Book Review: Burnt Black Suns by Simon Strantzas | More2Read
 

Burnt Black Suns by Simon Strantzas


 

 


 

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.

 

 

Praise For Burnt Black Suns

 

“With Burnt Black Suns, Strantzas continues a trajectory into deeper darkness . . . and in some respects the odyssey has brought him closer to the primal core of the tradition and its rawest, purest essentials.”
-From Laird Barron’s foreword

“The stories of Simon Strantzas exemplify a style of horror that might be compared to the novellas of T. E. D. Klein.”
-Thomas Ligotti

“Burnt Black Suns demonstrates Strantzas’s remarkable narrative skills, his unerring, feverish sense of pace, and his absolute willingness to hurl himself into the darkest ranges of his excellent imagination.”
-Peter Straub

“In Burnt Black Suns Strantzas casts far into time and space to find the alien, and what comes back wriggling inside his net is ghastly.”
-Adam Nevill

“In this powerful new collection of short stories, fallible characters trip over their feet of clay and sprawl into encounters with horrors beyond their comprehension. Strantzas nimbly balances sympathetic characters humanized by their flaws with horrors on a cosmic scale so vast that they mock the very notion of human significance. The stories in this book abound with references to the work of H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, and Robert W. Chambers, and Strantzas deftly demonstrates his ability to hold his own with them.”
-Publishers Weekly

“The stories of Simon Strantzas exemplify a style of horror that might be compared to the novellas of T. E. D. Klein.”
-Thomas Ligotti

“I gather Thomas Ligotti finds similarities in Simon Strantzas’s style and my own.  I don’t really see it myself — but considering the source, and considering Strantzas’s beautifully crafted stories, I must say I consider it a compliment.”
-T. E. D. Klein 


 

Review

 

Simon Strantzas explores complexities, anxieties, and the real with psychological suspense through the transcending transmutation of the weird, evoking and delivering the reader amidst the surreal and horrors to a certain individual deciphering of chaos through an uncanny valley door, the author the key.

Reviews of the ones that worked for me follow, mostly all, expect one or two.

 

On Ice

Place, Melville Island.
The people, Dr. Hanson, Dogan, Wendell, Isaacs, and pilot Gauthier.
Searching for evidence of ichthyosaurs in the Arctic Ocean and Mesozoic migration patterns.

An Island and shrouded secret?
There will be mystery, terror and suspense on ice awaiting, a group of five and then there was ..
They well soon be racing back to civilization and safety, away from terror on ice.
A solid chiller thriller done only the way Simon Strantzas can.

“They fell back into a single line quickly: Dr. Hanson leading the way, then Dogan, Wendell, Isaacs, and finally the pilot, Gauthier. Wendell made a concerted effort to keep close to the front so he might hear anything Dogan and Dr. Hanson discussed, but the sound of their footsteps on the snow had a deafening and delirious effect—at times he hallucinated more sounds than could be possible. The constant crunch made him lightheaded, a problem exacerbated by the cold that worked at his temples.
But it was Isaacs who suffered the worst. Periodically, Wendell checked to see how far behind his fellow student had fallen, and to ensure he hadn’t vanished altogether. Yet Isaacs was always there, only a few feet back, fidgeting and scanning the landscape. Gauthier likely kept him in place. The two made quite a sight, and Wendell was amused by how little Gauthier did to conceal his contempt. Isaacs was a frightened rabbit in a cage. Gauthier, the snarling wolf beyond the lock.”

“Wendell took a breath to speak and tasted the most noxious air. Dogan shook his twisted face, but it was no use; the fetid odor filled their lungs. Wendell covered his nose and mouth with his gloved hand. Whatever it was, it was sickly and bitter and smelled not unlike dead fish.
Outside there was a long sorrowful howl that sounded so near their shelter that Wendell prayed desperately it was only the wind echoing between the stones.”

 

Dwelling on the Past

This be a tale that vividly evokes the atmosphere, mystery and impeding trouble with the unfolding scenes in psychologically gripping pace, with matters gone wrong in the past re-emerging, the grief of lost daughter to a tragedy, the author unraveling the hows slowly and colliding with threats in the forest and his immediate periphery with new discoveries, a possible beast of destruction.

He was to investigate protestors for possible trouble at a site, they where against land being used and possibly something planned that night, with gun in pocket he wasn’t really ready yet to face work and troubles with loss, terror and guilt plaguing him.

“His head swam with thoughts long held at bay, concealed beneath a sea of Scotch and gin and whiskey, but no matter how he tried, he could not drown the knowledge of what happened, of poor Emily’s broken face as she lay unmoving in the hospital bed, machines filling her lungs, pumping her blood. The sight haunted him, and he cursed himself for not being in the car with her and Donna.”

“The Six Nations wanted something, and their anger pushed them forward like animals. Anger fueled by hate and revenge, anger that wanted restitution and reparations for all that Henco had done. Anger that wanted the company to pay. The Six Nations of the Grand River wanted vengeance against those who had robbed them, and those who refused to relinquish their land. All this weighed heavy in the air, so much so that Harvey could almost see it in the dark, the emotions coalescing, suffocating the world beneath. But it was all for naught. Had they simply asked him, he would have explained it. Their mistake was looking for justice. Justice has no balance. If it did, Harvey would carry nothing in his pockets.”

 

Strong as a Rock

 

Rex was to have a break and rock climb with brother, but things took a bad turn and injury land them in a hospital.
There are more bad turns, round corners, through doors and terrors awaiting in this hospital with fresh revival of images of his dead mothers face.

But Rex was right. He needed to start his life again. Emerge from his darkened basement into the world. He just wasn’t sure rock climbing was the answer.

It was unclear what happened next. Without warning he found himself floating, the world spinning vertiginously. Images of deep unyielding sky and solid red rock flickered before him. But there were other images, images that moved too fast to comprehend, images of dark flesh and multitudinous eyes, all staring outward. He felt a thousand touches brush his face, and as everything flashed his already tenuous grasp slipped. Then in an instant it was over, and he was upside down, dangling, his right arm caught behind his back and filled with intense paresthesia. He was disoriented and nauseated, and wasn’t sure if he was going to pass out or simply cease to be.

Rex carried his brother forward down the halls, past unmoving patients who simply stared. Garrison looked at each, and each had that same impossibly wide and vacant gaze, like a menagerie of soulless fish. Did they see something in him? Some sign that his wound was worse than he imagined? His shivering returned, yet if Rex noticed he said nothing.

 

By Invisible Hands

 

“The puppet maker had forgotten far more about the art of creation than most had ever known, the slow leak of memories over the course of years. Some days, he no longer recognized himself in the mirror.?No one came for the puppet maker. No one cared for him. The only children he had ever bore hung on the wall of his basement, those ugly vessels for his love, with their large round heads and wrongly numbered wooden arms. He had sacrificed it all for them, sacrificed so he might bring wonderment to a public whose eyes grew increasingly duller the longer he performed for them, and at the end when no one seemed to notice or care about the art of bringing life to the lifeless, those bedeviled creations on his workshop wall did nothing but stare back at him unblinkingly, waiting for him to pass on. Unnoticed and alone.”

One feels for him, a great affinity, two souls joined, I have seen the same misery at times during pandemic in the mirror.

“Mr. L——:?I have need of your services. Please come at once.?—Toth”

Got one yesterday on my way!
There to be a summons to the great puppet maker Mr L, out of his hibernation he goes forth to the mysterious Dr. Toth, in his old age and demise maybe a lifeline extended, a calling answered, a metamorphosis ensuing, a trepidation mounting.?He becomes driven by a sourced hallucinogenea from nightmares.
Real and surreal collide hooking the reader forward into nightmarish realms with a crafted poise of words and the author’s wondrous imagination.

“The puppet maker’s hands were wizened. He stared at them, at the gnarled knuckles like cherry galls on goldenrod, at the wrinkled leather skin stretched and folded in on itself so many times it sagged. Those hands were filled with pain and loss and regret that radiated outward like an unbearable heat. His hands were all he had left. His hands, and his memories. But those memories faded from his mind, slipped into the dark of the misty quiet town like the sound of an automobile in the distance. He swallowed another handful of pills and hoped that this day might finally be his last.”
“And yet, its lifelessness was its beauty, its emptiness its perfection.”

 

Thistle’s Find

 

Owen has got himself into another fine mess.
Fuelled with curiosity and sentiments of nostalgia and need for money leading him back to his old friend Dr Thistle.
A search for comforts but at what price.
A short amalgamation of sci-fi and horror like little bit of Twilight Zone and Stephen King.
Concise and intriguingly done little short of strangeness.

 

Beyond the Banks of the River Seine

The sense of atmosphere of a Paris of old with two unique composers in the narrative succumbed by something, his craft and calling to another, rivalry, obsession and ones descent into something masterful, with Carcoas and the King in Yellow behind the curtain, its promises to be something transformative for the artist and the audience, a performance that yet graced their eyes, strange conjuring and changing afoot, reader and artist consumed, reeling you forward with an alluring tale.

 

Burnt Black Suns

Starts with visceral telling and one with anxiety in a bus upon a journey to finding a lost son Eli in a scorching landscape where things to be unraveled, bright burning realities in a prism of ritual and a cult awaiting.
The complexities, the need for reuniting, the rage and anger of the taking of his son by ex, and the finding of the cult, all brought alive through the crucible of this journey with Noah with another finely crafted short to end the collection.

 

Sonia and Eli were there, somewhere, in the small village, and he knew it. Knew he was so close.

Noah had sworn a vow to protect his son at all costs, and would not fail again. No matter how much everything else in his life was falling apart, he would not fail again.

The heat in the middle of night remained oppressive, and sitting beside the open window proved futile—the air from outside was no cooler. Still, Noah could look out from his perch at the tiny village streets lit by moonlight, and past the broken spire of the church toward the rough-edged horizon. He stared out and wondered where in all that emptiness Sonia was hiding. Sonia, and the son she had stolen from him. He boiled with impotent rage.

“Yes, one in the same. This is how a small number reconciled the new god the Spaniards brought with them. They believed this god, named Ometéotlitztl, to be the true supreme being, one which our God was only an aspect of. The cult has grown and persists, but they remain secret, unwilling to reveal their hidden selves to the world. Astilla de la Cruz is their home, and it’s everything I can do to keep the true God alive here in the face of that.”

“Once this all used to be jungle. Right here where we’re standing. When the Aztecs built this temple to Ometéotlitztl, it was hidden from the prying eyes of neighboring tribes. They called it ‘the lost temple’ because of how secret the Tletliztlii kept its true location.”

 


 

About Simon Strantzas 

Simon Strantzas is the author of Nothing is Everything (Undertow Publications, 2018), Burnt Black Suns(Hippocampus Press, 2014), Nightingale Songs (Dark Regions Press, 2011), Cold to the Touch (Tartarus Press, 2009), and Beneath the Surface (Humdrumming, 2008), and is the editor of Aickman’s Heirs(Undertow Publications, 2015), Shadows Edge (Gray Friar Press, 2013), and was the guest editor of The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 3 (Undertow Publications, 2016). Collectively, he’s been a finalist for four Shirley Jackson Awards, two British Fantasy Awards, and the World Fantasy Award. His stories have been reprinted in Best New Horror, The Best Horror of the Year, The Year’s Best Weird Fiction and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, and published in Nightmare, Cemetery Dance, Postscripts, The Dark, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife in Toronto, Canada.

 

 



 

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 01 April 2021