Book Review: Ana Kai Tangata by Scott Nicolay

“A serious contender for best collection of the year!”

Ana kai tangataIn his introduction to Ana Kai Tangata Laird Barron, one of the finest practitioners of what might be considered the modern weird tale, claims that Scott Nicolay is as good a debut author as he has ever read. The problem with such praise is, of course, that it does rather raise expectations for the stories that are to follow. It is therefore a delight to report that Mr Barron is absolutely right. Ana Kai Tangata is a quite stunning debut collection of original, creative and extremely unsettling weird tales that are guaranteed to give you nightmares filled with the most unpleasing terrors imaginable.

The book consists of eight pieces – short stories, novelettes, and a novella to finish with. We begin with two shorts – ‘Alligators’, in which weak, needy teacher Russell takes his children for a trip to an abandoned quarry he has become obsessed with. The words ‘Natus Mortuus’ written on the nearby trees should set alarm bells ringing but it’s nothing compared with what is waiting for Russell in the Pit. ‘The Bad Outer Space’ is told from the point of view of a young child, taking the idea of the floaters we all get in the vitreous humour of our eyes, and developing that corner of the retina peculiarity into nasty aliens only the child can see.

‘Ana Kai Tangata’ is the first substantial piece in the book. Classics scholars may be forgiven for assuming those words are ancient Greek, but in fact it’s in the language of the inhabitants of Rapa Nui, better known to many as Easter Island. There aren’t enough weird tales around set in this remote location but Nicolay has been there (and so has this reviewer) and the authentic sense of place is spot on. ‘Phragmites’, another long tale, involves a journey to discover a cave sacred to the Navajo. The entire last page is a piece de resistance of mounting horror, with a final paragraph so deliciously terrifying that reading it again right now for this review still causes a shiver.

‘The Soft Frogs’ is a great title, and a great story. Horrible foamy frog creatures and a sleazy whorehouse with a horrible secret makes this the one that might make you feel like washing your hands afterwards. Excellent stuff.

And finally we have ‘Tuckahoe’, a novella filled with such horrors, both below and above ground, that it should guarantee a few sleepless nights. Kicking off as a police procedural and quickly becoming very weird indeed, Detective Donny Cantu gets far more than he bargained for when he investigates a traffic accident where one too many arms have been recovered from the crash. And then the odd arm out melts….

Scott Nicolay’s Ana Kai Tangata is a superb collection. As well as exhibiting a high degree of originality and ‘weirdness’, the thing that makes this book work is the horror – Nicolay doesn’t shy away from dragging the reader, along with his hapless lead characters, into some very dark places indeed, and it’s a pleasure to discover someone whose horror sensibilities are so attuned. There’s a good dollop of sex in most of these stories as well. It’s never gratuitous, but these are obviously stories for grown-ups, and the sexual material is always used to add an extra layer to the already disquieting, unnerving and sometimes rather slimy proceedings.

Each story here is marvellous and thoroughly deserving of your attention. Nicolay’s general technique consists of opening lines that pull you in, superb prose that keeps you reading, and endings that sometimes make you wish you hadn’t – for all the right reasons. A lot of time, effort and care has gone into the creation of these tales and it shows. Scott Nicolay is a writer in the tradition of modern practitioners of the weird such as Mark Samuels, Terry Lamsley, and Laird Barron. He gives us the unease of Ligotti with the fluid prose of Clark Ashton Smith. Ana Kai Tangata is a serious contender for best collection of the year. Go ye now to Fedogan and Bremer and treat yourself to this superb book of sexy, weird, and above all terrifying tales.

JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT

Publisher: Fedogan and Bremer
Jacketed Hardback: (358pp)
Release Date: 1 June 2014

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1 comment

  1. Great review, I’m rather enjoying and being creeped out by this book currently!

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