Review of “Monsters,” “Long Eyes,” and “The Adventures of Julie Beauchain,” by Jeff Carlson

I first came across Jeff Carlson by reading his story story, The Frozen Sky, an amazing tale of the role of reaction speed, and inhumanity, in battle. Jeff is also a blogger, and he was kind enough to virtually sit for a short interview. Recently, Jeff published a couple of his short-story collections on kindle. They are

In my review of The Frozen Sky, I compared that story to the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. The Frozen Sky really does reach that level of perfection. It is a story that is fully embedded within the science-fiction genre, but the basic questions that it raises (what is the quality of speed? what is the quality of humanity?) are central to all fiction.

Here, I will compare Carlson to Thomas Ligotti… and to Carlson himself!

Two of these books are really horror, in the classic sense. The stories in Long Eyes and Monsters center around degeneration, the theme of all great atmosphere horror, whether by H.P. Lovecraft, Charles Stross, or Thomas Ligotti. Ligotti is perhaps the natural comparison. The problem is that horror — degenerative fiction — is hard to write. Just as drama is unbearable without comedy, horror is unbearable without beauty. Lovecraft’s science fiction novella At the Mountain of Madness, concerning the disastrous encounter between a scientific expedition and weird life-forms at the south pole, is ultimately a story of sympathy and love. Even Ligotti’s short story “Gas Station Carnivals,” is based on that nostalgia for the childhood of early memories, where we can’t quite determine of they are memories of events, or memories of dreams…

In my view, Monsters and Long Eyes fails as horror, because they do not paint the degenerate world as beautiful.

While Monsters and Long Eyes are horrors, Julie Beauchain is war-fiction. Indeed, there are strong parallels to Julie and The Frozen Sky: both feature a female protagonist amid an violently indifferent population , in a hostile environment, connected to humanity only through an emotional distant “Other,” and both books works into the science fiction genre. Between the two, The Frozen Sky is a purer example of the form. Julie Beauchain flirts with both the detective story and apocalyptic fiction, and so is not constrained enough to enable literary freedom.

I am glad I read these three works on my Kindle. The Frozen Sky is one of my favorite short stories (along with Gene Wolfe’s “Mute” and Lovecraft’s “The Terrible Old Man“), and these works help put what works about The Frozen Sky in perspective.

And great news, Monsters and Long Eyes are now available free from Jeff Carlson’s blog!