(Purchase Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories.)
Also present is The Whisperer Made Visible, another Lovecraftian tinged horror original to this collection. This story alone, with its subtle machinations of malignant cosmic entities, makes the new collection worth its price…
Decades ago, I was gifted the original edition of John Shirley’s Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories (Nightshade,1999). Somewhere along the way it became misplaced (read borrowed and never returned), and I have spent the intervening years waiting for a second-hand copy to appear in my usual haunts. Imagine my surprise when a new edition, one with four new stories showed up in my mail!
It’s a handsome book designed and with art by Dan Sauer and published by his Jackanapes Press, which seems to be carving a place for itself in the weird fiction genre. Appropriately, its divided into four sections, Really Weird Stories, Really, Really Weird Stories, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories, and . . . well you get the idea. The conceit of this is that each section contains stories that are weirder than the previous, at least from the author’s point of view.
The opening story of the first section is “I Want to Get Married” Says the World’s Smallest Man, is a noir crime tale clearly inspired by Tod Browning’s seminal film Freaks, but with a more modern setting. One facet of this tale is drug use and the lengths that addicts will go to fulfill their addiction, it’s a common theme that runs throughout many of the stories in the book, sometime overtly, sometimes very subtly. Also in this section is A Boy and His Shoggoth, a dark and fascinating venture into the Cthulhu Mythos, reprinted from the 2019 anthology Mountains of Madness Revealed. Also present is The Whisperer Made Visible, another Lovecraftian tinged horror original to this collection. This story alone, with its subtle machinations of malignant cosmic entities, makes the new collection worth its price.
Highlights of the second section of the book include the Philip K. Dick inspired Morons at the Speed of Light, and Ticket to Heaven. Here Shirley plays with what it might mean to be human or inhuman in both reality, virtual reality and the liminal spaces in between. This examination is made explicit in the all too serious but still playful Silent Crickets which explores the more fantastic facets of art and its impact it might have on humanity, both psychologically and physically.
Part Three shines with the intricately wrought reincarnation crime thriller Triggering. This short piece is chock full of incredible world-building, and just might be the best story in the book. The amount of fantastic that Shirley is able to convey in a very limited amount of text is quite incredible, and I wouldn’t mind another visit to this world. Also notable is Skeeter Junkie, an exercise in phantasmagorical transformation mediated by drug use and imagery. Shirley’s juxtaposition and comparison of the mosquito’s proboscis with the junkie’s needle is horrifically magical. In contrast, What Joy! What Fulfillment! is a subtle horror, a fictionalized take on the Heaven’s gate cult and mass suicide. The words that Shirley uses here are calm, rational, coyly lulling even, and yet knowing the truth, makes this piece a text of creeping madness that haunts the reader.
Part Four opens with Just Like Suzie, a graphic and explicit tale of prostitution and drug use gone wrong, one that leads to a disturbing horror that would be perfectly at home in an anthology of splatterpunk or bizarro fiction. This is a tale not for the weak of heart. It is also the most coherent and traditional of all the stories in this section. The other stories (and I am hesitant to use that word) that follow are more experimental in nature, with jumbled timelines, strange syntax, and even stranger concepts. Many of these last stories work to generate a mood of the strange or weird, rather than a straight-forward narrative. If it was Shirley’s intent to disturb the reader, then he has certainly succeeded, particularly with the strangely structured The Almost Empty Rooms.
John Shirley is one of the most versatile writers of speculative fiction working today, with seminal works in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Really, Really, Really, Really Weird Stories is a diverse collection of some of his best stories, and works to showcase the strength and breadth of his talent.