmare and what happens to the exploration team when they travel across the Arctic and find out that something's following them. Thistle's Find is a weird and disturbing story about Dr. Thistle and what he has built and brought into his house. Both of these stories are among the best Lovecraftian stories ever written.
I love the way Simon Strantzas writes about wilderness and nature. The characters in his stories travel across a harsh icy and snowy landscape, go mountain climbing and wander in the scorching desert where the sun burns relentlessly. His way of looking at nature and its forces feels both natural and threatening, because nature can be cruel and unforgiving and nobody can do anything to change that. People just have to be prepared to accept the harsh realities that come with travelling in the wilderness.
I find it interesting that the author writes about culture (music and paintings) in an intriguing way in two of his stories:
- Music plays an important role in Beyond the Banks of River Seine. It was interesting to read about Valise's success and how his friend wasn't as lucky as him when it came to music and composing. Reading about Henri's sudden change and obsession with his project was fascinating, because the project turned out to be a big surprise for Valise and others.
- Paintings play an important role in Emotional Dues, because it's a story about a painter called Girder and how he becomes acquainted with Mr. Rasp. Art is a way for Girder to address his emotions, so he paints what he feels. Mr. Rasp's pleasure in his paintings makes him happy, because nobody has ever called his works perfect. The author writes interestingly about the relationship between Girder and Mr. Rasp and the sudden turn it takes.
In the foreword Laird Barron mentions body horror. I agree with him on what he says about the foray into the realm of body horror, because body horror is strongly present in this collection. If there are readers who aren't familiar with body horror, I can mention that body horror is a subgenre of horror fiction in which horror is principally derived from the graphic destruction or degeneration of the body (decay, disease, mutation etc). There are a few scenes in these stories that reminded me of Clive Barker's bold descriptions of body horror and certain films directed by David Cronenberg.
It's great that Simon Strantzas writes unflinchingly about body horror and uses it effectively and in moderation, because there are authors who tend to use body horror elements too much and lose sight of what's important when they begin to describe the changes in human bodies. As an example of Simon Strantzas' ability to write body horror I can mention that it was fascinating to read what happened to Olivia in One Last Bloom.
Although the stories in this collection are modern stories, it's easy to see that the author has been greatly influenced by classic weird fiction and old horror stories. These stories owe a debt to the works of such authors as H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Aickmann and Robert W. Chambers. It's possible to see that Thomas Ligotti and Ramsey Campbell have also affected the author's writing style.
There are many readers and a few authors who have said that this is the new golden age of dark fiction and weird fiction. I agree with this statement, because there are many authors who have published excellent horror and weird fiction stories during the last couple of years. This collection is a proof of this statement and its accuracy, because it's full of excellent stories.
Based on this collection I can say that Simon Strantzas is one of the best modern weird fiction authors. In my opinion he's equal to Laird Barron, Richard Gavin, Livia Llewellyn and Caitlín R. Kiernan, because his stories rival their stories. He's a master storyteller and deserves more recognition among horror and dark fantasy readers.
I have to mention that the cover art by Santiago Caruso looks great. It's one of the best cover images I've ever seen on weird fiction book covers.
Everybody who loves weird stories and weird fiction, should take a look at this collection and put it on their reading list. It's an excellent collection to dip into, because the creepy and weird stories offer both chills and thrills in equal measures to the readers. If you're looking for new weird fiction to read, please read this collection - you'll love it.