Wednesday 26 November 2014

Recommendation: Peel Back The Sky by Stephen Bacon

PEEL BACK THE SKY by Stephen Bacon (trade paperback edition)Stephen Bacon is an author I've been meaning to read more of for awhile, after enjoying his stories in the Ill At Ease and Anatomy Of Death anthologies. I find it can go two different ways when you read a collection by an author you've only read a few pieces by; sometimes they are revealed as a one-trick pony, with deadening repetitive prose and similar story lines providing ever diminishing returns as you struggle through a whole book’s worth of their stuff.

Fortunately, Peel Back The Sky proves to be the second kind of experience, where the stories have enough thematic connections to make this a coherent collection, but enough individuality to stand out from each other. There’s a wide range of different supernatural and horror ideas explored, all told in Bacon’s quietly controlled prose. There are some MR James style ghost stories and old-fashioned chillers, but for me the best pieces here are where Bacon allows himself to move away from the more traditional tropes. The Trauma Statement is a very dark and original story about collective and personal responsibility, and how much we might tolerate the misfortune of others, whereas Catch Me If I Fall is so darkly comic that it wouldn't be out of place as a League Of Gentlemen sketch. Another fine piece, Concentric, is different again: horror on a vast scale as an oceanographer is called out to investigate a hole in the ocean… The grim nostalgia of Last Summer is another highlight, in part because of its evocative account of the dying days of a mining community in the Thatcher years.

Perhaps best of all is the head-messing I Am A Creation Of Now, which is one of those stories that upon finishing you immediately want to reread. A chilling exploration of such ideas as self-deception, non-linear time, and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Regular readers will know how much I like ambiguous stories about fractured reality; well this is one of the best such stories I've ever read.

Ultimately this is a collection where readers are likely to have their own favourites; there’s not a bad story here and the range of styles means there’s something for dark fiction fans of all stripes. Thoroughly worth your time.

1 comment:

MRCosby said...

This looks interesting thanks James!