The thing gets no stations out here, no rabbit ears needed. We don’t need networks and programming; we need only noise. We need only snow, electromagnetic noise, man, semut bertengkar as Indonesians say, which translates into something like “war of the ants.” Radio waves, cosmic microwave background radiation.
The Tindalos Asset is the third and likely final slender novel in Kiernan’s Tinfoil Dossier series. It introduces a new central character, while pulling along several from the earlier books. This character Ellison Nicodemo is the “asset” of the title, a subordinate agent of the deep black intelligence directorate referred to as “Albany” in this series. Usage in this book shows that the “Dreamland” of the previous volume’s title does also denominate this same outfit. (I had noted its ambiguity there.)
I was startled that the title of the first chapter was a quote from Leah Hirsig–but Kiernan seems to have received it via its use as a song title by Coil: “Paint me as a dead soul.” In the appended author’s note, they list all the music that was integral to the composition of the story (168). It’s no secret that these books are built around neo-Lovecraftian yog-sothothery, and this one is as much as anything an updated and re-imagined “Call of Cthulhu,” with generous bits of “Dagon” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Frank Belknap Long’s “The Hounds of Tindalos” is of course a significant source as well, and Kiernan ties its notions to the Manhattan Project, among other space-time problems.
Following the precedent in Black Helicopters, this book’s chapters are episodes presented under dates that are not in linear sequence, ranging from 1956 to 2151. The chronological core of the story is in January 2018, around the time it was written. This sort of time-loose montage effect has a self-similar relationship to the entire Tinfoil Dossier series, and I think the books could be read with enjoyment in any order. Indeed there seems to be some confusion among readers about the sequence of the first two books, since Black Helicopters, the one Kiernan calls “first,” was expanded and re-published as a series element after Agents of Dreamland.
Looking back on the series as a whole, its mixture of the weird horror Lovecraft canon with espionage and a certain measure of sympathy for the “monsters” is a common ground with other recent/current series: the Laundry Files of Charles Stross and the Innsmouth Legacy of Ruthanna Emrys. Kiernan’s more experimental style definitely makes these books distinctive, though. There really aren’t any of the comedic elements that Stross uses, and there’s more of a high-tragic sensibility despite the fact that the Tinfoil Dossier books are much shorter than their comparanda.
This work is rife with extra-textual and inter-textual allusions, which supply a lot of the enjoyment. Given its manageable size and convoluted presentation, I think there is a good chance I could return to it in the future for a profitable re-read.
The “Author’s note for the definitive edition” appended to the paperback of Black Helicopters clarifies that it was written prior to the novel to which it has since been published as a sequel, Agents of Dreamland. Although the Signalman from Agents does make an appearance here, it is only in one chapter, composed after the main text and after Kiernan had decided to connect the stories. Immacolata Sexton does not appear. This book features shoggoths, rather than the mi-go of Agents, but it’s really the humans who are creepiest in both books.
Black Helicopters doesn’t actually feature helicopters very conspicuously, and the narrative is non-sequential and all over the map: jumping between 2001, 2012, 2035, 2114, 2152, and other dates more difficult to decipher. Its ludic theme is grounded in chess, more particularly, the chess of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, while scientific themes include chaos theory, quantum physics, and paleontology. This last topic is one of prior professional interest to Kiernan, who has worked in the field. In fact, she admits to a strong autobiographical streak in the paleontological characters, crediting them with her own scientific achievements (and getting paid back in their glamorous outre narratives).
I think I preferred the shorter and more focused Agents of Dreamland to Black Helicopters, but this book was still a pretty quick read and a lot of fun. It will be best enjoyed by those who can appreciate the author’s scientific and cultural allusions, and who like terse, cautious dialogue among mistrusting interlocutors. The appended “remix” of Chapter 9 supplies the English for a conversation that the body of the book presents only in French. Since the chapter is set in the future relative to most of the rest of the book, non-Francophone readers will appropriately read it only after coming to the end.
Since the “series” relationship of this book to its other seems to have been an organic happenstance rather than deliberate plan, I only hope that it has inspired Kiernan to work on further stories in the same continuum.
The “Agents” of the title are presumably the espionage operatives for different agencies who provide the primary viewpoints in this short novel: the Signalman fatigued by his encounters with Things Men Was Not Meant to Know, and Immacolata Sexton exalted as a time-loose spectator. The latter seemed a little awkward to me; she was not really mysterious enough considering how unexplained were her superhuman abilities. I wonder if she features in other stories by Kiernan.
Still, the real meat of the book is in the business being investigated: Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” meets Charlie Manson and the Heaven’s Gate suicide cult in a southern California nightmare. The tale pulls that off very well, and I wonder–are these cultists really the agents? In that case “Dreamland” is Yuggoth. It’s certainly not the Dreamland of Lord Dunsany and HPL.