U.S. independent Villipede Publications describes itself as “one the finest specialty publishers in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres,” and produces not only fine limited editions of work by major horror, fantasy, and science fiction writers, as well as print and ebook publications of some excellent new authors. One of these is Kurt Fawver, whose first collection Forever, in Pieces has been received with near adulation by some fellow writers and critics, with plaudits like “exquisite in every possible way” and “perfectly balanced between beautiful and vicious, clever and dark” being bandied about.
The ebook presentation is ambitious, with diverse fonts and illustrations by Luke Spooner, some in full color, that display impressively even on a small screen but occasionally impede navigation. And you need to be able to find your way around. At 18 stories in 252 print-equivalent pages, it’s not hard to see that some of the stories are very concise indeed. Stories with titles like “Brief Repose Moments before a Gruesome and Certain Death” are about exactly that. A few are Lovecraftian, but rarely overtly so. Most concern “an insane turn within an equally insane universe,” and along the way bring some really appalling horrors. Don’t read “May Old Acquaintance Be Forgot” if you’re too easily upset, for example, or “Birth Day.”
“We are a species eternally trying to rise above our fragility and our fallibility, to master an indifferent or outright hostile universe, and, most often, we fail,” writes Fawver in his introduction. That might lead you to expect high-flown and deliberately difficult writing, but it’s not so. There are some more highly wrought stories, but most of Fawver’s prose is straightforward and simple, especially from the first-person viewpoint of his protagonists – just one of the traits he shares with Kafka. There’s plenty of mordant irony too, shading over easily into poignant loss or grim horror. In fact, his style is mostly taut and contained, confining the delirious and atrocious subject matter all the more effectively.
Fawver deliberately invites comparison with “the most banal zombie film ever made,” and does it with style. Sometimes he literally stands genre cliche on its head, as with “For the Unhaunted,” which focuses on the only unhaunted house in a spirit-infested neighborhood. (Needless to say, things progress to murder, and worse.) Fawver is also a dab hand at pace and timing, progressively racheting up the discomfort level in the manner of masters of the genre. Much of his fiction actually hinges on profound existential disquiet – not what you expect to read on the jacket of a Stephen King novel, but a posture that’s able to give quite a number of shocks and squick moments along the way.
“I want my readers to come away from my stories with a chink in their preconceptions, and a tremor in their beliefs,'” Fawver concludes. “If my stories also force you to exercise your intellect – even just a little bit – then I’ve truly succeeded as a writer.” Mission accomplished.