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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Black Star, Black Sun by Rich Hawkins -- a review

Black Star, Black Sun by Rich Hawkins

Review by Gary Fry


I think I like Lovecraftian horror fiction better than any other kind, but here’s the sting: when it’s done badly, it’s probably my least favourite. Too many “Mythos-inspired” writers, I find, don’t know HPL’s work very well at all, tending to over-reveal their cosmic entities and essentially miss the point of the best of that particular author: that his invasive forces represent the sheer alienating power of the universe at large, its cold indifferent vastness, any part of which would murder us if we happened to leave the comfort of our earthly cradle.

And so here’s another scribe trying to raise his star in a firmament currently packed with them: Rich Hawkins, a relative newcomer who’s published a handful of books and is developing quite a desirable reputation. I’m sorry to say that until now I hadn’t read him, but on the strength of this novella, I reckon I’ll be returning for more.

Black Star, Black Sun is essentially the tale of a guy returning to his native village following the disappearance of his wife. Ben is a taciturn chap, given to robust reflection and critical self-analysis. His relationship with his father, reignited after years of separation, is convincing in all its “us against them” textures, the pair mutually bereft of their cherished lovers.

Hawkins is particularly good at expressing states of mind through his character’s perceptual orientation to the world. His prose is gaudy, choppy, jam-packed with lyrical turns of phrase. This put me in mind of early Ramsey Campbell, where people seem almost enmeshed with their environments, as if the world around them is staining their psyches. It’s all good gear, possessing a rhythmic impact, an accumulation of rich detail and acerbic observations, each of which contributes inexorably to a mounting pungent atmosphere.

The plot is slight, but that’s not a criticism. Hawkins appears to be more interested in evocation of place and character than in telling a headlong tale. Ben’s meetings with various village folk resonate with tensions, to such a degree that when the guy finally starts seeing things from the corners of his eyes, such outr√© elements, possibly not there at all, have a creeping force, a hint of horrors to come.

Ben’s meeting with a local artist with a similarly troubling backstory brings into play a physical aspect of all these suggestive elements: some kind of creature, decidedly unearthly, along with much delusionary talk of realms beyond our world.

In short, everything is grist to Hawkins’s mill – the atmosphere, the characters, the increasingly tangible events. We’re building towards something horrible, the Lovecraftian reveal, but the question here for me was, could Hawkins pull it off?

He did, and he didn’t, I think. In one sense – SPOILER – the very end of the novella is an anti-climax, the super-horror the author has threatened occurring off-stage, beyond the final page. However – and this is a big however – he’s already done something equally terrible. Indeed, the final village scene in the book is so awful that the traditional HPL-infused narrative is completely usurped, as a very human terror becomes as thunderously dreadful as anything lurking on the fringes of a void.

It’s a frightening, resonant conclusion to a very well-written piece. Hawkins controls his narrative, seems to know exactly what he’s hoping to achieve, and the whole thing reminded me of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia: a very human drama pitched in the form of an otherworldly violation. It’s a real head trip, and one I was grateful for. Splendid work.


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