(2017) Caitlin R. Kiernan, Tor Books, £6.99, pbk, 128pp, ISBN 978-0-765-39432-3
Well, this is a treat, a novella from one of my favourite writers, or as the New York Times says on the cover: 'One of our essential writers of dark fiction.' Kiernan is an incredibly prolific writer of short stories, but not so prolific in the longer form, so it’s great to see this Lovecraftian novella out from Tor where we meet a government special agent known only as the Signalman who gets off a train on a stunningly hot morning in Winslow, Arizona. Later that day he meets a woman in a diner to exchange information about an event that happened a week earlier for which neither has an explanation, but which haunts the Signalman. The women he meets is Immacolata Sexton, who is as strange as her name would suggest. Certainly, she disturbs the Signalman enough that he thinks about killing her, but can he do it? Sexton might not even be human, so can she be killed? Whatever she is, she has the ability to slip through time and sees a terrible future just decades away where strange creatures walk the earth, and even stranger things fill the skies. Something is coming, but can it be stopped? Or is it already too late?
Running alongside these events we visit a ranch house near the shore of the Salton Sea where a cult leader gathers up the weak and susceptible – the Children of the Next Level – and offers them something to believe in and a chance for transcendence. He can hear things in the static on the television, and those who follow him think they can hear it too. A day after the events at the ranch house which disturbed the Signalman so deeply that he and his government sought out help from 'other' sources, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory abruptly loses contact with NASA's interplanetary probe New Horizons. Something out beyond the orbit of Pluto has made contact.
What you get here is Lovecraftian horrors with a mixture of shadowy agencies, and an almost Waco-like siege, and a smattering of the horrors of the natural world that Mike Carey used so well in The Girl With All the Gifts, as Kiernan flits the narrative through events that take place in June, July and August 2015, except for those involving Immacolata Sexton who can travel to the 1920s, the 1970s and into a dark, dark future.
The writing is, as ever, gorgeous, and while I am biased, I know that some readers have been perplexed by the openness of the ending. Perhaps, we will see a sequel to this, or the novella expanded into a full-blown novel, certainly Immacolata Sexton is an intriguing character, human or not.
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