on 9 January 2014
Before I begin to analyze the contents of The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies, I'll mention that a lot has already been written about it and several critics and readers have praised it. That's why writing a review about this collection is a bit difficult, but I'll try to think of something new to say.
John Langan is an author who probably needs no introduction to horror readers. Just in case somebody doesn't know him, I can say that he's one of the best writers of horror and dark fantasy. He writes dark and original stories that both fascinate and shock the readers. His stories have appeared in several anthologies.
I personally became acquainted with John Langan's stories by reading Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters and House of Windows. I loved both of them and can highly recommend to everybody who likes good and well written horror fiction.
I confess that I'm a passionate fan of dark fantasy, horror and weird fiction, and I especially love literary stories. That's why it was a pleasure to read and review The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies. I can honestly say that it's one of the best horror collections that have been published during the last couple of years. This collection contains stylistic storytelling, weirdness, disturbing elements and excellent prose. It belogs to the same quality group of books as Laird Barron's The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and Richard Gavin's At Fear's Altar.
This collection contains nine stories of varying length and themes. The stories are:
- How the Day Runs Down
- The Wide, Carnivorous Sky
- City of the Dog
- The Shallows
- The Revel
- June, 1987. Hitchhiking, Mr. Norris
- Mother of Stone
Here's a bit more information about the stories:
- Kids is a good demonstration of the fact that quality comes in all shapes and sizes. Although this is the shortest story in this collection, it's an excellent story about zombie children.
How the Day Runs Down:
- Just like the previous story, this story is also a zombie story, but it's a totally different kind of a zombie story.
- This short story is almost like a play and reads like one. It's very rare that authors can write this kind of fiction and make it work, but John Langan has succeeded in it.
- This story can be seen as an examination of Edgar Allan Poe's famous The Masque of Red Death, because the protagonist examines Poe's story.
- I liked the author's approach to Poe's story, because I've always considered it to be one of the best gothic horror stories ever written.
The Wide, Carnivorous Sky:
- In my honest opinion this story is one of the best vampire stories ever published (this story and Nathan Ballingrud's Sunbleached are my favourite modern vampire stories).
- It's great that the author writes about a vampire who hunts in the daylight instead of night.
- It's intriguing that the author has added army veterans into the storyline and tells about what men saw in combat etc.
City of the Dog:
- This is a brilliant story about a man who lives in Albany.
- The author writes excellently about the protagonist and his relationship with Kaitlyn.
- Reading about the Ghûls was very interesting.
- I was already familiar with this story, when I began to read this collection, because it was originally published in the anthology Cthulhu's Reign (edited by Darrell Schweitzer), but it was a pleasure to read it again.
- This story is an amazingly original and well written Cthulhu mythos story that differs quite a lot from other Cthulhu stories.
- What makes this story especially interesting is that it's a story about a man who talks to a crab creature.
- This is a fresh approach to a werewolf story. I have to mention that John Langan's vision of a werewolf story reads almost like an analysis of a movie.
- In this story the author uses the second-person narrative mode surprisingly successfully as he addresses the reader every once in a while.
June, 1987. Hitchhiking, Mr. Norris:
- This is a fun and delightfully dark short story.
- This short story is part of an online anthology called "The Secret Life of Laird Barron" involving the horror and dark fantasy author Laird Barron.
Mother of Stone:
- I loved this novella, because it was a fascinatingly weird story about an excavated statue that had been put on display at local inn. The author wrote fantastically about what happened afterwards when it was put on display. (This novella alone makes this collection worth buying, owning and reading.)
- I'm not a big fan of stories written in the second-person narrative mode, because it seldom works well, but in this novella this narrative style works perfectly and creates a deeply unsettling and weird atmosphere.
There's wonderful versatility in this collection, because all the stories differ from each other. I think that with this collection John Langan has established himself as one of the best and most versatile writers of horror fiction. He already showed lots of promise with his debut collection (Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters) a few years ago, but this collection is much better and more versatile.
Although I enjoyed reading all stories in this collection, my favourite stories were The Shallows, Mother of Stone, City of the Dog and The Wide, Carnivorous Sky, because they're perfect examples of quality horror fiction. These four stories are so good that you can't help but admire the author's imagination and writing style.
I have to mention separately that The Shallows is an excellent example of how well a modern author can write an original Cthulhu mythos story. If you've read as many Cthulhu stories as I have and love Lovecraftian horror and dark fantasy, this story will be of interest to you, because it differs a lot from other similar stories.
I also have to mention that Mother of Stone is an perfect example of how well John Langan writes unsettling and memorable horror stories. This previously unpublished novella is among the best new horror stories I've read and it's clearly the best story in this collection.
I think it's possible that every reader experiences these stories in a different way depending on their taste in horror, dark fantasy and weird fiction, but I'm sure that everybody who reads this collection will be impressed by the author's way of combining classic and modern elements.
John Langan's stories are dark, macabre, elegant and hauntingly disturbing yet beautiful. He's one of the few modern horror authors who are capable of evoking real fear and feelings of dread in the reader. I respect him for writing stories that have a psychological effect on the reader. When I read these stories I found myself admiring how skillfully he built a chilling atmosphere and lured me into a slightly surreal, but believable world where supernatural elements are in perfect balance with realistic elements.
One of the reasons why John Langan is a good author is that his characterization is excellent. I've noticed that writing about characters and their lives is a bit difficult for many short story writers, but John Langan is an exception, because he manages to create characters that have depth in them. For example, if you take a closer look at City of the Dog, you'll notice how deeply and well he writes about the protagonist.
Everybody who loves good and well written horror and dark fantasy should put this collection immediately to their reading list. If you've ever read anything by e.g. Laird Barron, Richard Gavin or Nathan Ballingrud, and liked what you read, you'll love John Langan's stories.
Highly recommended - outstanding horror fiction!