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Burnt Black Suns: A Collection of Weird Tales Paperback – May 1, 2014
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"In this powerful new collection of short stories, fallible characters trip over their feet of clay and sprawl into encounters with horrors beyond their comprehension. Strantzas nimbly balances sympathetic characters humanized by their flaws with horrors on a cosmic scale so vast that they mock the very notion of human significance. The stories in this book abound with references to the work of H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, and Robert W. Chambers, and Strantzas deftly demonstrates his ability to hold his own with them."
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Top customer reviews
I find that many genre fiction stories reduce characters to one dimensional figures and focus on the plot happening, without much effort to connect the characteristics of an individual to the events of the story. While this can be a passable way to tell a story if it is interesting, it can result in readers being less invested in the outcome. I read a lot of short horror fiction and find that when characters are underdeveloped my attention can wander, no matter how unusual the story may be.
The strength of Simon Strantzas' collection is that he seems to have personalized the stories for the characters. The reader understands not just the plot, but why these events are happening to these particular people.
The stories would appeal to a broad range of readers, as they are not overly violent or gory.
On Ice -- 4/5
Strantzas starts out with a bang in this Arctic chiller. A group of graduate students follow their professor on an arctic expedition in order to find something related to geology... or was it biology. Can't quite remember, but the story itself is a good one. The slow and methodical descent into a frozen Arctic nightmare is perfect. Strantzas gives you just a few bits to keep you reading without giving the game away until he is ready. Stories like this tend to place more emphasis on the "journey" rather than the "destination"; Strantzas is no different. The revelation at the end while not necessarily bad, is a tad disappointing. I was hoping for some kind of cosmic horror in the vein of Lovecraft but the end felt less so. Not a bad ending, just doesn't live up to the potential established by the rest of the story in my opinion
Dwelling on the Past -- 1/5
This was such a disappointing story made all the more worse having followed the very good "On Ice". The majority of the story deals with a "fixer" for a shady company. Apparently there are some natives that are protesting something that the company is doing. So this fixer guy is supposed to go in and... fix things presumably. The entire story is confusing, doesn't make a lot of sense and wastes any potential it could have had by focusing, for the most part, on the fixer's past. This past bears no relation to the current problem and is hugely distracting. This could have become decent horror/mystery kind of story with the company and the natives each hiding something but that direction is not taken at all. As a result, we have a confusing mess of a story that focuses mostly on the main character's dead daughter and his inability to get over it.
Strong as a Rock -- 2/5
I thought this could have been a decent story but ultimately found it pretty dumb. Let me explain. Two brothers go rock climbing to get over the recent death of their mother. One gets hurt and they have to go to the hospital. Weird things start happening with the map being completely useless and then finding a dilapidated "hospital". The older rushes in to find help for the younger brother. The younger brother begins to see weird things but we don't know if they are real. Finally there is a horror at the end. The beginning was fairly decent but I thought it was so stupid that you had this brother running through a clearly decrepit hospital without a thought of everything the younger brother is seeing. I'm guessing you're not really supposed to if the younger brother is hallucinating or not, but that is an extremely annoying plot device.... Oh look, we don't know what is real or not. This sort of thing is more annoying in my opinion. I just couldn't suspend my disbelief of the brothers continually running through this "hospital" believing a doctor to be just around the corner. It's just stupid.
By Invisible Hands -- 3/5
An aging puppet maker receives an unusual contract offer and weird things start happening as a result. I don't like stories that read like dream sequences. I want good characters and good plot, not some confusing narrative where you don't know what is real. This whole story feels that way and I really thought it was stupid... at first. The ending changes things up a bit and I found myself liking the story after reading it. Yes, the ending definitely makes up for the rest of the dream-like sequence that precedes it.
One Last Bloom -- 4.5/5
This novella restored my hope in this collection after the previous 3 "meh" stories. 2 graduate students await the return of a professor from his trip into the Pacific to find evidence substantiating some of his "weird" theories. A box full of jars and specimens and a journal is all that comes back. As the 2 students try to piece back what happened, they enter a world of horror with all the patience in the world. This story grabbed me from the start and wouldn't let go till the gore-soaked ending. The mystery is just tantalizing enough to keep you going with bits and pieces constantly dangled in front of the reader. The ending, unlike "On Ice" makes good on the promise of the beginning and middle of the story. Fantastic story with a minor nitpick from me... this is the reason I give it 4.5/5 instead of 5/5. The ending was too gross even for me. That one scene with the chick... way too much for me and felt a gratuitous. Other than that, the story is amazing.
Thistle's Find -- 4/5
This is fairly short story, but packs quite a punch. A common hooligan (I think) finds shelter with an eccentric neighbor with whom he's been acquainted since youth. This weird neighbor lets the hooligan in on 2 horrible discoveries. I hate stories where "the real monster is us humans" but this one works really well. The eccentric neighbor's revelation is truly disturbing and grotesque and, sadly, feels a bit too real. I enjoyed this one despite a lack of mystery that I so like in my horror stories.
Beyond the Banks of the River Seine -- 3.5/5
I really enjoyed the writing and characterization in the story. The story itself is intriguing for what it leaves out, though I do wish more was done with it; it feels a bit too short for me. For some reason it reminded me of Lovecraft's "the Music of Erich Zann". It had the same feel in my opinion. A fun story to read that I wish was a bit longer.
Emotional Dues -- 3/5
A painter receives an offer he can't refuse from a mysterious recluse. This story was actually pretty good, but I found the main character a bit annoying. I'm not an artist so I guess I'll never understand how much of his soul he put into his art, but I still think he was stupid for refusing the money. Finally, the ending is disappointing because the revelation is too.... I dunno, it just felt stupid. I don't want to say too much without giving it all away. But the lead up was decent making the story average overall.
Burnt Black Suns -- 5/5
The titular story is just fantastic. The plot, the mystery, the atmosphere, the characterization all fuse together to form an amazing lovecratian novella. A father arrives in a forgotten Mexican town in search of a son kidnapped by his ex-wife. He gets far more than he bargained for. There is nothing bad to be said about this story. The characters are well drawn, even the ex-wife who isn't "on-screen" much is drawn with such vividness. The mystery and atmosphere hangs in the air soaking everything else. The ending manages to do justice to the cosmic horror that the story hints at while simultaneously delivering a horrifying, emotional punch to the stomach. The father's almost suicidal drive to find his son even at the expense of his girlfriend and unborn child is maddening but fits so well with the story and character of the father. I loved this story and believe it showcases Strantza's talent for mystery, atmosphere, plot and character more than any other story. By far my favorite story in the bunch.
Overall, the 3 strongest stories in the bunch "On Ice", "One Last Bloom" and especially "Burnt Black Suns" more than make up for the decent to average to even downright crappy other stories. I personally recommend this collection on the quality of these three stories alone. Who knows, you might even like the ones I didn't.
I'd recommend reading this anthology, but not because it's something that will really blow you away. It's just a fun collection to read.
I've been reading the new China Mieville collection concurrently, and the contrast is stark and damning. Needless to say, if your time is limited read Aickman, read Mieville, read Campbell, read Ligotti, reread Lovecraft, and then and only then, should you still find yourself utterly unsated in search of offbeat creeps, try "Burnt Black Suns." That's about all I can say for it.