Scott Nicolay's Ana Kai Tangata: Tales of the Outer the Other the Damned and the Doomed was published in April, but unfortunately I didn't have a chance to read it earlier. Well, better late than never, because this collection is an excellent and outstanding collection. I would've been very sorry to have missed it, because it contains fantastic and original horror stories.
Many critics have already praised Ana Kai Tangata and a lot has been written about it and its contents, so I'll write a short review about it. Before I write more about the contents of this collection, I'll mention briefly that I agree with the other critics and their opinions about the superior quality of this collection. This collection truly is something unique, because all the stories in it are excellent and worth reading (the publisher, Fedogan & Bremer, must be congratulated for publishing Ana Kai Tangata, because collections like this one are rare gems).
It's a bit difficult to believe that Ana Kai Tangata is Scott Nicolay's debut collection, because he writes good prose and knows how to shock his readers with weird and fascinating horror stories that have both depth and plenty of style in them (normally this kind of quality can only be expected from already established authors who have published many stories). There are no flaws or weaknesses in this collection, because everything's perfect.
It's easy for me to say that Ana Kai Tangata is one of the best weird fiction collections of the year and it's a serious contestant for the best debut weird fiction collection of the year. The only other debut weird fiction collection that has truly impressed me this year is Clint Smith's Ghouljaw and Other Stories, but it differs greatly from this collection. Ana Kai Tangata is something different and experienced weird fiction readers will be able to notice how subtly and nuancedly the author has written his stories from start to finish and how easily he has added explicitness and raw emotions to them.
This collection is a totally satisfying and mesmerizing combination of unsettling weirdness, explicit scenes, three-dimensional characters, powerful imagery and beautifully written prose. I think it's good to mention that the stories in this collection contain sexually explicit material and brutality (the author uses explicit elements in a good and satisfying way).
Ana Kai Tangata contains the following eight stories:
- The Bad Outer Space
- Ana Kai Tangata
- Eyes Exchange Bank
- The Soft Frogs
I've heard that the deluxe edition of this collection contains an extra story, but I haven't had a chance to read it, so I can't mention anything about it. If it's as good as the other stories, it'll be worth reading.
Most of these stories are of novella-length, so they're long stories. Scott Nicolay writes excellent novellas, because he carefully develops the protagonists and explores many things. I liked the way the author wrote about the characters and their lives, because they felt realistic and had their own feelings and traits. The author writes surprisingly complex stories and takes his time to build a strange atmosphere that almost leaps of the pages and grabs you by the throat and refuses to let go until you've finished reading the stories.
Although I loved the novellas, the shorter stories were also good. They were interesting and differed from the longer stories in terms of storytelling, because the author had less space to develop the story and had to create tension in a short time. In my opinion the short stories demonstrate how versatile an author Scott Nicolay is, because he's one of the few speculative authors who are as adept at writing short stories as they are at writing novellas.
This collection opens with "alligators" which is a strong short story about a man who sees a recurring nightmare, but the next story, "The Bad Outer Space" really sets the mood for what's to come, because it's an unforgettable and frightening story that has been told from a child's point of view. It's rare that Scott Nicolay has had courage to write this story in the first person from a child's point of view, because not many authors are capable of writing this kind of stories in a successful way.
"Ana Kai Tangata" is an especially interesting story, because the events take place on Easter Island. This novella is one of the best weird fiction stories I've ever read, because the author manages to create a strange atmosphere that both chills and thrills the reader.
"Eyes Exchange Bank" is an excellent Ligottian story. It was originally published in The Grimscribe's Puppets (edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.), which was an anthology that paid homage to Thomas Ligotti. This story will also be found in Year's Best Weird Fiction: Volume One (edited by Laird Barron). I'm sure that everybody who has read Thomas Ligotti's stories will be impressed by this story.
Here's a few words about the rest of the stories: "Phragmites", just like "Ana Kai Tangata", is a story in which a cave is mentioned. "The Soft Frogs" is a wonderfully unsettling and creepy weird fiction story that is partly a tale of a transformation from a nature nerd to a punk. The apartment featured in "Geschäfte" is creepy and unforgettable, and the protagonists memories about his girlfriend are nuanced and vivid. The horror and noir elements blend perfectly and effortlessly in "Tuckahoe", which can almost be called a short novel due to its length.
Such authors as Thomas Ligotti, Robert Aickmann, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and T.E.D. Klein have been mentioned by readers and critics who have read this collection. I agree with them on what they wrote about the resemblances to these authors, because there's something in these stories that remind the reader of their complex stories. I want mention separately such authors as Clive Barker and Laird Barron when talking about the contents of this collection, because in my opinion Scott Nicolay has the same kind of tendency to avoid easy solutions and worn-out elements and storylines as Barker and Barron.
The protagonists in these stories are fully three-dimensional. The author takes his time to develop the characters and adds quite a lot of depth to them, which is very nice, because the more you know about the characters, the more powerful and personal is the effect on the reader when something unexpected happens to the characters or they experience something strange that shakes their lives.
The locales featured in these stories feel wonderfully realistic and also threatening. Scott Nicolay has chosen effectively haunting locales for his stories. He writes deftly about them. I respect him for using this kind of locales, because it demonstrates that he has creativity and vision.
There's quite a lot of originality in this collection, because the author has an original and modern way of approaching many themes and things. It was a real pleasure to read stories that were genuinely original and differed from other new horror stories. It was especially interesting for me to read about the caves, because caves are seldom featured in modern horror stories. There are - of course - a few other stories out there on the market in which feature caves, but only a couple of them have been as good and frightening as the stories in this collection.
According to the information found on the inside of the dust cover, Scott Nicolay has had an interesting life and has experienced quite a lot. For example, he has explored caves and knows about archaeology etc. I think that many of his experiences have been an important source of inspiration to him, because he writes fluently about cave exploration, the Navajo people and many other things.
I have to admit that I was positively surprised to find out that all the stories in this collection were excellent, because normally debut collections seem to have at least one or two mediocre stories in them. I liked "The Bad Outer Space", "Ana Kai Tangata", "The Soft Frogs", "Geschäfte" and "Tuckahoe" very much and consider them to be perfect examples of well written weird horror stories. I especially want to mention that "Geschäfte" is an exceptionally good and memorable piece of modern weird fiction, because it features a protagonist that suffers from guilt and the author has created a creepy yet melancholy atmosphere that can almost be touched by hands.
The artwork by David Verba looks beautifully weird and fits the collection perfectly. The artwork emphasizes the unsettling nature of the stories in an excellent way.
As you may have already guessed by my glowing praise of this collection, I love it very much. I sincerely hope that Scott Nicolay will write more short stories and novellas and continues to grace us with his dark imagination.
If you like enjoy reading stories by such modern horror masters as Laird Barron, Richard Gavin, Clive Barker, Clint Smith, Thomas Ligotti, Nathan Ballingrud and Simon Strantzas, you're in a for treat when you begin to read Ana Kai Tangata, because it's every bit as good as the stories written by these authors. Scott Nicolay uses the same elements as these authors, but writes wholly original fiction that resonates among readers who are fond of powerful images, well created protagonists and weird storylines.
If you love the weirder side of horror and aren't squeamish, you should read this collection as soon as possible. It's an excellent collection full of fascinating stories and well written prose. In my opinion Ana Kai Tangata is essential reading material for fans of weird fiction and weird horror stories. It's a superb collection for quality-oriented horror readers.