Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dark Dimensions by William F. Nolan

NOTE: Dark Dimensions was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.

William F. Nolan is a pretty big name among most genre-fiction readers. Most will recognize him as the coauthor of Logan’s Run, a classic that is sadly out of print. He plays in a lot of sandboxes, dipping his hands into science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, even some straight mainstream fiction. His latest collection, Dark Dimensions (out from Darkwood Press, an imprint of Fairwood Press), offers a bit of all of that. Below are notes on all of the stories, which begin after a brief preface from the author and introduction by Jason V. Brock.

“Horror at Winchester House”: It is a tricky thing to open a short story collection with a novella, especially when it is by far the longest story of the bunch. Stephen King pulled it off with “The Mist” in his collection Skeleton Crew, and it worked because “The Mist” is a powerhouse of a story. It draws you in, and when you’re done you are over a hundred pages into the collection, well on your way. It doesn’t work quite as well here. “Horror at Winchester House” tells the story of a haunted mansion and a paranormal investigator searching for his friend’s missing sister, and it is very much a so-so story. The pace wasn’t what I would have liked, and the investigative part was a letdown, especially having just read “The Natural History of Calamity” by Robert J. Howe from Black Gate issue 14. It seems that this one just couldn’t hold up to my recent experiences. I never felt the suspense, and I never felt tightly engaged.

“Getting Along Just Fine”: This short tells of a man coming to terms with the loss that surrounds him as he grows older, and it is an interesting stream of thought. As a story, I don’t think it did too much, but it was an engaging thought piece.

“Descent”: Back-to-back we get straight mainstream offerings from Nolan. The second, “Descent,” has more of a strong storyline, with a widower placed in a disastrous situation as his office catches flames. However, it lacked the emotional impact it should have.

“Vampire Dollars”: This mystery tale was just what I needed to revamp my interest in the collection. When a private investigator sets out to find a retired horror movie star’s daughter, he stumbles onto a much larger crime that happened years ago. The story roles right along, always entertaining, and seemed to possess the intriguing investigative aspect “Horror at Winchester House” was missing.

“At the 24-Hour”: A fun piece, this one felt like a Twilight Zone episode, with its simple setting and plot twist. A man in a late night dinner may end up having more than just that coffee he ordered. An entertaining tale.

“Zachry Revisited”: A sequel to Richard Matheson’s “The Children of Noah,” this one was entertaining, but I didn’t feel surprised by the attempted shock ending. It felt like it had been done too many times before. It did, however, make me interested in finding a copy of “The Children of Noah” to read. A couple go to the town of Zachry to find their missing brother, who disappeared a year ago.

“Child’s Care”: This was one of those tales where you saw who the evil character was from the very beginning, but it was a fun enough ride to the end that the lack of suspense was never an issue. When a busy single mom hires a new nanny, it seems that there is some subliminal evil in the works.

“The Man Who Stalked Hyde”: An author of gothic tales discovers that Robert Louis Stevenson is alive and well in Scotland, but with a terrible secret, in this short story. Again, the ending is never in doubt when the problem is explained, but the tale still manages to be entertaining, even if the entire life-threatening situation could have been avoided if he had just run Stevenson through with the sword before he turned into Hyde, or the fact that the villain’s downfall was unbelievably unsatisfying.

“The Pelican’s Brother”: A Batman pastiche, featuring an obvious copy of famous Batman-villain The Penguin, this tale has the Pelican escaping from jail and finding a bird of gold and jewels that he just must possess, if he can get past the guards, the alarms, and the Nightman. Nolan seems to be a fan of the caped crusader, as he mentions him a few times in this volume, and this one is a wonderful pastiche, from a point-of-view opposite of what we are normally used to. A very fun tale.

“A Woods Encounter”: A couple lost in the Maine woods finds a strange town that may not have been the best choice to stop. An okay short story, but the “vampire town in Maine” story has been done three separate times by Stephen King already (not to run the King name into the ground in this review with yet another glowing mention), and done to better effect.

“To Be With Amy”: A short science fiction tale in which aliens intervene to give a woman her dearest wish. This one never really grabbed me like I had hoped, but it wasn’t bad.

“Stabbed by Rob”: A first person account of the brother of a serial killer. It was an intriguing look at a point-of-view not seen often, even if I felt the protagonist may have changed in a way I found a little unrealistic.

“What Love is This?”: A short and enjoyable tale of a very odd love. A fun story, and the best of the science fiction ones in the collection.

“The Death of Sherlock Holmes”: The title gives you the gist of this one, a story of Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty that lacks the depth and engagement of Doyle. It felt rather superfluous and meaningless. A lame duck of an ending to this collection.

All in all, this collection suffered from a slow start and a bad ending, although the middle was certainly a fun set of stories. Fans of Nolan can find much better work from him in other collections. This one is for die-hard fans and completists.


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