Dark fiction writer and editor C.M. Muller is no mean scrivener in his own right, and a significant enough voice in the weird/strange writing community to have gathered 20 excellent tales for what’s essentially a self-published anthology. Nightscript Volume 1, is first of a series from Chthonic Matter, C.M. Muller’s own publishing outfit, and if this volume if anything to go by, I look forward eagerly to Volume 2. For one thing, production values are excellent, including the finely evocative cover from a 1904 painting by Theodor Kittelsen, but it’s the content that matters. And there, Muller more than delivers.
Muller explains in his preface that he is “irresistibly drawn” to fiction which “implants its weird seed into the reader’s mind and thereafter blooms into something so very satisfying to behold.” Some really notable names – Daniel Mills, Kirsty Logan, Damien Angelica Walters, Michael Kelly – fall under that rubric, along with less celebrated but frequently no less talented writers. Some of the tales are very short, but have no less of a bite. And the standard of the prose is almost uniformly excellent.
This is definitely a volume of differing flavors, most of them tending towards the quietly, insidiously, incrementally weird. “The Cuckoo Girls,” by Patricia Lillie, for example, ought to have an obvious enough premise, given its title, but the gradual, low-key reveal works particularly well. (Needless to say, there isn’t an overt explanation, only a sense of imaginative rightness, or rather, wrongness.) There’s traditional monsters on offer – notably that served up by Clint Smith in “Animalhouse.” Fairy stories too – though the one Damien Angelica Walters spins in “Tooth, Tongue, and Claw” is not one you’d be likely to repeat to your children. But there’s plenty of very contemporary writing too. Ralph Robert Moore manages to work a critique of the decay of modern America into a description of a very late (phantom?) pregnancy in “Learning Not to Smile.”
Readers shouldn’t need telling by this stage that there is some very fine writing being done in the field off dark/weird fiction these days, especially in shorter forms. If anyone did forget, or fail to realize, Nightscript would drive the point home. Recommended.