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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review: The Dissolution of Small Worlds by Kurt Fawver

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Kurt Fawver is on a mission to disassemble the world. Wait. That is not quite right. Let me up it another way. Kurt Fawver’s latest collection The Dissolution of Small Worlds is trying to break down how you view the world. After reading his collection, I am not sure what I mean anymore...

Each story in this collection takes the entire world and shreds it to bits. He then reassembles it in strange new ways. I think it would be a mistake for the reader to pick up this collection expecting a collection of standard weird horror tales. To me, Kurt Fawver stands more in the tradition of Harlan Ellison and Theodore Sturgeon. He employs the tools of science fiction, horror, and dark fantasy to tell a darkly hypothetical tale, to talk about aspects of culture and existence that most may not be comfortable with bringing to light. What would life be like if this strange thing happened and how would we retain our humanity? Most of his tales start in the realistic but then end up in the completely fantastic. He does have a couple of quiet and low key stories that lean more towards the horrific, which may be my favorites in the collection since I’m biased towards more subtle horror fiction in general. I think the horror genre is more properly defined by its exhalation of Mystery, the erotics of the unhuman. I think Kurt’s work is more defined by Speculation, His stories are probes. They are examinations of the raw matter of existence, perverting and twisting it to find out its core essence. His work would be right at home in Ellison’s landmark Dangerous Visions anthology. What does it mean to be human in the face of an unknowable and ever-changing existence is the key question of this collection.

My personal favorite tale in this collection may just be The Convexity of Our Youth. A story that both attacks the reader with its surreal premise, but also has a bit of fun with the pulpy conceit of its plot. The Convexity of Our Youth showcases a town recovering from an unexpected tragedy. A mysterious orange ball has been appearing in towns at random, somehow instigating a strange outbreak of mutations. The orange ball envelopes this tale in a shadow of the abstractly alien as much as the monolith does in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Trust I know how that sounds, you will just have to read for yourself, it really does come off as that bizarre and strange to the reader. The orange ball appears silently and suddenly, affecting only children who have the misfortune to come into contact with it. After a short period, a matter of days in most cases, the affected children undergo a horrific and painful metamorphosis into a literal orange bouncy ball. Their internal organs evaporating into nothing, their humanity lost. This is one of the strangest and most downtrodden stories you will ever read. It examines with microscopic detail the real grief and feelings of guilt that parents suffer when they lose a child. The whole story has this wonderfully bleak and apocalyptic feel. But thankfully, Fawver never loses sight that the story, at its core, is a story about kids turning into bouncy balls, and winks at the reader with dabs of macabre humor and some wonderfully delirious set pieces. The story is a master class in tone, taking an absurd premise and totally committing to it, going all the way with it until it becomes the stuff of existential fright.

I highly recommend The Dissolution of Small Worlds to adventurous horror readers and fans of the darker sides of science fiction and fantasy. Just try not to be alarmed if when you look up from reading the book, the world looks a bit… fractured.

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