Nightmare’s Realm (Dark Regions) – edited by S T Joshi
Review by Gary Fry
In his introduction, S T Joshi shows how dreams have played a major role in the history of weird fiction, with many major practitioners writing tales influenced by or incorporating this most mysterious of human characteristics. The editor’s mission statement here is to continue in the latter-day this long tradition, and so let’s see how well the modern writers he chose fared.
The Dreamed by Ramsey Campbell
This is one of Campbell’s tales set in a foreign location, with all the sense of dislocation his characters experience heightened. A guy checks into a hotel but is soon confused for another, and as the plot unfolds this convergence of identity becomes more and more apparent, until… Well, I won’t spoil it; all I’ll say is that the tale demonstrates Campbell’s uneasy dark humour and suggestive powers to the full. A great opener.
A Predicament by Darrell Schweitzer
This brief tale involves a trial in some olde worlde locale, its documentary prose leading up to an excellent final line. Almost like a prose poem.
Kafkaesque by Jason V Brock
More dark comedy is at work in this lively piece, which has a guy encountering Kafka in a dream and, via progress through hell, discovering a new piece of fiction written by the great Czech. It’s a very inventive and wry story, which I really enjoyed.
Beneath the Veil by David Barker
Another brief piece, this tale has a satisfying symmetry as two versions of the same key life event – a wedding – are presented, one ostensibly the reality and another a garish dream. But which is which? The author leaves it pleasingly ambiguous and all the more powerful for that.
Dreams Downstream by John Shirley
A longer tale detailing a modern landscape invaded by tech-induced dream hallucinations. I rather enjoyed it, being reminded of J G Ballard all the way through.
Death-Dreaming by Nancy Kilpatrick
This one wasn’t quite for me – that’s always going to happen, in all anthologies – but that’s not to say I perceived any specific faults here. I certainly found the prose evocative.
Cast Lots by Richard Gavin
Gavin’s tale captures convincing shifts of perspective as dreams fuses with everyday life, ending with a great image of some malevolent thing. It’s nicely paced and neatly written.
The Wake by Steve Rasnic Tem
A surreal tale involving the death of the central character’s father, with dreamlike events during the wake adding to the piece’s poignancy. A clever and heartfelt story.
Dead Letter Office by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Again, this is not my kind of thing, but I actually enjoyed the story a lot, with its colourful evocation of a future era and location, along with a killer last few lines. Even Radiohead are referred to, so yeah, big tick from me.
The Art of Memory by Donald Tyson
This was one of my favourite tales here, its protagonist experiencing an unusual haunting involving memory and violated dreamscapes. While the central idea put me in mind of one in Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, the wry conclusion made me smile in that laconic way we searchers after horror always relish.
What You Do Not Bring Forth by John Langan
Another very short story, ostensibly a crime caper but with a quirky and effective conclusion. Langan continues to play successfully with form and that’s certainly apparent here.
The Barrier Between by W. H. Pugmire
Again, not really my thing. I’ve enjoyed Pugmire’s work elsewhere, but I’m not the best reader to comment on such material here. Sorry!
Sleep Hygiene by Gemma Files
Another of my favourites, Files’s tale is wonderfully evocative, streetwise, pungent and sinister. I really enjoyed the way she evoked (invoked?) the invader of dreams. Her prose, although choppy, has a vibrancy and life which seriously impressed me, and I’ll be reading more from Files.
Purging Mom by Jonathan Thomas
More superb prose. Thomas’s clever tale is full of striking phrases and vividly conjured scenes. Its English locale coupled with an American traveller make for many fun, creepy sequences. Great entertainment.
The Fifth Stone by Simon Strantzas
From spiky, colourful writing to something much more controlled and sombre – but Strantzas’s tale, given its material, is all the better for that. A life-spanning tale of a character holding back something unthinkable with object-focused faith, its final images are potent in their clinical evocation, their matter-of-fact horror. The author excels in depicting the character’s obsession and vulnerability. Fine piece.
In the City of Sharp Edges by Stephen Woodworth
Perhaps the most traditionally structured story here, Woodworth’s clever exploration of a blind-man’s trouble-with-dreams ends with an unpleasant image of something monstrous…but something which the character, as for us readers, cannot see. A neat conceit executed well.
An Actor’s Nightmare by Reggie Oliver
And here we have perhaps the book’s most striking piece. Oliver’s depiction of the cattish world of theatre is highly convincing (as you’d expect from a former actor), but it’s the concluding dream sequence which blows the mind. Despite his restrained English style, Oliver can occasionally be completely bonkers, and his descriptions here of an ill-at-ease character’s subconscious at play is magnificent. ‘In the Hills, the Cities’ comes to mind. And the final lines, although perhaps anticipated, nail down the whole mad tale. Perhaps I even dreamt it.
As you can see from my comments, I found this an impressive anthology, with several standout tales and many which were also extremely good. The book’s theme is a promising one, and Joshi and his accomplices have fulfilled it admirably. A really good, varied collection. It’s even top and tailed by a bit of Messrs Poe and Lovecraft. Sleep easy, all.