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Unlike many writers who claim to be inspired by Lovecraft, Vance is not afraid to produce stories using an efficient and sparse storytelling technique, which suffers nothing from omission, and lends itself to the very Lovecraftian theme of cosmic horror that rears its indescribable head throughout. The reader is more likely to encounter a poetry-like flow of Bradburyesque proportion than the purple prose of Lovecraft's fantasy pieces, especially in such stories as Wishful Thinking.
His characters are normal, desperate, deranged, owners of strange agendas, people who want basic and harmless lives, and people who want to cause harm to enrich their lives. The settings are reflective of the strange arrangement of the townspeople's history and continued existence. They live in the shadow of the Great Secret Hidden Openly. The length and breadth of the human betrayal taking place in Light's End is brought into sharp focus when the reader is reminded of the simple, honest need for a good life, even as communicated via the otherworldly narrative in the award-nominated* story The Lighter Side.
Humor, the likes of which fans of Tales from the Crypt will appreciate, creeps in from time to time. There is something rottenly appealing in the idea of the faux lighthouse restaurant in Knock-Off, with ever-popular tourist-attracting features such as the irritating moaning of the alien dead, giddy with hunger, that incessantly gibbered from hidden speakers in the floor, décor inscribed with symbols and mermaids with needle teeth, and wallpaper that illogically seemed to creep across the wall.
The wonderful thing about independent publication, and the use of short stories, is the freedom that both give an author to pursue a variety of storytelling techniques, while the collected format allows a common ground for tales to form from. In more ways than one, this collection reminds me of Bradbury. Vance seems to feel a similar need to tie together the ingredients of tragedy and transcendence, and a brave daring to try new storytelling techniques and voices pulled from the fringe of the genre. I can only imagine what will happen if he finds a really keen editor with the ability to help him shape this series into the crescendo it could become (this is the first of 3 planned volumes).
Weird Horror Tales really winds up working as the title for this collection, and Vance's years of writing experience show in his Jack-of-all-trades approach to fantastic fiction. Take a solid, squirming bedrock of horror, throw in some satellites of sci-fi, a generous helping of Twilight Zone plot twists, lace it with the eldritch horror of H. P. Lovecraft's favorite poisons, and you have yourself a hefty volume of entertaining and engaging stories which will surprise you with its variety, and reward you with each re-reading.
While I may not be completely sold on Maine as the setting for this series, I understand the effort given to make these stories come alive in a Maine that Vance has never seen, and I more than understand his love for the weird tale, and the honor given Maine by choosing it as the place for these stories, outside of their Midwestern author's experience of his home state of Oklahoma. Maine is an other place. These stories certainly are alive in their other place, a place with a unique kind of strangeness that I think Lovecraft would have been well pleased to see spawned from his legacy.
I would really like Michael Vance to visit Maine as he completes work on the next collection in the planned trilogy of Light's End anthologies. But then again maybe if he came here he'd be too charmed to write more Maine-based horror! Perhaps we should simply invite him to come during February to prevent such a tragedy.
* The Lighter Side was nominated for the Speculative Literature Foundation's Fountain Award for Best Short Story in 2004.
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