I’ve spent a fair amount of time on trains in the last few weeks. There’s something appealing about passing through an unfamiliar landscape–or even in seeing how a familiar one has changed, either simply over time or through the effects of the present season. And there’s a part of me that would love to look out of the window and see something strange and uncanny in the distance; something unreal in the middle of the mundane. Though I haven’t played a video game in the series in a long time, the trailer for the latest Final Fantasy game was, for me, eminently watchable in its juxtaposition of a normal road trip with the fantastical. See also Gareth Edwards’s Monsters, where strange creatures can be glimpsed in the distance of scenes; see also a number of Warren Ellis-penned comics (Planetary, Global Frequency, and Trees all come to mind) where the strange and unexpected lurk around familiar corners.
I thought of this tendency a lot when reading Elizabeth Hand’s collection Errantry: Strange Stories. Though I know that Hand’s background is in work that’s less overtly realistic, I know her best through her kinda-mystery Generation Loss, which is as much a meditation on art and the passage of time, and an evocative description of an isolated coastal town in Maine, as it is a book in which someone must solve something. What makes Hand’s collection notable are those moments where the fantastical (or at least the surreal) briefly collides with the mundane, but doesn’t necessarily lead to transcendence. A couple of the stories involve brief encounters with the strange, but it’s less about the existence of the supernatural than it is on the effects of having one’s worldview fundamentally altered. In the two stories that open the collection, “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” and “Near Zennor,” strange things occur, but they’re within the larger contexts of memory and grief, and they’re as difficult for their characters to put together as more earthly mysteries.
Nate Southard’s collection Will the Sun Ever Come Out Again? represents a kind of bleak flip side of that. There’s an introduction by Laird Barron, and Southard shares Barron’s ability to juxtapose elements of horror and crime fiction without shortchanging either; he’s also good at creating flawed, memorable characters. In these four stories, familiar situations slowly turn uncanny; in the best, “Something Went Wrong,” plots set in three timelines slowly intersect, balancing the mysterious with the quotidian, and adding a dash of the nightmarish. In his afterword, Southard notes that the underlying mythology for one of these stories was more overtly Lovecraftian in an earlier version, and was altered to be something of his own design. That’s promising, and it left me eager to read more from Southard in the coming months.