Michael Bailey‘s Inkblots and Blood Spots is the second collection of shorter work from this versatile, hugely talented, and very influential dark/weird fiction writer and editor. It sweeps a very wide field, from pure psychological – and body – horror through weird tales to (approximately) straight science fiction and cosmic horror, all with a sprinkling of equally dark and unsettling poems. At the very least, it’s not a collection that shies away from testing the boundaries of its genre – if indeed it is delimited to any single genre at all. Michael Bailey’s first novel, Palindrome Hannah, owed its title as well as much of its construction to word puzzles and language games, and it’s no surprise to see the same tendencies at work here in full force.
The large number of stories and verse pieces in a relatively brief volume of 256 pages should give some idea of the variety of tone and form that Bailey offers, as well as the stylistically ambitious content. The book contains 33 stories, poems, and arguably, hybrids or less classifiable pieces. At least one item, “Countdown to Null,” is very close to an actual calligram, and Bailey seems as disturbingly mutable in his prose as in his verse. And despite the overtones of cosmicism in many of the tales, there’s a refreshing lack of Heavily Capitalized Horrors From Lovecraftian Dimensions, as well as stereotypical monsters/nemeses/folkloric survivals of more traditional kinds.
A lot of this work has appeared elsewhere, such as “Bootstrap/The Binds of Lasolastica” and the Bram Stoker Award-nominated “Fireman/Primal Tongue,” both of which appeared in consecutive volumes of the very wonderful Zippered Flesh series from Smart Rhino Publications. But that is no reason to hesitate from purchasing the book as a single – though anything but uniform – survey of Michael Bailey’s work. The illustrations, by British Fantasy Award-winning artist Daniele Serra, not only are appropriate to the mood and focus of the stories, they also add to a sumptuous feel of a very high quality production from Villipede, with the same kind of dedication to the publisher’s craft seen in their other work. Some readers might buy the book for the pictures alone: but they certainly would be doing themselves a disservice if they missed out on the words.
That said, some of the plaudits attached to the collection do appear excessive, such as F. Paul Wilson’s comment that Michael Bailey “is on track to becoming his generation’s Ray Bradbury” – but that caveat does indicate what a strong field Bailey is working, and how many prime talents he can count among his peers. As great collection after great collection attests, we are living through something of a golden age in dark and weird fiction, especially for shorter forms. Writers have to hold their heads up very high indeed to be among such company. Fortunately, Bailey does.