Other Gods

by Stephen Mark Rainey
Dark Regions Press
2008;

For both the horror professional and the horror connoisseur, the name Stephen Mark Rainey immediately brings to mind the decade-long run (1987-1997) of Deathrealm, a magazine that proclaimed itself “the land where horror dwells.” As editor of that publication, Rainey consistently presented a variety of dark, disturbing tales penned by well-known authors as well as newcomers to the field.

After shelving Deathrealm, Rainey embarked on his own career as a writer, authoring several novels including Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark (with Elizabeth Massie), Balak, The Lebo Coven, The Nightmare Frontier and Blue Devil Island.

In Other Gods, Dark Regions Press has collected Rainey’s short fiction. Boasting 16 tales, the collection includes the never-before-published story “Antidotes.”

Massie, who wrote the introduction for this collection, sums up Rainey’s style succinctly when she says the author “is a master at giving us the everyday and then pulling away the comforting light.” The characters that populate Rainey’s tales are uncomfortably recognizable. The settings – whether it happens to be a remote mountain town in Virginia or a seedy neighborhood in Chicago – are familiar.

Leading off this harvest of horrors is “Fugue Devil,” a crafty little yarn that exploits the power of folklore and evokes fear of the wilderness. Set in an Appalachian college town, two boys set out to challenge a local legend and face the grim consequences.

Next, “Rapture in Black” stands in stark contrast to the preceding tale with its urban setting. In this unsettling vignette, Rainey assures the reader that busy city sidewalks and heavily trafficked shops provide little security when the dominion of nightmares seeps into reality.

Two tales in the collection offer a pleasant surprise: “Sky of Thunder, Island of Blood” and “Epiphany: A Flying Tiger’s Story” show that Rainey is not only a master of horror, but a gifted composer of riveting action sequences. Both stories are set in the World War II era and feature wonderfully descriptive aerial battles.

The new story, “Antidotes,” involves a cutting-edge biotech project to rid the world of vampires. Using the world of the undead as an allegory, it draws a poignant distinction between soldiers and mercenaries, wars and crusades.

“The Fire Dogs of Balustrade” and “The Transformer of Worlds,” presented one after another, fit snugly together and offer an engaging, modern look at H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. Make no mistake, though: When evoking Lovecraft, Rainey does it right. The reader needn’t be a devotee of the Cthulhu Mythos to enjoy Rainey’s fiction – his allusions to Lovecraft’s creations are not central to understanding the plotline.

“Signals,” a story which will appeal to fans of The X-Files, marvelously depicts humanity’s interminable obsession with the unknown and the sacrifices made to satisfy curiosity.

“The Devil’s Eye” closes the collection and reintroduces the reader to the demon presented in “Fugue Devil.” It’s a compelling extension to the original concept, deftly placed as to allow the reader ample time to grow comfortable with the lingering memories of initial encounter. This time, overconfident adults set out to test the fable.

Rainey’s horror fiction can accomplish many things: It can astound readers, portraying glimpses of fantastic unrealities; it can edify, revealing the significance of myths; and it can even sermonize, warning against obsessive behavior.

What it does best, of course, is leave you shuddering in fear.

– Reviewed by Lee Clark Zumpe

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~ by darkdiscoveries on June 24, 2009.

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