“It’s fun to be a monster.”
If there was one single quote that could sum up this collection, the quote above works quite nicely. Autumn Christian writes deliciously dark fiction like Philip K. Dick mixed with Steve Erickson, cranked up to eleven with a little LSD in the mix. Ecstatic Inferno, Christian’s short fiction collection, proves not only that she’s up to the task, but that she can handle any scenario in her path. The author of two novels, We are Wormwood and The Crooked God Machine, her first short story collection canvases strange worlds of the dark fantastic laced with beautifully grotesque characters not much different than ourselves. It’s easy to slam wicked characters into strange worlds just to see what would happen, but Christian manages to do this while maintaining steady control over the larger picture. There’s a method to her madness, a confident consistency that turns convention on its head to produce stories that will blow your mind, as well as break your heart.
Starting with an introduction by the iconic John Skipp, the ten stories that follow are diverse and dynamic, showcasing a talent beyond expectations. Starting with ‘They Promised Dreamless Death’, Christian showcases a real flair for the human side of science-fiction, focusing on her characters rather than the futuristic world, harnessing her Philip K. Dick influence while staking claim to the story. ‘Crystalmouth’, one of the more memorable of the collection, features conjoined twins battling the incubi in their lives, both ethereal and physical, threatening to smother them to death at every turn. Featuring razor-sharp wit combined with nightmarish imagery, this story will linger in your mind for a long, long time.
“His mouth stretched. Heavy. Yawning. Burrowing, big mouth. Big tongue. Crystals studded his tongue. They shredded the roof of his mouth so that the skin hung down in thick strips, and when he breathed the strips fluttered.” — ‘Crystalmouth’.
In ‘Your Demiurge is Dead’, gods walk among us, regulating health care and cellphone companies, all caught up in a weird trailer park murder noir that reads like a whacked out Spider Robinson pulp. ‘Sunshine, Sunshine’ takes us to the Louisiana swamps where the Sunshine Man lives, he who walks the swamps, hunting for women to love in his special way, later dissecting them, preserving them. The imagery here is at times haunting with a hint of violence, exhibiting an accomplished sense of grace under pressure. ‘Pink Crane Girls’ brings to mind tones of Philip K. Dick again, while also serving to showcase Christian’s storytelling strengths. Here, she feels most comfortable, and fearless.
‘Out of the Slip Planet’ manages to conjure imagery straight from Steve Erickson (Our Ecstatic Days) with its focus on the ocean, and layers of life and death seemingly far beyond our grasp, and control. Christian tugs at our heartstrings with a flipped around concept of Neill Blomkamps’s District 9, showing us the horrors of the hive mind in ‘Honeycomb Heads’. A shy woman finding her inner strength in the most painful way imagined, then uses that strength to transform into something quiet different in ‘The Dog that Bit Her’.
‘The Bad Baby Meniscus’ shows that living up to our parents’ expectations isn’t as rewarding as embracing our madness, especially if the madness so easily becomes our reality. Finally, with ‘The Singing Grass’, Christian closes out the collection with a powerhouse of a story that dives deep into the slipstream; love and heartache, art and suffering, vivid and unsettling imagery, yet extremely personal and fearless in execution.
A solid collection of surreal, disturbing tales that will make you gleefully question everything you know about dark fiction, Ecstatic Inferno ensures Autumn Christian is an author to keep on your radar. Bringing to mind a multitude of influences, perhaps it’s best to describe her stories as Lynchian, and Cronenbergian, using the bizarre and the grotesque to conjure fiction that’s fresh and invigorating. It takes confidence to write such strange tales without alienating the reader, and Autumn fearlessly amps up the crazy without losing any sense of direction. It’s very rare to find a writer capable of injecting so much of the weird into their stories while keeping it all organic and personal. Ecstatic Inferno is one of those books you need to experience, and we think readers are going to thoroughly enjoy letting these pages melt your mind.
Yes, sometimes it’s fun to be a monster.
Publisher: Fungasm Press
Release Date: 15 February 2016