“Short Fiction by Various Authors” reads the pleasingly simple cover. This book has the air of something that is comfortable with its quality, and doesn’t need a corny byline to carnival-bark you into purchasing.
Null Immortalis contains 26 stories presented by steadfast editor D.F. Lewis. It is volume ten of the quietly intelligent Nemonymous series; anthologies of weird fiction in which the listed authors are not assigned to the stories until the subsequent instalment. As this is sadly the swansong of the series, the mystery is no more and the authors are credited in the traditional fashion.
The loose theme is simply the cover photograph and title, to be interpreted in whatever way the authors saw fit. The submission guidelines also required a character named Tullis, or Scott Tullis: the winner of a previous Nemonymous competetion to be immortalised in this way.
But on to the actual content. The first thing to say is that there are no weak links. All are thoughtful, precisely composed pieces – these authors take pride in their work, as does the editor – but I will mention a few that particularly appealed.
“Lucien’s Menagerie” by David M. Fitzpatrick certainly stood out for me. One of the longer works, this is a taut ride of impending doom. In order to inherit her cruel ex-husband’s house, a woman has to spend a night there with several creepy exhibits and memories of her miserable past. It’s genuinely unsettling and I love the way it keeps us guessing as to whether the events are supernatural or trickery.
In “Love is the Drug” by Andrew Hook, the title is quite literal. Told via a futuristic interrogation, this is off-kilter SF about the nature of love and conflict, and one of those sharp stories that leaves a chill and draws you back for a second curious peek.
Mike Chinn’s “A Matter of Degree” is one of the more simplistic tales in which a disgruntled employee attempts to human spider across a dangerous bridge. A compelling read, it neatly ties in the theme of the anthology.
“Only Enuma Elish” by Richard Gavin finds a reclusive man whose life changes course when an elderly neighbour draws him into a world of arcane knowledge. It’s immediately engaging and the magic sits comfortably with themes of self, inevitability and our place in the world.
Joel Lane’s “The Drowned Market” is a short tale about a damaged writer. Before you groan, it rises from the swamp of this particular cliché with a haunting and original finale. Conclusions are definitely a strength of this anthology. Other examples include “Holesale” by Rachel Kendall – which concerns an ex-con market trader who sells miniature black holes – and “FIRE” by Roy Gray: the ruminations of a man facing execution by firing squad. I finished both with a wry smile of admiration.
Another peak is “The Toymaker of Bremen” by Stephen Bacon. In this polished work, a boy loses his parents on a trip, and is strangely adopted by a rural family and their house of toys and creepy artefacts. The 8-year old’s innocence regarding the sinister descent makes for a powerful read and I didn’t want it to finish.
Speaking of point of view, “The Green Dog” by Steve Rasnic Tem is an exquisitely told piece about the eponymous dog, its ageing master and a ghostly mirror. It’s a reflective and poignant journey, and the 3rd-person perspective of the dog is a joy.
Special mention also goes to a couple of stories that capture the essence of Nemonymous. The concept of D.P. Watt’s “Apotheosis” involves a mysterious collective of writers of which the protagonist is, or a least yearns to be, a member. Also, “Haven’t you Ever Wondered?” by Bob Lock stars our uncredited editor, DF Lewis. It’s a referential and dark story that draws together the previous anthologies; a tasty gift for the series faithful.
I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoys an anthology to savour. The subtleties, the synchronicity, the love of language. It cares not for genre, other than the general blanket of weird fiction, and blends imagination with startling humanity. The stories are ordered so that themes sometimes leak from one to the next, but best of all, they credit the reader with intelligence. There is no unecessary explanation of thread or coincidence. Null Immortalis is a respectful equal, not a weary teacher.