John Shirley

Night Shade Books / 394 pages / 1st edition (September 1, 2005)

ISBN: 1892389029

It had to happen sometime. There’s just no way to keep reading all that fringe stuff and come out unscathed. Sooner or later, exposure to all the experimental, creepy, stomach-churning fiction sneaks up on you. And now, I see the tragic result: nothing seems “weird” to me anymore. No matter how many “really”s you put in front of it.

Good thing “weird” has no correlation to quality. You could, for example, substitute the words “clever,” “inventive,” “unique,” and such to describe these stories.

Obviously, anyone just opening Really, Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories is going to get snagged by the opening tale. How can you turn past “‘I Want To Get Married,’ Says the World’s Smallest Man”? There’s a title that comes along once in a lifetime. The marriage between the tiny gentlemen and his new bride is a dark, dispiriting picture of life at the bottom of the barrel. The violence and terror generated is intense, in part because the World’s Smallest Man shares so many of the vulnerabilities of children that it is impossible to see the conflict as anything other than shocking abuse.

While I’m still on odd titles, on to my favourite piece in the collection, “The Word @ Random, Deliberately Repeated.” It is another dark tale, but dark with sorrow and regret, not brutality. Haggart is a man with a heart full of regrets. He needs to make sense of the world around him and see if there is still a place for him in the pattern. The ending is unexpected, strangely beautiful.

“Brittany? Oh: She’s In Translucent Blue” is a story that starts off with a sense of dread and moves inexorably in that terrifying direction. Somehow, you know what the ending will be; still you hope that you are wrong. It’s reminiscent of “Reefer Madness,” except there isn’t a damn thing to laugh about.

Reading “What Joy! What Fulfillment!” you might start to wonder what the reaction to the story would be if it reached the family members of such a total balls-up. How many of the survivors of an unnatural disaster have less charitable thoughts about the victims than the ones they share with the news cameras? Do those who “escaped” thank their lucky stars, or do they feel like failures? Shirley is right though: we’ll never really know and we’ll certainly never learn.

For those with strong stomachs and a taste for the darkest of humour, there is the charming “Just Like Suzie.” Like most of the pieces in Really, Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories, this is not one for the kiddies. On the bright side, it’s almost impossible to decide who is the victim in this triangle. Let’s just say it may be a case of everyone getting just what they deserve.

From the savage chronicle of the teensy bridegroom to the poetic placement of “The Sea Was As Wet As Wet Could Be,” Really, Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories builds a strong case for Shirley’s status in the horror field. He’s good and he keeps your brain working on the stories long after you’ve finished the book.

And, most probably, he’ll give you just as much weird as you can handle.