My literary review on Ugly Little Things – by Todd Keisling

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For brief moments earlier this year, I caught some of the social media regarding Todd Keisling and his contribution to the King in yellow mythos in the form of the final Reconciliation. Being somewhat a scholar myself on all things esoteric, the front cover of the book and the sigils caught my attention. So when i was given the press release of Ugly Little Things I was intrigued to know what was actually on the inside.

The book opens with a forward by Mercedes M. Yardley, which will intrigue any fans of Yardley’s work and this seems to be a wonderful thing.

The first story, A man in your Garden brings to mind the famous song by Henry Rollin’s There’s a man outside and it was so. The story is incredibly short and tight, and uses the second pov perspective which, as any writer will know, is a “mother” to pull off. At first I found the story quite difficult to get into… the usage of “you” always makes one think of the do your own adventure tale, which I actually loved as a kid. Engaging the reader using Paranoia can be a bitch — the writer always trying his/her hardest to keep the reader interested without boring them to death. A man in your garden does well in regards to the second pov usage and does well to keep the reader submerged.

The second story, Show me where the waters fill your grave Is a tale of enduring love, and really does well to tap into the male character’s melancholy. Keisling seems to know something of the human condition and the longing using the rain i.e. the weather as metaphors for emotion, which brings to mind a lot of Japanese ghost fiction. The importance of this story is the “not knowing”, which reads wonderful.

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Radio free nowhere reminds me of the film White Noise, and some lost missing Stephen King story, which would sit nicely in King’s Night Shift anthology. Incredibly short perhaps, even too short. A couple traveling down a lonely stretch of highway pick up an unknown signal drawing them to a lake in the middle of nowhere. Unaware, the main female is drawn to something ugly beneath the lake.

Whilst The Otherland Express is a story of transformation, loneliness and despair. Keisling makes use of the main protagonist, a boy called Gregory, who is clearly not comfortable in his own skin – the skin clearly a metaphor for leaving the darkness, and after his abusive father catches him with his pants down during a live video chat with another boy. A beating from his father serves as a final breakdown for the boy, making the boy pack his bags and head west. The shedding of skin makes use of some of Clive Barker’s earlier efforts, and recycles them into something fresh and exiting. Playing excellently on the themes of the nobodies and the other.

Saving granny from the devil seems to be a personal piece on grandmother and grandson the main character is even called Todd. When Todd doesn’t listen to his nanna’s wise words of the mercurial devil’s trickery, he, in hindsight learns the importance of good and evil, and how such a construct within human society is not so much black and white – and is more of an entwined nature within all of humanity. As the story progresses, Todd learns something of this life…. he learns the importance of perception. Saving granny from the devil is more of a coming of age tale and of the ghost of youth.

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The Darkness Between Dead Stars is like a cracking retro episode of the old black and white Outer Limits. So many people are quick on the fire to say every new piece of short fiction, within speculative, is like a lost episode of Twilight Zone… why not the Outer Limits? Within the void and the vast solitude of space we feel the isolation of one man, while in human resources, the story play out like a suicide note to an unforgotten God – trapped between the cracks of cyberspace. Let the sacrifice commence.

House of Nettle and Thorn – what’s not to love… a female plant cult dedicated to the harvest using the internet as a place to hook up with girls is the worst thing Jim and Nick could have ever done. House of nettle and thorn is like a lost Roald Darhl, weird-tale that could have spawned right from the pages of Playboy, a personal favorite of mine deep throat anyone?

When Karen met her mountain is indeed the perfect character’s story. We, the reader can feel her ordeal her struggles within her fears and her psychosis. Some critics are claiming other writer’s as an influence here, but this story seems to bring the best of Joe R. Landsdale to the table in the ultimate survivalist horror. The story is gripping and dripping in poetic violence. Another personal favorite of mine and a great tribute to the spaltterpunk.

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The Harbinger – a wicked final story in Ugly little things, the story centers around a reporter for toys in the attic, called Felix,, and a strange mysterious town,, called Dalton. The story has a slow build and takes strange turns when Felix interviews Miss Maggie Eloquence, a unique doll manufacturer. People travel far to the mysterious Dalton where the dolls are made of porcelain – which adds further to the eeriness. Rancid smells haunt Felix, and Keisling does a wonderful thing of creating suspense, adding flaws to the main protagonist as a former alcoholic also lends further tension to the leads weakness and fears.

An added bonus to the antholgy is Todd Keisling’s novella, The Final Reconciliation, which has its roots – Robert W. Chamber’s, The King in Yellow mythos, the novella reference weird fiction from the female gypsy’s name Carmilla Birece – clearly a reference to Ambrose Bierce, which will have any weird fiction fan in awe, and to many references to name here.

In a nutshell the story is cross between a serious version of spinal tap in a love affair with Ramsey Campbell’s 1989s Ancient Images. The novella is clearly a love letter to the weird fiction genre and it certainly feels that way.

The first initial thoughts I had about the final reconciliation were, this having a lot of experience from a film making perspective, I can safely say that the novella would make one hell of a horror movie – and if I was a director looking for a project to direct, this would be my pick for the year. The structure makes use of the mockumentary format in such a way you never actually want to put the book down.

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Having said that, I couldn’t help to lend my own anal retentive beliefs on The King in Yellow myths – having not picking up Robert Chambers book in a few years, finishing The Final Reconciliation, I revisited The King in Yellow myself, but we need not explore those themes here.

The story as follows, its been thirty years since the rock band the yellow kings performed on that fatal night only one survivor remains Aidan, cross former lead guitarist of the yellow kings, and he’s ready to share his story with interviewer Miles Hargrove. Aidan takes us down a dark path leading up to the tragic night the band were horrifically killed performing a private performance of their first and only album.

Like many heavy metal rock groups, the yellow kings struggled to make a name for themselves playing local gigs in the hopes that the band would break out. Armed with their manager, Reggie Allen, the band slowing begun to break the veil and then came along Carmilla, a mysterious gypsy groupie who latched onto the groups lead-singer, Johnny Leifthauser, the lead vocalist. The novella is wonderfully laid out like a stunning rock album – each track lending a title chapter to quintessential brilliance that only fans of rock and metal can respect. Revamped and modernized, Todd Keisling lends his own haunting ideas to the mythos fueling the original work into a Lovecraftian doom sombre.

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Although the ending can be seen a mile off possibly due to the interview narrative, the story never bores. As the novella moves forward, we learn of Carmilla’s malicious intent for the band to play opening a celestial gateway to the great God Hastur. True Detective, season one touched on the king in yellow ever so slightly… the reason being, this type of selective weird fiction is really difficult to pull off as many imitators who play in the weird fiction sand box have learnt.

I have to say this is possibly the best novel of this nature written in a long time. Using progressive rock or metal was indeed a very wise and near on impossible thing for Todd Keisling to do but he does. As a tribute to the novella I made a personal quote for the book.

“It has been said that music can be language of the Gods… it could also very well mean then that the yellow king’s music is the language of demons.”

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