There’s weird. Then there’s WTholyF full-on all-out batshit weird. Then there’s Scott Thomas. His The Sea of Ash, the second title from Lovecraft eZine Press, is an experience in strange and dark imaginings quite unlike any you’re liable to have encountered – outside of acid-induced hallucinations in the Surrealist gallery at MoMA on Halloween, anyway. Scott Thomas is brother to Jeffrey Thomas, creator of the Punktown cycle, and I strongly suspect that a Transdimensional Emergency Support Team is in transit to Reality Incursion Site A at the Thomas homestead right now, to contain whatever horrors their young minds let into our world. Quite a few of which seem to have wound up in The Sea of Ash.
The outline briefly is this: A modern narrator retraces the bizarre odyssey of a Dr. Pond, an emotionally scarred survivor of World War 1 who uncovers new horrors in 1920s New England after a mysterious and bizarrely modified young woman washes up on the beach nearby his home. Both these protagonists delve into even earlier arcane events which have become classics of contemporary Forteana. The whole thing is short (more novella length than full novel) and easily digestible – if you weren’t constantly having to stretch your imagination to try to encompass the monstrosities that Thomas is trying to shoehorn into it. Imagine a Stephen King version of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, or what H.P. Lovecraft would have written if he’d been inspired by Giorgio de Chirico instead of the art of Clark Ashton Smith and Sidney Sime. That should give you some idea of the flavor. The story has a definite momentum and a definite conclusion – which remains a complete enigma. Jeffrey Thomas explains the genesis of the entire project in his Afterword – while still shedding no light on how his brother managed such a feat of the imagination.
Given how mad a ride it is, The Sea of Ash works its dark magic in rather inexplicable ways. Partly this is facilitated by Thomas’s lapidary style, which uses spare, exact prose to build steadily and relentlessly to all kinds of totally unexpected, bizarre, and often deeply disturbing revelations. Reading The Sea of Ash is like tracing a course of well-cut masonry where suddenly one brick turns out to be cut diamond, or compacted human teeth. Thomas uses a mix of styles and voices, modern and period, with some strong hints of steampunk, but without the arch, self-knowing air that often disfigures that sub-genre: all the protagonists, speaking from whatever period and in whatever person, are thoroughly convincing. There’s nothing remotely precious or archaistic about it. Which only makes the contrast with the insane, inexplicable things it describes all the more unnerving. The basic premise of the book – gateways between intersecting universes – is familiar, but what Thomas does with it is unexampled.
“In the four years that I’ve been publishing the eZine, no book has impressed me as much,” writes publisher and Lovecraft eZine editor Mike Davis in the Editor’s Preface, and you can see why, Some reviewers and critics, as well as Davis himself, have described this novella as “Lovecraftian,” which doesn’t really make sense because there’s no Cthulhu Mythos deities and denizens populating its pages. On the other hand, it is quintessential cosmic horror: by turns both cosmically mind-blowing and really very horrible. Absolutely recommended.