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Mark Samuels
Written In Darkness
Egaeus Press
UK Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-957-16066-8
Publication Date: 11-08-2014
128 Pages; £28
Date Reviewed: 12-19-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  Horror  Science Fiction  General Fiction

It is all too human to feel despair, and oh so easy to fall in love with it. Those moments of anguish that nobody can avoid, their chill darkness, the numbing of our colonized minds, they all offer us the bliss of oblivion. Blot out our thoughts. Let us slide from life.

Mark Samuels' short story collection 'Written in Darkness' bubbles up out of those depths and with each story, slips us as readers another comforting round of numb. This is an abyss that is not content to merely gaze back. For Samuels, nothingness is everything.

The collection is short, a mere 128 pages, but feels full. Reading 'Written in Darkness' is the literary equivalent of an ice bath. You're engulfed. If you survive, and you will, you will want more. Start with the elegant presentation. Egaeus Press books are offered sans dust jacket, and the creepy, indistinct but uglifying image on the cover, overlaid with a satiny red scrawl, upsets you before you begin reading. Stay that way, upset. Cling to life.

| Reggie Oliver offers a brief but incisive introduction, followed by nine stories. And though that chill feeling, almost like an anesthesia that leaves you deadened but able to witness your own surgery, is consistent throughout the collection, the stories display a nice variety of textures. "A Call to Greatness" offers, inside a wrapper, a historical narrative with tinges of the fantastic, about a Tartarean warlord. "The Other Tenant" evokes urban isolation in a highly concentrated prose form.

| "An Hourglass to the Soul" is the first stake in Samuels' march (in this volume) to craft a sort of hybrid gothic science fiction. It's the dark and disturbing tale of an IT worker sent to complete an unhappy assignment. "The Ruin of Reality" takes another firm step in this direction, as the outfall from our recent economic decline is re-imagined as a sort of bureaucratic nightmare. Samuels language, his prose and pacing show a real mastery of mood.

The story "Alastair" loops back in on the family, as Samuels crafts an unbalanced father who cannot compete with his wife and his own son. In "My World Has No Memories" a man must rebuild his life in a dark and dreary city. While there's a bit of the personal here, the setting and mood tack back towards Samuels' vision of a post-industrial slow-pocalypse. "Outside Interference" crystallizes these themes, and establishes itself as the centerpiece of the collection. Here Samuels fleshes out his doomed cubicle farm workers and brings bit of hell to earth in his own unique manner. The prose and descriptions are truly stunning, dark and moody.

The collection concludes with "In Eternity Two Lines Intersect," a story that finds another isolated narrator on the edges of life who arrives to a similar conclusion as those before but who takes that ending in an inverted fashion, finding ecstasy rather than despair. It proves to be just as unnerving, and yet offers a nice shading to all that has come before.

Samuels' work in this collection is really quite unique, part science-fiction horror, part mystical horror with a very nice dose of up-to-date cubicle farm depression. His prose and style are rather mannered, but these are manners that grow on you even as they pull you into the darkness within which Samuels dwells. 'Written in Darkness' is an essential buy for those who enjoy unusual fiction. Darkness, you will discover, can be tempting.

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