SCOTT NICOLAY’S ANA KAI TANGATA: MAN EATING STORIES OF THE WEIRD
Anyone who has ever seriously engaged in the study of an art form or sport or other intense discipline knows that there is no such thing as an “overnight sensation”. Though an artist may hit the public consciousness all at once, seemingly out of nowhere, the citizenry at large only ever sees the tiniest iceberg tip amount of the passion, dedication, and just plain hard work it takes to truly master something.
Scott Nicolay hit the Weird Fiction / Horror world REALLY hard last year with his first book, a collection of novellas and short stories called ANA KAI TANGATA: TALES OF THE OUTER THE OTHER THE DAMNED AND THE DOOMED. For me, it is one of the best genre collections of all time, and I’ve read about four billion of them over my life as a horror fan. It is tempting to think of Nicolay as “bursting onto the scene fully formed”, but you can tell he’s been forging his powerful style and skill for years.
I’d run across two of the stories (“alligators” and “Eyes Exchange Bank”) in previous anthologies, both of which made me stand up and take notice of Nicolay’s brand of psychologically fluid, immersive weirdness. With ANA KAI TANGATA, the promise of those two stories is multiplied almost exponentially. SO much good writing happens in these tales, it feels more like reading a small library of novels than a handful of short fiction.
Every story is either a brilliant gem and/or has tons of qualities to recommend it. The title story, about a hapless archeologist working on a project on Easter Island, while his life (and reality itself) unravels around him, is for me as strong a standard bearer for The Weird as Laird Barron’s “Procession of the Black Sloth” or Livia Llewellyn’s “Furnace”. The build up of imagery, dread, and inner demons comes to a startling head which leaves you gasping in awe, knowing you are only witnessing the topmost layer of something ancient and awe-inspiring.
He’s not a one-trick pony, though, as he can switch it up and FULLY adopt a child narrator’s voice, as he does in “The Bad Outer Space” and the bonus story in some editions (and current nominee for a World Fantasy Award!) “Do You Like to Look at Monsters?”. I am a kid-oriented person, and both of these stories blow me away in their depiction of the child mind in action, even as they also function as bad ass scary stories. “The Soft Frogs” is another dazzler (and winner for Best Story Title Of All Time in my heart), dealing with the ecological impact of chemical runoff, changing music styles and how we gain our identity through popular culture, New Jersey, and some really disgusting mutants. Woo Hoo!!!
I don’t want to do a blow-by-blow here, but suffice it to say that everything in ANA KAI TANGATA is worth your time. Maybe the story “Geschäfte” is a little Barron-esque, but it’s also 100% successful in giving you a terrible case of the willies. The only other critical thing I can think of, if anything, is that the seven novellas and short stories that lead up to the closing semi-Lovecraftian novelette are so strong and original and ferocious, that “Tuckahoe” stands out as a little too normal in comparison. (Which is funny since “Tuckahoe” would be a centerpiece of anyone else’s collection!)
Seriously, if you don’t have this book and are a fan of the weird and horrific, give yourself a present and devour this thing. It’s quite a treat. Also highly recommended for fans of perfectly melded inner and outer landscapes, and literary immersion into PLACE. You’ll feel like you’ve been on several trips by the time you close the cover.
THE OUTER DARK PODCAST!
Nicolay also hosts a podcast on Project iRadio called The Outer Dark, wherein he interviews writers, artists, and musicians of the Weird and horrific. It is a GREAT show. The conversation goes deep into the craft and philosophy of some of the best writers working, and Nicolay’s knowledge of literature of all stripes is impressive (and generates constant reading suggestions). The episodes with Gemma Files, Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, and Livia Llewellyn are particular favorites.
As a special treat, the nice people over at Lovecraft eZine have generously allowed us to link to an article Nicolay wrote for them called “Five Favorite Weird Tales”, which is a doozy. You can click HERE to check it out.
Also, here is his full story “alligators”, also hosted at Lovecraft eZine. Click HERE to be horrified and amazed.
Only two more days to go, people!