Book Review: The Endless Fall by Jeffrey Thomas

“A powerhouse collection of weird fiction, with stories ranging from the subtle to the outrageous, with an attention to detail and fully realized characters we can’t stop reading about.”

 

Perhaps best known as the writer of the Punktown series of novels and stories, Jeffrey Thomas is fast becoming known as master of the weird. His latest collection, The Endless Fall, further reinforces his status, and just may be a contender for single author collection of the year. The author of Deadstock, Blue War, and Monstrocity, as well as the collections Punktown, Nocturnal Emissions, and Unholy Dimensions, Thomas is not only prolific, but consistent as well. The Endless Fall showcases every facet of his talent, and is an excellent starting point for those unfamiliar with his work.

The collection starts off with an emotional gut punch with ‘Jar of Mist’. Here we find a grieving father faced with one last chance to see his daughter. Thomas makes it easy for the reader to suspend belief here by grounding the story with harsh emotions, and the effect is subtle yet still gut-wrenching, leading to a bittersweet ending.

Obsession and magick collide in ‘The Dogs’. Thomas has a knack for homing in on our obsessions and how we adapt our everyday lives around them. Here we find a man who discovers a portal to view different timelines of our future. The problem with forbidden knowledge is that we’re always hungry for more, even if it means we see the truth of our own demise.

In ‘Ghosts in Amber’, our protagonist’s childhood fear of spiders comes back to haunt him when he becomes fixated on an abandoned factory near his house. Again, we see how obsession manipulates us, and how we come to accept the terms of manipulation. Thomas takes his time here, building dread with each scene, and though a little slow at first, the pace quickly moves to fever pitch.

‘The Prosthesis’ is about Thomas, a young man who works for Gale Therapeutic Appliances, creating life-like prosthesis apparatus for people suffering from birth defects or long-term injuries. The obsession we see here is manipulative in a different way, as Thomas carefully smuggles different artificial limbs out of the building while his coworkers get the blame for the theft. While strange pranks have the employees on edge at the office, Thomas has plans for his pieces. Of course, things never really go the way we expect.

A new inmate in a strange prison causes everyone problems in ‘The Dark Cell’. Rose is very fortunate to have a cell to herself, but that changes when sixteen-year-old Maria arrives as her new cellmate. When the two women begin fighting, they are both thrown into the Dark Cell. Most inmates might spend a night, or even a few weeks there, but you never know when the guards will let you out. There’s no light, a storm is raging, and with that come the painful memories, and the terrible rage within.

‘Snake Wine’ finds us in Vietnam, an area the author is quite familiar with from his visits there. Gorch meets a mysterious woman who offers him a sip from a bottle of ruou, a rice wine. Sometimes there are snakes or cobras fermenting in the bottle, but here Gorch sees a different kind of coiled serpent inside, and sipping the wine sends him to the middle of a strange sea. When he comes to, he realizes he is changed forever, as everyone who drinks the wine has a different experience, sometimes with unexpected and deadly side effects.

‘The Spectators’, one of the strangest stories in the collection, is also one that leaves a melancholy taste in your mouth. No one knows why they come, but people all over the world are visited by random spectators; stationary human-shaped figures that appear out of nowhere in your house. They do not move, do not speak, do not interact with anyone at all. Speculation of why they appear, and what they mean, run rampant, but perhaps there’s no reason at all, as some things just are, and we learn to face them individually, intimately.

In ‘Bad Reception’, Stan is a man with a terrible head injury, and his coworkers call him ‘Gorilla’ because of the way the metal plate caused a depression in his skull. An innocent act of kindness escalates to violence, which is only the beginning of the pain he feels. And then there’s his TV, the reception wreaking havoc with the plate in his skull, allowing him glimpses of an uncertain future, and the knowledge that there is something out there beyond the static, watching him.

Thomas switches gears a little with ‘Sunset in Megalopolis’. Superhero Ultimatum has been in limbo forever, and when he finally manages to break from his confines, he’s confronted with a changed world filled with strange inhabitants. Cultures clash as our hero learns that not everything is as it seems, and sometimes it’s better not to interfere.

‘Portents of Past Futures’ finds us returning to the static on the TV screen, this time from another angle. What of those shadowy figures we see in the snow on the screen? Art and the surreal intersect in ways we haven’t seen before, and Thomas manages to keep the pace going strong all the way through to the end.

A factory worker learns he can’t trust his employers in ‘Those Above’. The sky has been taken over by a massive structure, alive with boneless appendages. Called Those Above, no one really knows why they came, or what they want, but it’s easy to think they are malevolent. Hiding their dreams in large gelatin blocks, the world has come to distrust Those Above, but how long can they survive?

‘The Individual in Question’ shifts gears in an interesting way. The shortest story in the collection, it nonetheless packs a wallop, showcasing Thomas’ ability to use just the right words to creep you out.

In ‘The Red Machine’, we find ourselves at the intersection of art and magic, though this time it is intensely personal. After her grandmother passes away and leaves her house to Leslie, a battle begins with her more successful sister, Aileen. Leslie begins a massive art project, unsure of exactly what she’s building, but soon her revenge fuels the statue, enchanting the jumble of mementos into a deadly device. Its power consumes Leslie, sending her into a spiral of bloody despair.

The final story of the collection ‘The Endless Fall’ concerns an astronaut freefalling home? Or maybe it’s not home. Confused and lost, he escapes his pod to an unfamiliar world, and other survivors, who may or may not be someone he knows very well. Time and space intersect here in interesting ways, leaving a bitter sweet taste.

The Endless Fall is a powerhouse collection of weird fiction, with stories ranging from the subtle to the outrageous, with an attention to detail and fully realized characters we can’t stop reading about. Thomas has this unique ability to take a concept that’s strange and alien and make it accessible while maintaining an intellectual and emotional core. Fans of Brian Evenson and the recent works of Michael Griffin will find lots to like here, and we can’t wait to read what Jeffrey Thomas has in store for us next.

 

BOB PASTORELLA

 

Publisher: Lovecraft eZine Press
eBook: (238 pps)
Release Date: 21 February 2017

 

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