Split Through the Sky, by Lena Ng

“Instead of stars, the pinpricks of light seemed as holes where an unknown, unfathomable voyeur was spying from the other side of the nocturnal sky as through a camera obscura.”

hinnom-front-kdp[1]As a teenager, one of the many joys I took out of reading Lovecraft was the sense of mystery and other-worldliness he was able to pack into his writing. It wasn’t just his florid prose or his antediluvian monsters. It was the way he was able to hint at whole worlds, whole bodies of hidden or forbidden knowledge simply by dropping the name of some ancient tome. Most memorable, of course, was the Necronomicon—a book which for years of my youth I was convinced was real. And no one could talk me out of it (I even found a copy of the text on the internet, so there!). But he also had others, like Cultes des Goules, and the Pnakotic Manuscripts which set my imagination alight just by seeing their titles. His immediate contemporaries followed suit: Clark Ashton Smith had his Book of Eibon, Robert Howard his Unaussprechlichen Kulten, and Robert Bloch created the De Vermis Mysteriis (with HPL’s help on the final name). Brian Lumley later came up with the G’harne Fragments, and Ramsey Campbell had his Revelations of Gla’aki. Outside of the canon of HPL’s works, and the works of the named gentlemen above, I haven’t encountered too much use of this trope and that’s a shame. Then I read Split Through the Sky by Lena Ng and I was right back in my youth, my imagination on fire with possibility as words of forbidden texts and forgotten book titles crossed the page amidst beautiful, lurid, and very Lovecraftian prose.

Split Through the Sky can be found in the latest issue of Hinnom Magazine (Issue #010) published by C.P. Dunphey at Gehenna and Hinnom Books, released on May 20, 2019. G&H Books just completed a massively successful Kickstarter and so their publishing calendar for the rest of 2019 and into 2020 looks incredible! In particular, I am really looking forward to letting you all know about a story or two contained in Pete Rawlik’s forthcoming G&H collection, “Strange Company.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Hinnom Magazine stands the best chance of being the spiritual successor to Weird Tales available in today’s market. Sure, there’s lots of other great magazines out there, but are they in print? No. Some great print magazines exist, like Black Static, but that’s over in the UK. Each issue of Hinnom consistently has great works of cosmic horror fiction, dark poetry (though that’s not really my thing), cool interviews, writing advice, and great interior illustrations. They’re not full color and glossy, yet, but I imagine that will be an achievable goal for G&H one day. I’m a big supporter of what G&H is doing and think you should be, too. If we don’t support creators like this, then, well, we’ve seen what happens. If you’re interested, check out their Patreon page.

9947739633_341b8e5040_b[1]Split Through the Sky is the haunting story of someone being called from beyond, out of their daily life, into a weird, wide world of terror and the unknowable reaches of space, at times reminiscent of Dreams in the Witch House. Our protagonist, never identified (though for some reason I imagined them to be a woman in their thirties), has trouble sleeping, and who wouldn’t: “Before I has gone to bed on the first night of torments, I had noticed a disturbing alignment of stars. Through mathematics, the stars and planets should follow a predictable elliptical path. But the planets of Versiveus, Kraelov, and Diaxon moved in enigmatic, unnerving voyages. Other stars crossed in horrendous formations, and I quaked at what such signs could mean.” Lovecraft fans should be all a-tingle just now, if you are anything like me. Ng’s writing, while calling HPL to mind, is of a style all her own, often unsettling while rewarding slow, attentive reading.

Through a series of disturbing events the protagonist discovers she (?) is not who she thought she was, and in fact was adopted from the particularly creepy sounding Gentrocide Orphanage. 2974d6bced8cb89094d8cfdfa770b708[1].jpgFrom there, “after much consultation through incantations and incense, oratory and arguments,” her journey of self-discovery takes her to the ruins of an ancient temple, seemingly still presided over by a high priestess. After an arduous journey, she is met by the monks who keep watch over the place, who escort her to the chambers of the high priestess, where not all is as you might expect it to be, no matter or not that you might have been expecting the worst. Clues to her genesis are given, and she is off again to the next nightmarish locale, still in the company of said sepulchral monastics. There she will finally learn the truth, horrible though it may be.

As I said above, most Lovecraft fans will find quite a lot here to satisfy their abyssal cravings. We’ve got nightmares and monks, ruined temples and orphanages, incantations and lost tomes and astrology. It’s all very, very good stuff. But Ng raises it to the next level with her writing, which is erudite (though bordering on stuffy at points where some will think a thesaurus was overused) and evocative. I rejoiced each time I saw another fantastic descriptor deployed —”lachrymosal,” “abattoirial,” “octrine,” “vomitus,”, and “mucosal,” were among my favorites. Somewhere, the Old Gent’s skull is grinning, too. It wasn’t just her vocab, either, that enhanced her writing, but an unusual flow and rhythm that sometimes stretched standard grammatical practices.  monsters in the skyThis sprinkled her prose with spice and flavor in quite delicious ways. For example, “Back in my studio, page after page I flung to the floor as I drew diagrams, scribbled equations, created derivatives and reductions of the movements of the stars, knowing the patterns of the celestial formation must be a part of a grander design.” See how she constructs that sentence to lead you into the emotion and immediacy of the moment, worrying more about what it feels like that what it looks like on a page? The whole story is written in this way and it was both refreshing and fun, without falling into aping HPL or others. Lena Ng, with several publications already to her name and with her fresh voice and clear command of the genre, is definitely an author to watch.

This issue of Hinnom Magazine comes with two other good pieces of fiction. Its Eyes Are Open, by Ben Thomas is a creature feature. As such, it is a lot of fun, and pretty creepy at times, but honestly I kept wanting it to develop in an unexpected way and it just kept on keeping on in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get style. Nothing wrong with that, but nothing special either.  Samantha Bryant’s story, Margaret Lets Her Self Go, on the other hand is very unexpected, creative, and scary. I almost reviewed it but then I read Ng’s story and knew I had to tell you about it instead.

Until next time, my lachrymosal friends, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nug and Yeb,
~The Bibliothecar

Show Your Work at the Bottom of the Page: “Not the math of this world but the math of the parallel: non-Newtonian geometry, Fortunado’s topology, octrine trigonometry. Not even the black calculus of Crucerbus could decipher the malevolent pattern.”

Survivor Type, by Damir Salkovic

“Molly was kneeling by the window, her rifle cradled in her lap, her face lit by the red glare of the night. A strange cacophony came from outside, a wailing chant that was half screams and half laughter, accompanied by the rumble of drums and the shrill of pipes and flutes. The infernal din curdled Nick’s blood: he crept to the window and what he saw froze him in place.”

hinnom-008-cover.jpgLike many of you fellow cosmic trespassers, I have, from time to time, wondered what if Erich Zahn had broken a string; what if the strange alchemy of Armitage and Co. had failed and the powder was ineffective; what if Cthulhu rose and the armies of Y’ha-nthlei flopped ashore? In other words, what if Lovecraft’s monsters and gods won? In our last story, we saw a glimpse of that that didn’t quite meet with my expectations, enjoyable though it was to read. Tonight’s story, on the other tentacle, presents a vision that I can at least buy into. It’s a glimpse of a mythosian victory that is truly terrifying and very creative. I have to say a word about where I encountered this story. Hinnom Magazine (this issue was #008) is a relative newcomer on the horror zine scene, and I’ve only recently encountered it. When I saw what C.P. Dunphey and friends were trying to do I immediately became a subscriber. Their covers advertise the magazine as “the world’s most popular magazine of weird fiction and cosmic horror,” and while I think that’s more aspiration than truth at this point, I’m excited for that possibility and for a true successor to Weird Tales, of blasphemous memory. I’m on board and hope to see it come to pass. Do yourself a favor and check it out. Alright, on to the story.

I have to admit, when I first started reading I thought, “Oh no, here we go, another post-apocalyptic, Walking Dead type, survival story.” But by page 2, I saw how wrong I was. It is a post-apocalyptic survival story, but the reason for the apocalypse wasn’t political strife or even an errant tweet from an orange haired moron. It was the rising of what I’ll take to be an Old One that triggered the nuclear codes to be used – “…the bombers diving out of the the sun, trying to nuke the thing in Yokohama Bay.” Post-Nuclear-War-Landscape-Wallpaper-800x600[1]Apparently this happened in more places than one around the globe, and, before you can say “Geiger Counter,” everybody with nukes is slinging them around and voila!, nuclear wasteland. But the nukes were ineffective.

Nick, the protagonist of our tale, is wandering about the western USA when he finds another group of survivors (this is where I groaned about a possible Walking Dead scenario) who actually take him in after, oddly, checking him for ritual scars. My eyebrow raised. After they bed down for the night, it all goes to hell. Something comes. And while at first you may be tempted to believe, as I did, that what came was “the thing” this story was about, you’ll soon realize it is just one of many things, in a country taken over by things, on a planet now possessed by things. But this first one was definitely a cool, cosmically terrifying thing: “The creature moved like an oil slick, a huge, shapeless, ebony mass. It had already seeped over the glass front of the store and was crawling over the roof, the steel framework groaning under its bulk. Behind the horror lay a trail of devastation, asphalt and rock melted as if with acid.”

Narrowly escaping this slippery abomination, several of the survivalists accompany Nick as he flees. Later, they have an encounter that reminded me of nothing less than a scene from Turkish horror film Baskin (seriously, do not watch this unless you have a strong stomach, and in fact, the rest of the story here is only for the strong of stomach). There’s a lot of body horror over the next few pages and while that isn’t Lovecraftian, Salkovic had already established his story in a Lovecraftian setting and so the mash-up actually created something new for me. I’m sure he’s not the first person to have done it, but I enjoyed it. “Some of the horrors were composites, two or three or half a dozen cultists strung together into one shuffling, mewling whole…” I still see that when I close my eyes and think of this story. This whole scene was really effective from both a Lovecraftian and a horror point of view, and was easily my favorite part of a really good, well-written story.

Salkovic’s prose is gorgeous in its grotesqueries. He was really able to put me right in the midst of this scary, dark, lethal world where the elder gods have risen and the remnants of humanity are on their way out, whether they choose to worship or no. Check this out, “Its head was shrunken and lined, the drooling mouth wide, the eyes stitched tightly together, black, viscous tears tickling from the corners.” This is the cultist’s priest-thing for crying out loud.

Though it seems to be in a position of honor and even of adoration, it’s not a glorified image at all, not an image of one who has been somehow rewarded for faithfulness despite the end times.

I truly appreciated the combination, which was fresh for at least me, of typical Lovecraftian tropes (insane fluting cultists, tentacles, an Azathoth sighting I think, visions of cosmic enormity) and evocative, bloody, body horror. He excels at causing you to think about the words on the page and then you can’t help but shudder at the sheer awfulness of it. Like I said at the beginning, it’s a vision of the Lovecraftian Mythos victory that resonates with me a whole lot. And one in which I’d like exactly no part. In the midst of all that, the writing even manages to squeeze out a bit of emotion, like when he says, “They would believe him, the small, wiry woman and the man with the burned face. They needed to believe something.

If I take exception with any part of this wonderful story, it’s that the ending was not what I expected and not totally in a good way. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll just say this: how it concluded was not, in my opinion, sufficiently foreshadowed. Now before you say, well now wait just a second, if you totally foreshadow the ending it’s not a surprise! True, true. But here—and again, this is purely my opinion—parts of the story do not set up the ending to be plausible. If you get a chance to read it, I’d be fascinated to hear in the comments what you think about this: if this ending is true, then why does Nick respond the way he does in certain other, previous, situations?

I don’t want to make too much out of that because it’s a subjective observation. This is a wonderful story with impressive and affecting prose, memorable scenes, and a fascinating and believable vision of an end in which the mythos does what we all fear it might do. If you like the sound of that then let me encourage you to check out what the good folks over at Gehenna and Hinnom are doing, not only with Hinnom magazine, with but anthologies as well.  Send them a few bucks, because if you, like me, want another Weird Tales-like zine in true print form, we have to support it.

This review was composed listening to the sanity cracking monophony of “Azathoth” by Cryo Chamber.

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibliothecar