Thursday, January 10, 2019
Book Review: 'To Dream the Blackbane' by Richard J. O'Brien
‘In America there are many zones that humans and hybrids have learned to avoid.’
New Jersey author Richard J. O'Brien earned his MFA in Creative Writing form Fairleigh Dickinson University and teaches writing and literature at Stockton University and Rowan College at Gloucester County and has published nine books as well as stories in such magazines as 13 Horror, Sinister Grin Press's Vicious Circle Season One, Disturbed Digest, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Duende, Pulp Literature, and Weirdbook. His genre of choice is dark fantasy and paranormal themes and he is a polished pro in this category.
No matter how strange the paranormal world can become it is mandatory that authors open the gates of their warped place with language that encourages the reader to hold on for the tale ahead. Richard is particularly gifted at creating the strange yet keeping it in proximity to reality to make it work. His Prologue attests to this: ‘One night, the stars went out. When they came back twenty-four hours later, the world witnessed new constellations. The year was 2015. Scientists called the event The Anomaly back then, and the name stuck. Before long, they found out that the new constellations weren't the only product of The Anomaly. Seventy years later, the debate continues between scholars about whether Earth herself, along with the solar system, remains in the same universe. In addition to the new constellations, one-third of Earth was shaved off—from Mongolia down over Greece and points south—and replaced with new lands. The satellites that once orbited Earth all vanished. Efforts were made in vain to launch new satellites into orbit, but none survived. In the early days there was no way of knowing whether that chunk of the world had been obliterated, or if the land and its people—and a good chunk of the ocean—had been transported to a non-local plane. That’s what the scientists called it. A non-local plane. It was accepted as fact that the walls between realities had weakened. What no one could prove was how all of this had happened. As for everyone on the missing side, no one ever heard from them again. In some places around what was left of the world there were holes, gateways leading into different dimensions. Between these new dimensions and the old world lay the borderlands, boundaries separating humanity and post-Anomaly hybrids from the faerie realm. Many humans—pedigrees, as they came to be known, unaffected by The Anomaly—took refuge in these new realms. They believed in a kind of manifest destiny, that those parallel places hospitable to them offered a new way of life—an improvement over the world they had known, given to them through divine providence. Likewise, a great number of inhabitants from the faerie realm came through the borderlands and migrated to the cities as well as the countryside. In Germany, trolls took back the Black Forest. Throughout the American Southwest, as well as in the Outback of Australia, portals into the Dreamtime remained permanently open. I once read about a guy who had driven to work the day after The Anomaly only to vanish for thirty-five years. The man, having not aged a day, walked out of the woods in Nova Scotia one early morning with an Elf family in tow; he and his family, an elvish wife and three little halflings, settled in Pugwash Junction and bought a farm with gold. Closer to home, there’s a guy in Southside Chicago, a stone mason, who became part of the cathedral he and his crew had been working on. They say if you go down there at night you can still hear the guy singing. All you have to do is look up at the northwest corner of the roof. There’s a gargoyle there. Only it’s not a gargoyle. It’s the stone mason who became fused with the cathedral that sings. But that’s not the worst The Anomaly had to offer…’
The story is complex and beautifully condensed in the synopsis – ‘A cosmic event in 2015 fused earth with the faerie realm. Scientists refer to the event as the Anomaly. A byproduct of the Anomaly was the advent of hybrid beings - people who became mixed with whatever animal or object was nearest them the moment the Anomaly occurred. Humans, or Pedigrees, soon relegated fairy refugees and hybrids into ghetto zones in large cities. Seventy years later, Wolfgang Rex, a second-generation hybrid - part human, part Rhodesian Ridgeback - is a retired police detective who runs a private investigation business in Chicago's Southside. It's a one-hybrid show: though Rex couldn't survive without his assistant, the faerie Sally Sandweb. One evening, two vampires visit Rex and offer him a substantial reward for the recovery of a stolen scroll. Later that evening, Charlotte Sweeney-Jarhadill, a Pedigree woman from Louisiana, visits Rex and hires him to exorcise the headless ghost of a confederate soldier from her home. To complicate matters, the private detective ends up falling for Charlotte. Meanwhile the vampires demand results in the search for the missing scroll. When Rex's assistant Sally goes missing, he must stay alive long enough to find her. Charlotte and the vampires, however, have other plans for Rex.
Delectably wild and intentionally jolting, Richard J. O’Brien proves he is a master of this creatively difficult medium. Highly recommended!
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.