Skulls in the Stars

The Endless Fall, by Jeffrey Thomas

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Though I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk the past few months due to life, work and stress, I managed to find one thing that helped me break out of it: long airline flights. Between recent trips to Seattle and Los Angeles (which I should probably blog about), I ended up reading a lot of lovely books, including research for my upcoming cat physics book as well as some excellent fiction.  I tend to stock up my kindle with a lot of books by authors I’m unfamiliar with, and one of those I tackled was Jeffrey Thomas’ The Endless Fall and Other Weird Fictions (2017), which came out in January.

The cover actually gives an accurate sense of what to expect from the stories within, as it is based on the titular story “The Endless Fall.”  The book collects fourteen of Thomas’ recent short fiction, a lovely collection of weird, sometimes sentimental, and horrific tales.

I feel somewhat embarrassed that I haven’t come across Jeffrey Thomas’ work before. He has been quite prolific, notably writing a series of novels and short stories set in the fictional science fiction megalopolis called “Punktown,” starting in 2000. In 2003, he began another series about intrigue amongst the damned of Hell, the first of which is Letters from Hades.  He has written many other novels and chapbooks, and a dozen collections of short fiction authored or co-authored by him have also been released, including one with the talented W.H. PugmireThe Endless Fall isn’t even the most recent collection, as Haunted Worlds was released in August of this year — I have more catching up to do!

The stories of The Endless Fall almost all possess a surreal, nightmarish quality to them, often stretching the bounds of credibility in concept if one thinks about them too much.  I admittedly struggled with the first couple of tales in the collection, but once I learned to stop worrying and embrace the weird, I found them increasingly powerful and haunting.

A short summary of the stories in the collection:

These summaries are intended to give a flavor of the types of stories that Thomas has written, but they don’t convey how beautiful and haunting the writing is, almost poetic.  The characters are also well-thought out, and have depth to them — these are no Lovecraftian generic shells!  Almost half of the stories have an apocalyptic bent to them, and some of them haunted me for some time after reading them, “The Endless Fall” in particular.

On reflection, it seems to me that most of the stories could be said to be centered around longing, with characters who have desires that cannot be fulfilled, whether it be a need to know the future (The Dogs), a need to be a hero (Sunset in Megalopolis), a need for control (The Red Machine), or simple a need to survive (The Endless Fall).  I suspect that most readers will be able to connect with such a theme, regardless of how peculiar the settings and events of the tales.

The Endless Fall is a wonderful collection of strange and nightmarish stories, and well-worth reading. I am looking forward to working my way through more of Thomas’ work.

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