THE MAN ON THE CEILING
Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem
Wizards of the Coast Discoveries / 366 pages / 1st edition (March 4, 2008)
Normally, when I review chapbooks I look for some quality that links the books together. This time I have decided to highlight three specimens that share absolutely nothing in common, other than their presence on paper and in my reading stack. We’ll see how this works out.
If you too are a fan of the British countryside cataclysm, if you hold a corner of your mind for the likes of John Wyndham and his Triffids and damned children, you will know immediately what I mean. Terror and carnage are part-and-parcel big city life, but the villages and far-flung farmers of the rural areas are the places where nothing ever happens. The shock of the horrific in peaceful parishes is multiplied beyond acceptance.
In Naming of Parts Tim Lebbon has created a world gone wrong entirely his own. The plague of death and hungry corpses that descends upon young Jack, his family, and, perhaps, the planet, is nothing of the “Living Dead” franchise. Jack is watching not just the grisly demise of the people and life he has known, but a death with far more finality. All along the trek to safety, the boy discovers these truths and reasons out the rest. It is a tale that strikes at the heart in a way no other zombie stories can ever approach.
Deep in the heart and far too close to the surface of the mind is the spine-tingling account of fears of the darkness in The Man On The Ceiling. Taking a step both courageous and risky, the Tems have opened the deeply personal vault of their night terrors and their ambiguous relationship with the spectre of the title. The honesty they show makes the narrative almost an invasion of their privacy and their generosity.
To those who have never experienced the heart-stopping panic of night terrors, the Tems’ experience may be difficult to comprehend. For those who have lain in bed, unable to breathe, frozen with pure dread, the empathy will be immediate. The Man on the Ceiling is the all-encompassing fear that returns again and again to ensure that the dreamer will never fully escape his paralysing grip. The Man On The Ceiling is 100 proof fright distilled and unselfishly shared with the reader.
On an entirely different plane is Dead Cat Bounce. Subtitled “A Fable To Horrify The Inner Child,” it delivers on that promise with a blend of the most bizarre illustrations, the blackest humour, and that uniquely pragmatic and fantastic which Houarner is justly famous for. This is a fable with a guffaw and a shudder, never allowing us to move too far from these extremes.
Dead Cat Bounce is that book you lend to friends, just to see if you can appall them, the gift that earns you searching glances from everyone else at the party. And it is a well-camouflaged look at that mythical “fairness” of life. Most of all, it is a risk Houarner took that flails wildly but lands solidly on its feet.