Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: The Wide, Carnivorous Sky by John Langan

By Blood We LiveThe story recommendation of the week is "The Wide, Carnivorous Sky" by John Langan, an original novella from the vampire anthology By Blood We Live, edited by John Joseph Adams.

By Blood We Live is mostly a reprint anthology, with just two original pieces, but they are two good ones, "The Wide, Carnivorous Sky" and "Foxtrot at High Noon" by popular Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko. While the other tales are reprints, they come from a remarkable array of talented authors and John Joseph Adams has drawn from quite diverse sources. (I had only read one of the 33 stories before, Stephen King's "One for the Road.") Themed anthologies can sometimes become tiresome but -- as he did in his anthologies Seeds of Change, Wastelands, The Living Dead, and Federations -- Adams avoids that pitfall by his knack for combining excellent stories with varied approaches to the theme.

"The Wide, Carnivorous Sky" is a great example, putting a memorable spin on the vampire legend. A group of American veterans first encountered the creature at the heart of the story while in the midst of combat in Iraq, and have since been plagued by a strange telepathic connection with it. The thing drinks blood and has the other key traits of vampires, but oddly inverted or distorted, for example it can only emerge in daylight and the soldiers believe it sleeps in an orbital chrysalis.

The best horror fiction creates a sense of dread from everyday sights and sounds. By having his monster appear out of an open sky and return to a lair above our heads, Langan manages to make the sky itself a source of dread:
Davis had stared at the sky before--who has not?--but, helpless on his back, his spine a length of molten steel, his ears full of Manfred whimpering that he was gonna die, oh sweet Jesus, he was gonna fucking die, the lieutenant talking over him, insisting no he wasn't, he was gonna be fine, it was just a little paper cut, the washed blue bowl overhead seemed less sheltering canopy and more endless depth, a gullet over which he had the sickening sensation of dangling. As Manfred's cries diminished and the lieutenant told--ordered him to stay with him, Davis flailed his arms at the ground to either side of him in an effort to grip onto an anchor, something that would keep him from hurtling into that blue abyss.
John Langan's first novel House of Windows is forthcoming from Night Shade Books, and his collection Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters was a Stoker Award nominee this year. Look for "The Wide, Carnivorous Sky" on horror award shortlists next year.

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