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The Calling by Paul M. Strickler (2006 Crystal Dreams Publishing.  Read more about the author and the novel  here.

     Light at the Edge of Darkness is promoted as an “anthology of biblical speculative fiction,” a “lost genre” published by The Writers’ Café Press and edited by Cynthia MacKinnon.  In short and upon reading and digesting this work in whole, “Bib-spec-fic” as it’s referred to here and virtually nowhere else I’ve encountered (hence I believe the publishers had themselves coined the term, for they knew not what else to

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(All reviews copyright © 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Nicholas Grabowsky and Diverse Media, all rights reserved.   All book cover images are owned by their respective owners and used by permission.)

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call it), is essentially a fusion of horror, suspense, science fiction, cyberpunk and related elements written not only by fundamentalist Bible-believing Christians but crafted with a fundamentalist Christian evangelical agenda.  Every tale promises and delivers a light (in the form of a message or sublime insight centered in biblical morality or salvation) at the edge of a darkness rooted in often terrifying conflict and bleak circumstance, where characters are pushed onward through trials and tribulations and mishap which challenges or shapes their religious convictions and is meant to do the same for us readers.

Off and on and for the longest time of my pre-professional writing life, my Christian religious convictions often drove me to saturate this tale and that story with biblical ideology and ultimately it rarely worked well with the sort of horror I'm heartfeltedly inclined to write.  I received all forms of hell from the finger-pointing judgmental types that condemned me for my stories’ violent content and dark and supernatural nature, and most other readers outside the church circle took my stories as too sugarcoated and preachy.  On the other hand, my experience with this always makes my radar shoot up and zero in on the works of others who attempt this sort of writing.  After all, I’m still a Christian.  So typically you’d think I would be an ideal candidate to give a bright and sparkling review for such an anthology.

I’ll tell you, the writing itself contained within this book is, overall, first-rate, the storytelling does its job and entertains with crisp characters and situations which are refreshingly original.  Some of the content is outright straight science fiction, notably such as V.B. Tenery’s court drama Adino, Frank Creed’s satisfying Miracle Micro and True Freedom, Andrea Graham’s cyber-punkish Frozen Generation, Joseph Ficor’s amusingly comic Your Average Ordinary Alien.  There’s the C.S. Lewis-esque Fumbleblot’s Task by Deborah Cullins-Smith which plays on the number 13 and which I at first assumed I wouldn’t like, but I found the simple fable delightful.  Elements of good horror shine particularly in Daniel Weaver’s truly psychedelic Guilty.  A.P. Fuch’s Undeniable is well-told (see my review of his other works here), but alas, I was constantly questioning the believability of the graphic torture imposed on a Canadian citizen in China simply for carrying a Bible off the plane and being a Christian.  I’m well aware of persecution of Christians in foreign countries for political and religious reasons in contemporary times, and there has to be a more deeply-rooted set of circumstances established early within the story for it to seem plausible to me. 

But minor shortcomings here and there in the anthology did not lessen the overall enjoyment of my read, and I praise each author for their uniqueness and voice and superior storytelling skills.   The only real problem I have with Light at the Edge of Darkness is it drips with a Christian message that oftentimes seems forced and preachy…..criticism which sounds all too familiar to me in yesteryear days…..but I usually hunger for something raw in my reading life, with no predetermined guidelines of how a writer should write with or without religious conviction, where some stories are spawned out of pure primal release with no need to convey any particular message.  The same message in every story of a 384-page anthology can become so redundant it takes away from its true potential as an enjoyable read marketable to the reading masses.  On the other hand, the consistency in its common themes makes for a uniformed anthology presentation when it comes down to it all, and to this business of biblical speculative fiction. 

 

 is a way well-over obvious indication the chap’s not only got some real talent, but the ambition of someone who believes in his work and the patience and diligence to pull out of himself a story so epic yet dealing with so tight a group of characters in a small town setting.  Yes, it rides on Essence of King, of whom I’m certain is an inspiration to the author, but Strickler is his own voice here. 

Basically, with this story, you’ve got a family who moves to a small town in northern Michigan and into the one house nobody in that town wants to live in.  A guy who once lived there was very much into the Dark Arts, you see, and what happened there was so powerful that it wants to happen again, pulling the main character of the boy in the family further into intrigue, seduces him to discover just what it is that’s happening to his family to find himself immersed smack down in the center of it.  As it turns out, important people in the town are involved, and we find the source of unspeakable evil to be from a supernatural gateway where all the protagonist pieces are shuffling together throughout the story to eventually open and bring about a vengeful assault from the demonic forces beyond.

Paul Strickler has an impressive educational and professional history which largely involves the side of the brain that’s opposite the creative side, working high-ranking positions in areas ranging from CIA computer operations to aerospace technology, which accounts for a good head-on-your-shoulders literary expertise and actually stimulates creativity, is what it seems to me in his case.  I mean, a majority of computer geeks I know have a skill equivalent to a gerbil playing basketball when it comes to telling a story on paper, and Paul not only tells a story, but tells it well, and places enough dark and surreal visions in your head that it takes a few good nights of restless sleep to get over. 

Bravo, and keep up the great work, Paul…….

 

 

Mistress of the Dark  by Sèphera Girón (2005 Leisure Books/Dorchester Publishing.  Read more about the author and the book  here.)

Light at the Edge of Darkness (anthology) edited by Cynthia Mackinnon (2007 Writers' Café Press.  Read more about the anthology here.)

     Imagine the world of our earth cast forever into the shadow of night time sky, illuminated only by the moon and the stars and what Man had invented to light everything from cities to flashlights, but in this world no living creature was adversely affected.  Birds still chirped in the morning, great forests flourished, every minute seemed like Saturday night, and Sephera Giron was

 

     The Calling is a 500-plus-page-long, character-driven, lyrically-fluid tale that reads like a haunted house story with a Halloween funhouse ride-type pace that sometimes gets stuck in narrative before it starts off again and pulls you further into the ride.  The way Strickler writes tells me he knows what he’s doing, like he’s written for awhile, though this is his first novel.  I’ve said that before with other premiere writers who have put out first novels, and this

 

 

basking in it all, maybe even queen of it.  I think Sephera would be just fine with that scenario.  Her life is one exquisite dark side.  I’ve seen that in her personally, and, now that I’ve read her, (and for the purposes of this review did some homework on her), I’m even deeper of the opinion that Sephera is full of night, yet full of life, and full of ample creative productivity reflecting that.  She has over a dozen published books, has spread her short works thick around the online and printed universe, is a favorite at genre literary cons enough so to be honored at them and a prominent headline.  She’s a certified and recommended tarot counselor, goes by the name of Ariana when she does her readings, is learned in astrology and numerology, carries a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts.  All that said and good and set aside, she is, in my overall opinion, a very literarily talented woman of the night.

Some women I’ve met and read and who had a bestseller or two under their belts can’t hold a candle in the dark world of Giron’s, and with Mistress of the Dark, this writer writes in a first-person narrative prose that actually dances poetically and descriptively.   The character of Abigail as a lonely waitress, distraught with her loneliness and of her own self-image, amplifies into a mental and social vortex of lust and envy and the deaths of those around her, whose corpses she utilizes as furniture-like “works of art” collecting in her livingroom, very Gein-esque.  Drag queens and chain saws and a lowly young woman just trying to make herself happy is what this book is about, baby.

And Sephera does a hell of a job bringing it all to life, under a canopy of dark.