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P.S. Showcase #4: Glyphotec & Other Macabre Processes
Mark Samuels
P.S. Publishing hardcover �10

review by Mario Guslandi

Mark Samuels' third short story collection (after the acclaimed The White Hands and the disappointing Black Altars) provides a further insight in the author's Kafkaesque, hallucinatory world. Typically, the atmospheres in most of the stories are of a nightmarish nature, madness is a common theme; the universe is a dark place and life a gloomy experience. Samuels' pessimistic view of the human condition is the first and main source of horror in his fictional work, the plots being, more often than not, a mere pretext for exhibiting the author's dark philosophy.

Truth be told, plots are not particularly original even in the present collection. For instance the title story Glyphotec, a disturbing piece where a mysterious organisation turns its employees into a kind of brainwashed zombies, is far from being innovative, and Shallaballah, a puzzling tale featuring a famous actor who undergoes plastic surgery after being disfigured in an accident, although subtly disquieting, is rather unclear in its development.

On the other hand, when Samuels pays more attention to the story itself instead of simply luxuriating in his talent as a horror stylist, the results are quite remarkable. Fine examples are Regina vs Zoskia, an enjoyable atypical 'legal thriller' where a law firm is involved in an endless case, and Ghorla, an extremely creepy tale about a scholar who, while tracing the secretes of an obscure writer, is engulfed by a living nightmare.

Patient 704 is a surrealistic piece that takes place in an unconventional asylum where, instead of being cured, patients are pushed into a downward spiral of madness. Another inmate of a mental institution is starring in Cesare Thodol: Some Lines Written On A Wall, a splendid tale where Samuels, masterfully blending various elements (debauchery, incest, madness), describes how the obscure infection tainting the lunatic's body and soul spreads to other people. An even more insidious sickness is depicted in the distressing The Vanishing Point where the Earth is invaded by an alien race mimicking human behaviour.

Destination Nihil By Edmund Bertrand is a brief, excellent piece that, without having an actual plot, manages to create a deep sense of disquiet. A man finds himself riding on a train, unaware of his own identity and of the journey's destination, but 'the destination is not important, the journey is the thing'. Sometimes even Samuels takes a break from his grim fantasies as in The Cannibal Kings Of Horror, an entertaining cute example of black humour, telling the events occurring backstage during a horror convention, and in A Gentleman From Mexico, a dull Lovecraftian pastiche which, although unaccountably included in the latest Best New Horror anthology, is actually the weakest story in this volume.

Confirmed as the modern Kafka of horror fiction, and a true soul-mate of the late and alas, now forgotten Italian author Dino Buzzati, Samuels continues to produce extraordinary incubi apt to seduce and unsettle any reader.
PS Showcase 4: Mark Samuels

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