Declaring war on story, on plot and characterization, and relying on an underpowered rhetorical voice to carry the day, does not work in fiction. It's all well and good in poetry if you are Wallace Stevens or John Ashberry, but wilfull obscurantism posed as esoterica palls quickly, especially at novella or novel length.
Caitlín R. Kiernan's novella Black Helicopters, about which I have heard good things, is a case in point. At the start I thought we were in for spy versus spy with operatives either investigating or covering up (not sure which) some big cataclysm on Deer Isle, Maine. Then I thought it was about two other women who were incestuous genetically modified twins somehow trapped in the Deer Isle event ramifications.
We are given lots of stream of consciousness impressions and reflections for each character. And, let me add, it's all written in present tense. (And yes, present tense is used by strong writers like Ramsey Campbell. But here the reader gets the feeling it is used to gin up a sluggish mechanism.) There are also a host of chess, paleontology, and Alice in Wonderland allusions to keep insights from sharpening and pace from achieving fourth gear.
Black Helicopters cleary prides itself on uniqueness. But it strikes me as a pale and gratuitously eccentric reminder of a much brighter and more compelling novella, Richard A Lupoff's 1977 tour de force Discovery of the Ghooric Zone. We have the same multiple point of view chapter alternations, shifts in time, and pseudo-Lovecraft subject matter. Lupoff just knows how to make contrary elements aesthetically reinforce and illuminate each other.
I have not had the pleasure of reading Caitlín R. Kiernan before. I've recently been on a winning streak trying new writers: Mark Samuels, Joe R. Lansdale, Laird Barron. I guess I was due a Kiernan.
When you play the red, sometimes you still land on black.
22 May 2019
22 May 2019