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  • TITLE: Dark Gods
  • AUTHOR: T.E.D. Klein
  • AWARDS: World Fantasy, Novella


    This review is incomplete. I've already explained my having trouble writing about works I admire, love, wished-I'd-written. Essentially, a conclusion needs to be written plus a polishing added to the "Nadelman's God" portion. One of these days, eh? 1/21/2011


    Who is this guy and why should anybody read him? Good question. I mean, here's a Baby Boomer with degrees in Literature—thesis in fantasist stuff—pouring out one novel and a handful of stories back in the ‘80s. But he stepped over academia and is currently running a consulting business specializing in software development and data design for the health care industry. Apparently, Theodore Eibon Donald Klein is a man who has written what he has to say and that's the end of it.

    Chronologically, the 4 stories in Dark Gods were written before his novel, The Ceremonies, was published in 1984. But his novel was based on an earlier novella from 1972, so all his work is pretty much mixmastered into this decade of 40 years ago.

    The lead story, “Children of the Kingdom” fastens its location to Manhattan, that Ground Zero of human advancement known as City, so as to talk about what we've accomplished with modern civilization. But Klein's Apple is not filled with museums, parks, theaters, architecture; instead, we are immediately treated with the first-person protagonist's ride through a “shabby, nameless city” of “gutted buildings”, “gaping doorways”, “darkness”, “crumbling rows of tenements”, “filthy-looking shops”, where little children throw rocks at passerbys and feral-like humans piss in the street and wave at you (Viking, ISBN 0670805904, c.1985, p3-4). For all its glitzy showmanship, NYC has an overwhelmingly destructive side that nulls any sense of accomplishment. There is a parallel drawn between the abandoned Mayan temples standing silent in the jungles and the deserted wasteland of inner-city ghettos that forms the basis for this story's mythological terror. Just as predators feed on the weakest of the herd, there are un-nameable, unseen things below the streets waiting for their time.

    Plotwise, these are the sewer people, running in groups like maggots under the yellowbrick roads. Their rallying point becomes the infamous New York City Blackout of 1977, now seen as one of the shining examples of instantaneous pandemonium which, in less than 24 hours, 35 blocks of Brooklyn were destroyed by fires, over 1600 stores were looted, 300 million dollars of damage was done, and almost 4,000 people were arrested. Frustration over an economic downturn, fears of Son of Sam running amuck, and sweltering heat were considered the causes, and Klein adds the visual notion of the “flukemen” to satirize where our current evolutionary path—the destructive branch of it, at least—may lead.

    1994’s second season on X-Files, episode #25 called “The Host”So, why should you read this guy? Because he uses the macabre and grotesqueries of Horror like a sulfa pack on the festering social wounds of our culture. The scare here is not of the “Boo—Gotcha!” variety, but the kind that insinuates itself then grows more disturbing the more you think about it. It's not a moral message, but a subtle sidestep into a darkened alley where any curious urbanite can ponder the downside of living on the cutting edge of current, city-dependant society. Is the price worth it if your inner self winds up looking like this?

    In round two, called “Petey”, we move from the city into the manicuring of Nature, fondly known by most of us as “the ‘burbs”. And, just like the newly-found house the Kurtzes are showing off in the bucolic peacefulness of Connecticut, the terror and scariness is very, very subtle out there in all that fresh air. The story happens over the course of one evening party, and, action-wise, nothing much occurs beyond the typical lampshade-wearing, passing out, making passes, eating canapés and awing over the renovated property, except some seemingly-inconsequential party games of reading fortunes from an obscure Tarot deck which nobody understands anyway. But hints to what's really lurking are dropped throughout the affair, like the Tarot card with the “hunched, grey thing” (p.123) that keeps popping up and nobody can identify. Or, the final reveal adumbrated by the Tower card. Plaguing anomalies continue skulking around, mooning the read and peppering the imagination with growing unease. One of the guests almost hits a large animal in the darkened road. There's an old French fablebook in the library about a farmer who plants a magic bean and grows a “little devil” to help with chores around the grounds. And, there are jars of embryo-like things in the attic labeled “PD” which could translate as petit diable. Walt dreams of something ominous that's “pale, puffy, not completely formed” (p.116). Host George Kurtz spends partytime in the bathroom with parturition-like, mysterious crampings. The crazy and reclusive former owner had “eyes like a sorcerer” (p.96).

    This covert and growing sense of malignancy is intercut with non-connected paragraphs originating from an asylum lockdown regarding a determined suicider who is convinced something deadly is loose and hungry. It is not revealed until late in the tale that he is the former owner of this “find of a lifetime” (p.109).

    The story's brilliance is that it is far more fascinating after you've read it than while you're reading it. Putting the inklings together for later closure realizes how clueless the characters are—and that adds an uncompromised sense of terror because now these lambs-to-the-slaughter are bloodying with your own thoughts and not out lying detached and listless on the page in front of you.

    The other reason for its perspicacity is subtextual. In the previous story, author Klein has underscored the detritus attached to our modern metropolitan expansion. Here, he examines humanity's loss of essential, ancient wisdom through economic, educational, and vocational insolence. After all, George and Phyllis' suburban bargain—representing time-forgotten pagan magic—is gained by subterfuge and graft, and in complete ignorance of the powers disturbed. The house's saved furnishings are admired as objects worth money, not cherished heirlooms. The 30-odd guests' banter reveals people interested in their own words, not others' opinions. They're motivated by monetary success, comfort, and gadgetry. Certainly ignorance is at fault, but there's a whiff of disrespect for antiquated accomplishment in the air, and certainly the metallic aftertaste of pride is the main course served this disastrous evening. But these are not bad people; just victims of their own short-sighted, consumptive society.

    Is the notion that the world is flat any more debilitating than the current belief that the stars twinkle in a clockwork void? Have we not lost the rhythm of the earth by re-making it to our own hidebound timeframe? And, is metaphysical advancement hobbled or honored by the persistence in scientific methodology and materialistic thinking over Kantian intuition and Platonic idealism as valid epistemologies? The idea in conclusion is to tie back to the loss of our ability to relate to the earth as it was presented in more agrarian times. Modern bureauacries think in terms of management, not integration. Capitalistic bourgouise attitudes are about exploitation of a resource, not sharing in harmony with it. After all, you must have something to sell—or own—right?

    Of course, for most of us, the real question is: who cares? But just stay aware, okay? And curious. And never, ever, disregard objects in a cobwebbed attic, right Kemosabe?

    In college, Klein did his graduate thesis on H.P. Lovecraft, and “Black Man with a Horn” is his back-handed two-step on HPL's literary methods and thematic madness. Unlike most Derelethian corteges however, TEDK doesn't mire down in Cthulhu Mythos mudholes, but blazes trail with a geezer-old protagonist who was back-slappin' buddies with HPL during the 20-something years in NYC. An aspiring writer in his days with Howie, the voice of this story has grown hoarse and disgruntled in the shadow of “the Master himself”(p.135) as his work has forever been bylined as “Lovecraftian”(p.135). Even in his emeritus years, our retired academic is still looking for a plot, a yarn, an adventure to distinguish as his own.

    Finally, he gets one from a lay pastor he's met on an airline flight that's fleeing from the heartland jungles of Malasia and some shrouded, transformational conjuration of the “wholly abominable Tcho-Tcho”(attributed to HPL, p.150) tribe. These “malign beings” of the pastor's story plant demon seed in an unsuspecting host and spawn a shugoran, or bogey-man that sports an elephant's trunk appendage and scares naughty children. Or, it's “a large Negro man wearing a gas mask” (p.173), or, it's a giant, hominoid catfish. No one's really sure, but our old prof knows one thing: this monster is alluded to in past HPL lore and he is now resigned to “the uncomfortable position of living out another man's horror stories” (p.151).

    The ominousness of TEDK's style is present, but the creepiness drains out in a number of ways. Stretching for even more parody, TEDK whisks along in HPL-like epistolary form. And, as he blithefully remarks at the opening of this tale that “there is something inherently comforting about the first-person past tense” (p.131), his mouthpiece immediately establishes himself as a pesky if not distrusting narrator. Such immediate and straightforward use of these techniques distances the reader as if the ensuing plot was being read to you out of a newspaper. Also, but more subjectively, the Thing here is just a little too amorphous for any real nightmarish palpitations.

    “Black Man with a Horn” certainly works as a sly caricature of the inspired-by-Lovecraft industry. Klein retains a unique vision among the tossings while memorializing one of the greatest artists in his field. But, most importantly and with an inspired piece of misdirection, TEDK calculates the horror not of an antediluvian jungle demon, but of a life lived crushed by its own jealously, spite, and vanity. Appropriately, the curmudgeon storyteller is “absorbed into the denouement of another man's tale” (p.173) and will be forgotten.

    The final story, “Nadelman's God”, reads more like a comedy of errors than a supernatural arising. But in a random and chaotic universe as this, where mankind is still guessing at metaphysical connections, it is with a mannered sigh of cultivated resignation that an ancient, exiled god can be conjured out of a sophomoric, pretentious poem ego-published in a small, collegiate newspaper. This is Nadelman's haunt: that the naive dreams of artistic aspiration evolve into his present—and successful—job writing jaunty copy hooks for product advertising on Madison Avenue. The great irony of this is that his dribbling selling verbiage is of no real consequence to the world at large, whereas what rises out of his earlier, imperiously-angry yet heartfelt doggerel has far more influential proportion on its audience. Urging a consumer to buy a bauble is one thing; using it to destroy lives is another.

    Nadelman has dismissed any long-ago, youthful dream of using his celestial musings to impress society's intelligencia. To his mature eyes, seekers of the outré are too often just delusional “creeps” (p.183). But self-proclaimed follower and audience-of-one Arlen Huntoon—hatchet-faced, redneck “ goyische jackass” (p.240) as Nadelman calls him—has raised Nadelman's demon-god The Hungerer, adding even more bitter irony to Nadelman's worldview.

    Then the brutal murders start, including Huntoon's, and all hope of a benign belief system fail. As more unspeakable events occur, Nadelman plunders into his own daunting ennui. He feels as if the earth were yearning to crush him, smother him, blot out the very memory of him; as if the planet, all nature, all creation, the very fabric of reality, were inimical to breeds such as his.

    Once upon a time Nadelman was sparked by a rarely-glimpsed, Machen-like vision long since suppressed as merely an infantile terror fancy. And from now on, for the rest of his life he carries that oh-so-Jewish burden of guilt for allowing that “inkling of the truth” (p.247) to flourish into this world.

    Or was it selling to children an insistence for later diabetes in the form of Flav-R Straws, Cap'n Crunch, and Pringles?



    © copyright 12/01/2010 by Larry Crawford

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