After reading G. W. Thomas’ The Book of the Black Sun II: The Book Collector for a forthcoming review at Innsmouth Free Press, I thought I’d better go back and actually read the first Black Sun book. There are some shared references, but no shared plots or characters between the books. I can recommend this one, especially given it’s cheap price in e-book form.
Review: The Book of the Black Sun by G. W. Thomas
This collection is organized a little peculiarly. There are eight sections, each titled with some enigmatic word from the titular volume — which doesn’t show up in all that many stories. Thomas has taken the unusual step of selling each individual section by itself on his webpage.
Each of the eight sections has four stories with one or two of them being “flash fiction” which seems to be usually what was called “short short stories” years ago. (Frederic Brown was the master of them.) Less complete stories than plants of images in the reader’s mind and prods to get the reader to extrapolate plots, they often work here though leave no long standing residues in the brain.
In fact, that was my reaction to most of the material here. It all mostly worked for me but little was memorable. In short, an enjoyable way to spend the time, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Thomas labels the stuff as being Cthulhu Mythos tales, and that’s technically true. We get references to various Cthulhoid deities of Clark Ashton Smith and Lovecraft. More than one character name echoes authors in the Lovecraft constellation. For instance, there’s a Machen and a Chambers. And, of course, the titular book is Thomas’ addition to the Mythos blasphemous tomes. But there’s a lot of stories that, while enjoyable, don’t gain much from their Mythos’ allusions..
I’m not really going to mention any of the shortest pieces. They aren’t really there to operate as traditional stories, and some are so short that I might ruin the affect Thomas’ is going for by mentioning them.
My two favorites shared one of my favorite devices: horrific revelations through diaries and letters. Both are also historical pieces. “Spitting in Niagra Falls” has a lawyer going through a dead man’s effects and discovering a serial killer operating over decades around the famous wonder. “The Songs of Madness” is recounted through a series of letters from a rebel officer during the American Revolution War. He develops an odd friendship with a freed black man also serving in the army.
Second tier stories for me, because I thought they were just a bit too long or the subject didn’t grab me, were “The Man Who Would Be King” (that’s Stephen King, and this story should appeal to fans of that writer); “The Suit” which has a gross man, in every sense, and his very nice outfit; “There Was an Old Lady … “, which has a circus “geek-hunter” encountering a strange woman outside Arkham, and “The Court of Two Lions”, a nice takeoff on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd”.
In the category of enjoyable but nothing great were the rest of the longer pieces. “If You Go Down to the Woods Today” has an unemployed truck driver discovering a strange facility in the woods of his hometown. “The People” is one of those stories that seems to be told from the point of view of a crazed killer. He discovers a surprisingly helpful neighborhood while on the run. “Six Bullets” is one of several stories of featuring types of viral horror meaning psychic or real contagion that works its way through a chain of people. Here a mild-mannered ex-cop now employed as a bank security guard must contend with the people trapped with him in a bank vault after a robbery. And one may be a “screamer”, a victim of a plague that causes people to literally explode.
“Mother” is one of two pieces opting for a sinister interpretation of the earth mother myth and Clark Ashton Smith’s Ubbo-Sathla. One suspects that many a married male author can relate to the situation of “The Other Woman”. “The Faces” is one of those creepy stories of irrational horror. It’s also one of three stories here involving terrors in the bathroom. “At the Sound of the Tone … ” is terror from the toilet bowl story.
Given it’s many references to Philip K. Dick, I wanted to like “A Thing Called Love” more but, again, found it a little too long. In some ways, though, it’s the most philosophical piece here.
These are all early works by Thomas when he admittedly was experimenting with a lot of styles and imitating other authors. Still, if you are going to read a book the old fashioned way, cover-to-cover until you’re done, it works better than the more formulaic stories of The Book of the New Sun II: The Book Collector though I would also recommend that work.