people can be fucking shallow. Bodies are just bodies. They need to get the fuck over it.
The “speculative fiction” of this collection is not hard sf by any stretch; it is not even very scientifically competent. Page 21 in the first story “Percipi” says that rebels living on the dark side of the moon “had survived five years of constant darkness.” This howler left me dubious when later stories offered wormhole-based propulsion and other technological leaps. These are also not generally stories with “big ideas” that are breaking conceptual new ground. There are an android uprising, zombie apocalypse (with an Invasion of the Body Snatchers inflection), a cyborg circus, robots tending a generation starship, and other well-worn themes that will be familiar to science fiction readers.
The jacket copy says that the book “envisages an alternate future as lived by the African diaspora.” But the individual stories aren’t clearly part of any sort of integral future history, and it wasn’t until the fifth story “Buck” that there was any clear indication of a principal character’s race. There’s no question that some of these stories do leverage author Courttia Newland’s perspective as a Black Englishman, and two of them use the Nommo spirits of the African Dogon people to characterize what seem to be extraterrestrials. Still, the science fiction element is definitely more consistent through the various stories than racial concerns are.
The title story “Cosmogramma” was all right, but it–like many of these–was little more than a vignette. In any case, I preferred the descriptive snapshot pieces like this one to the chronicle style evident in “Percipi.” Since the stories are typically quite short, there are a lot of them, and some of them really are notably strange and interesting. I best enjoyed the ones that incorporated significant elements of weird horror and/or were set closest to our contemporary situation, such as “Dark Matters” and “Link” that have city-dwelling youth encountering some sort of alien intelligence.
I really wanted to like this book, but I found it altogether a mixed bag, and it wasn’t one I returned to eagerly story after story.
It’s not make-up, it’s war paint. It isn’t clothing, it’s armor.
Big Dark Hole is a collection of fantasy and horror stories by Jeffrey Ford. Comparing it to his previous collection A Natural History of Hell, I find that the Hole is more this-worldly in its choices, with only two stories (“The Inn of the Dreaming Dog” and “Sisyphus in Elysium”) set in realities that do not at least seem to be our world within the possible stretch of living memory.
In fact, there are a number of stories where the speaker is Jeffrey Ford, an aging writer of stories and teacher of writing, one who likes to spend the evenings at his Ohio farm house drinking wine on the porch with his wife Lynn. But these stories, which notably include “The Match,” “The Bookcase Expedition,” and “Five-Pointed Spell,” are not a bit less weird in the events they recount than the bizarre carnival story narrated by a man with two faces (“Hibbler’s Minions”) or the one in which a perennial dinner guest turns out to be no one’s friend or relation and perhaps not human at all (“Thanksgiving”).
There’s a bit of additional self-referentiality in “Five-Pointed Spell” where a Hex Doctor tells “Ford” that “In real life, the supernatural declines to explain” (186). This refusal is supposedly different than in fiction, where “it must” explain. Yet in most of Ford’s stories here, the characters grope for explanations, largely in vain, when confronted with horrors and wonders outside the scope of the mundane. If the reader is able to settle on a rationale, Ford’s touch is light enough that it will seem like a discovery.
These pieces are largely reprints from multi-author collections and periodicals, but I had not read any of them before. This book confirmed Ford as a favorite of mine among twenty-first century writers of weird fantasy.
News flash, honeys, the equipment you’re born with has nothing to do with how strong or weak you are. It hasn’t nothing to do with anything about you. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Besides, some people would kill for what you’ve got.