01/01/2012. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Hippocampus Press. 262 page paperback. Price: $20.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-98448-020-3).
check out website: www.hippocampuspress.com
'Tempting Providence And Other Stories' is a collection of twelve short stories in the same tradition as Poe and Lovecraft but with a modern style and sensibility. The title of course conjures up the New England environment that features so strongly in HP Lovecraft's fiction, in particular the city of his birth, but while some of the stories can be described as working within a broadly Lovecraftian tradition, others are distinctive piece of weird fiction in their own right. Perception, experience and the subjective nature of reality are themes that feature strongly. At times, this makes Jonathan Thomas' work difficult to follow and re-reading many of these stories will be absolutely essential if the plots are to be fully understood. But on the other hand, the depth to these stories rewards the extra effort and they'll leave a much stronger impression than much of the lightweight but eminently readable stuff that accounts for much modern weird fiction.
'Tempting Providence' is a case in point. In its way, a love poem to Lovecraft's home city as much as a piece of weird fiction, it concerns a freelance photographer who's in Providence to put on a show at an art gallery. He thinks he sees a ghost of Lovecraft, but it turns out that's a sort of lure, being used by a strange, extra-dimensional horror out of a very definitely Lovecraftian mould. Between the jigs and the reels the reader gets a sense of Providence past and present, and unique take on Lovecraft's famous remark that he was Providence, and Providence was him. The story abounds with references to Lovecraft stories, but it isn't by any means a Mythos tale and readers who couldn't care less about Lovecraft will still find 'Tempting Providence' rich and multi-layered.
Often the stories play with perspective. The second story in the collection, 'Into Your Tenement I'll Creep', does this rather disturbingly. The unnamed protagonist starts of in the role of a manipulative sexual partner, so in that sense, the title suggests the creepy way he takes control of women. But before long the tables are turned and he is thoroughly degraded, literally, as his body decays into the filthy environment where he finds himself. By the end of the story, he seems to become part of the decaying tenement that he's inhabiting and in the way that building is falling apart, so is he.
This reviewer’s favourite story in the collection is called 'The Men At The Mound' and again, Thomas juggles with points of view. This time there's a twofold structure, though initially, the story begins with simply enough. It's set in the Dark Ages of England and concerns an Anglo-Saxon king who sees strange people around the burial mounds not far from his home. His friend and chief advisor isn't able to offer up any explanation and given the political and religious events happened at the time, aren't given the opportunity to discuss these seeming 'ghosts' any further. The twist comes with the second perspective on the same events, where the author reveals who the strange people at the mound are and, rather subtly, weaves in the failure of the king, Raedwald, to ensure that his name is remembered by those visiting his burial mound. It's a clever story that requires a little knowledge of archaeology to fully appreciate, but even at face value, very good fun.
In short, while these stories aren't necessarily page-turners, they do make clear that Thomas is an intelligent and talented writer of weird fiction. There are one or two weak stories here, like 'Passenger Bastion', which had something to do with coal-powered aeroplanes, but most of this collection is well worth reading. Recommended for readers who enjoy their weird fiction a trifle more cerebral than average.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA