Book Review: Noctuidae by Scott Nicolay

“Noctuidae by Scott Nicolay cements him in the annals of contemporary Weird Fiction without the trappings of the forefathers of the genre.”

Three hikers are exploring a canyon in Arizona. They are experienced, yet looking for experiences beyond the ordinary. Sue-Min, her lover Ron, and his obnoxious friend Paul — tagging along practically uninvited — are exploring unchartered territory, crossing boundaries that man wasn’t meant to cross.

A group of ranchers force the group off their chosen path, and when the group gets close to their destination, they make camp in a small cave on a ridge. Tensions rise as one of the hikers disappears into thin air overnight, and while a looming horror lurks within earshot, Sue-Min discovers that what she sees in the darkness may not be the worst thing wanting to do her harm.

Noctuidae by Scott Nicolay is his latest release from King Shot Press. Author of the stunning collection Ana Kai Tangata: Tales of the Outer the Other the Damned and the Doomed, Do You Like to Look at Monsters?, and the forthcoming The Croaker, Nicolay has managed with just a few entries to capture the imagination of readers and contemporaries with one of the strongest new voices in Weird Fiction. Difficult to truly define, Weird Fiction predates the horror genre and definitely holds Cosmic Horror very close to its heart. Cosmic Horror deals with man confronting forces beyond his realm, or control, often realizing there is no escape, for it is the very universe that they quarrel with. For our purposes, let’s say that Horror Fiction can be Weird, not all Weird Fiction is Horror Fiction, while Cosmic Horror is most always Weird Fiction. Got that? Good.

Noctuidae definitely falls into the Cosmic Horror genre, and fits it quite nicely. The distinction here is important, because readers looking for a nice short horror story will indeed find horror, as what transpires in Noctuidae is truly horrifying, but there’s also this sense that nature and the cosmos play by completely different rules. With Cosmic Horror, we often find that we, humans, are the uninvited, the outcasts, and it is this cold indifference, this finality of the inevitable, that creates a tension beyond that you would find in the typical serial killer story, or the any Earthly creature feature. The concept that we cannot control our circumstances, no matter the effort, is devastating, and is truly the scariest thing humans can and will experience.

Nicolay’s talent lies in his ability to create a tension between his characters that builds the suspense to a fever pitch, and he manages this in just a short amount of time, carefully weaving what backstory he needs to get readers to quickly care about his characters. When one of the hikers disappears while they sleep, and the survivors discover the unknown just beyond their cave hideout, they are at once faced with the unexplainable, the unnamable, and it is as beautiful as it is disturbing. Cosmic Horror manages to combine a sense of awe and fascination as well as heart-stopping terror, and when you toss in some malicious human behavior, the effect is wickedly intense.

With her trust completely shattered, fearing for her life from the giant horror looming just within her grasp, and forced to step up to the plate and put aside her confusion and worry about her missing lover, Sue-Min finds it within herself to do everything just right. It might just be enough to survive, and it might not, but she has to try. Instinct takes over, yet the universe rarely gives you a gold star for effort. The Cosmos cares not.

The inevitable is delivered swiftly, and it is cold and detached, empty and indifferent. Human nature cannot hold a candle to Mother Nature. The effect is abrupt and deliberately confusing and you will realise soon after the last page is turned that you’ve been in good hands all the while, as the ending will linger long after you’ve finished the book. This is perhaps the strongest point of Noctuidae, that it must be experienced to be understood and to realise there are larger forces at work with good fiction, just as there is in the universe. Noctuidae is designed to leave an aftertaste upon completion, and its enormity may be lost on readers until a day or so after finishing the story. Don’t fret, just let it sink in, for the horror is inescapable. You will question your own existence, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Noctuidae by Scott Nicolay cements him in the annals of contemporary Weird Fiction without the trappings of the forefathers of the genre, while paying a direct homage to their massive influence. He is a writer to keep on your radar, for there’s absolutely no telling where he’ll go from here, and that kind of unpredictability in fiction is exactly what we are looking for.


Publisher: King Shot Press
Paperback (108pp)
Release Date: 11 March 2016

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