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Agents of Dreamland – Book Review

 

Title:
Agents of Dreamland

Author:
Caitlín R. Kiernan

Genre:
Lovecraftian Horror

Book procurement:
Received a copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor.com.

Synopsis:

A government special agent known only as the Signalman gets off a train on a stunningly hot morning in Winslow, Arizona. Later that day he meets a woman in a diner to exchange information about an event that happened a week earlier for which neither has an explanation, but which haunts the Signalman.

In a ranch house near the shore of the Salton Sea a cult leader gathers up the weak and susceptible—the Children of the Next Level—and offers them something to believe in and a chance for transcendence. The future is coming and they will help to usher it in.

A day after the events at the ranch house which disturbed the Signalman so deeply that he and his government sought out help from ‘other’ sources, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory abruptly loses contact with NASA’s interplanetary probe New Horizons. Something out beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact.

And a woman floating outside of time looks to the future and the past for answers to what can save humanity.

Book Review:

First Thoughts

To be honest I did not know what to expect from this book when I got my review copy for Gamecca Magazine from Tor. I had never heard of Caitlín R. Kiernan and that synopsis said a lot but nothing close to what the novella explores. In the end I was pleasantly surprised… okay I really enjoyed the book and look forward to more.

The Story

This is an interconnected story that follows mainly three sets of characters:

Signalman is a government agent assigned to a peculiar case that continues to haunt him. Even as he proceeds to a diner where he has a meet up with a mysterious woman. They exchange valuable information that only escalates the situation. He moves forward with the hope of figuring out exactly what he saw inside a particular ranch.

Immaculata is a woman searching for humanity’s last hope against an approaching, devastating event. She floats between time, searching for an answer.

Salton Sea is the current home of Drew Standish, a cult leader, and his followers known as Children of the Next Level. The Children seek to usher in a new future as they transcend beyond humanity.

Lastly, something beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact with NASA’s interplanetary probe, New Horizons.

Writing

To say my mind is so blown, I’m deeply disturbed, is an understatement. The writing is solid. Each characters has a distinct and personal voice. There is no unnecessary drivel to distract from the unfolding story, which eventually meets in the middle beautifully, then rides off into the sunset, leaving you bewildered and unbelieving of what just happened.

There is a lot of shifting perspectives, as you can imagine, with all the characters giving a different view of the ongoing events. From Signalman, who is the investigator, to the Drew Standish and one particular child of The Children, who has disturbing insights of what is to come, to Immaculata, the seeker of salvation and something a little more.

There is also a switch in timeliness literally between sentences. Sometimes it was off putting, but Caitlín did a good job of not losing me or my focus between these switches.  Thankfully, they show a wider, more comprehensive perspective on the bigger picture revealing itself into some mind-blowing stuff. *shivers.

There is also a very obvious Lovecraftian style to the writing, more towards the combination of science, bible, conspiracy, and a real, obvious entity we never truly see. I loved how Caitlín uses conspiracy theories (The Beatles’ music, Apple Records, Yggdrasil, Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – basically APPLES), and parts of foreshadowing (Signalman watches a movie as a child, but misses a very important scene – also, this is not a spoiler), to build this world around the story.

It’s brilliant.

Final Thoughts

I have a love/hate relationship for Signalman. I’m deeply intrigued with Immaculata and her time-travel abilities (or whatever they are). Drew Standish is that charismatic type I would also probably follow, although I’d hate to be part of his particular cult (or any cult in general… the bad cults.) Together, they tell a compelling story. It’s a great novella which puts Caitlín R. Kiernan at the top of my favourite authors.

Rating: A well deserved 5 out of 5


Agents of Dreamland was published on February 28, 2017.

Did you know: Caitlín R. Kiernan wrote scientific papers in the field of paleontology, has written for DC Comics, and has over two hundred short stories, novellas, and vignettes published.


Are you an author who wants your book reviewed? Contact me on my site: NthatoMorakabi.com

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Fear and Fervor – A Patreon Fiction

Today’s fiction is an excerpt from this month’s Patreon work. I’ve combined my two favourite genre’s – Romance and Horror – with a dash of Lovecraftian influence. Enjoy!


Up upon the attic’s bare wooden floors, in the bodega of Casa Del Potro, between discarded paint bottles and torn canvas. Therein lies the young male we know only as Eduardo. He sits with his back against the raised mattress, naked save for a pair of dirty boxers. They reveal the stringy black threads of hair covering his legs and arms and have begun to crawl past the navel to his chest. Smudges of paint cover some of his brown skin, and the whites of his hands are lost to a swirling grey rainbow of colour.

He sleeps deeply and soundly. The dark tendrils of oily curled hair tumbled down to his chin like a frayed curtain. Near his bare feet lies a canvas still heavy with wet paint. Each corner holds a random item that keeps the canvas from rolling in. An iron stands in one corner, the severed cord wrapped in dark tape. In another corner is the one half of Eduardo’s wearable Jordan’s, the bottom half yawning with yellow strands of loosening superglue. The foot of an aged table, and one of the three metal stools keep the remaining corners down.

Caressed over canvas is a visage of improbable beauty. Flaxen tresses that divulge in hues of orange and red cascading down the back. Golden braids coil the hem of the snowy dress that sits below the smooth skin of bare shoulders. An elegant face gazes out at the viewer with gleaming emerald orbs that reach into the soul and tug it to the surface. Pert upturned nose sits perfectly on the symmetrical face above thin pursed lips. There is a haunting glare accentuated by her slightly raised brow, as though she notices something behind the viewer. Perhaps she feels the tiny pinpricks of an insect crawling up her leg below the separation of canvas and real life.

Or perhaps her gaze from canvas onto reality bears a truth she wishes not to comprehend. The artist, a living soul, tethered to the encroaching darkness ignorantly rejected as merely death. Only she, the portrait, the art, the creation, has any semblance of what awaits beyond the veil.

There is more to this corporeal existence than we can see. More beyond the ethereal presence that on occasion slinks along our spine with icy tendrils.

I will tell you the story of Eduardo and his paintings for it is a story that must be told. Perhaps it shall restore the madness that rattles my bones like arthritis.

Pray the madness does not pass on to you, for there is no fetter back to this blessed ignorance.


 

What Does Your Story Say?

When I initially began writing, I was purposed to write stories with meaning. Not just fluffy fun tales of over-powered heroes saving damsels in distress, beating the familiar evil villain, and then riding off into the sunset with said damsel. It was too cliched. Too fake. Too fictional.

Hence that amazing quote by Anais Nin on the title of my blog. “Not what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” There could be many reasons why we might not be able to say something, but in our writing we can most certainly elaborate on them. Explore and expound for others to read and comprehend.

I’ve thought about changing that quote a number of times in the past, but I can’t get past the truth it speaks. It guided my tentative steps into serious writing. As fun as writing fan-fiction and ghost stories can be, sometimes I needed to write something with substance. Something concrete, addressing a personal issue or belief. I attempted a lot these in the past, ranging from Christianity to relationships to my greatest fears.

Here’s an excerpt from a piece of writing I labelled The Past:

The Past…

…is like a dark cave, contaminated, murky, fearsome place, one that we cordon off and try to forget about, ignoring the signs all around us that point back to it. But we cannot escape it. We sometimes linger at its entrance, gazing within the dark confines to see what can be seen. Safe enough. Safe enough away from what we know is within its depths. We know of the familiar creature within, one that bares an undeniably resemblance to ourselves, except for its blank dead eyes, dead in trespasses and sins, blinded from the truth willingly.

I was in a dark place for a while.

Self vs Other

These days I seem to be driven by concepts that are ‘out there’ rather than close to me. Removing self from the story and characters to create something outside of me. It’s much easier to ignore introspection. To escape to books and movies and music and art.

I could only hope to recreate those sensations in my readers. However, what I failed to notice, was that each creator of those inspirational  works had their own directive to their creation, a source that guided their work. It not only made them unique, but I as the recipient of their creativity, was able to experience what they experienced much deeper and fuller.

Combining self and these external sources, can create something beautiful. For example:

  • Adele’s soulful musical style was inspired by her own heartbreak, relationships, and a desire to making up for all the lost time through nostalgia and melancholy – yet she was inspired by Amy Winehouse and the album Frank.
  • Masamune Shirow (Masanori Ota) is a qualified oil painter, and creator of Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed. He writes thoughtful post apocalyptic cyberpunk futures with female protagonists – inspired by (and creator of) erotic art.
  • Stephen King’s stories involve the “every day man” thrust into a horror-fueled adventure, with running commentary on abusive, religious mothers (or priests) – the king of horror was inspired by other kings of horror H.P. Lovecraft and Richard Matheson.
  • Quentin Tarantino’s non-linear stories driven by gore and satire, are a manifestation of his creative mind – inspired by old music, where he uses the music to create scenes in his head and bring them to life.

Prolific creative figures who have combined their own experiences with their inspiration to produce amazing works.

When I make a film, I am hoping to reinvent the genre a little bit. I just do it my way. I make my own little Quentin versions of them.

~ Quentin Tarantino

Truth in Fiction

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying every story I write will be an obscured memoir of things I want to say but can’t say. I am saying, however, that there will be elements of ‘my truth’ to each story. Drawing from me and drawing from outside of myself to create. Ultimately sharing my truth in fiction, and still having a great story to tell. Combined with world building and character building, I can fully embrace a character and world without feeling like a stranger in my own story.

Like a ghost in a shell.


What does your writing process entail? How much of yourself do you put into your stories? Is your main character usually you or a version of you, or do you draw other people as your characters? What’s your inspiration?

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