The Thomas Ligotti inspired collection VASTARIEN kicks-off with the one act play, “The Gods in Their Seats, Unblinking” by Kurt Fawver. More accurately, it is an account of play, the playwright and actors vanished and possibly fictional themselves. The traditional roles between actor and audience quickly dissolves. Who are the real performers? Are audience and actors interchangeable? Redundant?
An excellent, thought-provoking story, it not only kept me interested in the narrative, but also in the larger philosophical questions posed. It is said that good art makes the audience an active participant, which is certainly the case here. Perhaps the placement of “Gods in Their Seats, Unblinking” (great title too) as the first story is a subtle hint to which VASTARIEN aspires. In this literary journal, there is a bleeding of fiction, meta-fiction, and nonfiction—the lines between reader and writer blurring much like the participants in Fawver’s play or Ligotti’s own metaphoric twilights and nebulous skylines.
Described as a source of critical study and creative response to the corpus of Thomas Ligotti, as well as associated authors and ideas, VASTARIEN focuses on the thematic elements and dominant subjects of the horror master. While this may sound a bit antiseptic and scholarly, each author brings their own creativity and spirit to their chapter. This is not an echo chamber of a Ligottian ethos or a mimic of his style (unlike the many Lovecraft pastiches out there). Simply put, these are works that occupy a similar rebellious space of existential anxiety and escapism.
Some of the fiction highlights for me are “Nervous Wares & Abnormal Stares” by Devin Goff. A bucolic town is dismantled board by board, shop by shop, the rural niceties a cover for the strange and sinister. Jordan Krall delivers an unsettling, disorienting tale of the crumbling reality of madness in “My Time at the Drake Clinic”. Also, Christopher Slatsky’s mockumentary “Affirmation of the Spirit: Consciousness, Transformation, and the Fourth World in Film” expertly walks the fine line of fiction masquerading as the real.
VASTARIEN’s half dozen nonfiction essays are highlighted by the simply named, “Notes on a Horror” by a psychologist using the alias Dr. Raymond Thoss. This piece provides a penetrating look into the world of trauma and treatment. Written for the layman in four digestible parts, the author makes the case of how Ligottian themes can be used to both conceptualize pathological dissociation associated with such things as PTSD, and how they can actually reconnect a patient to the world. Given how many dismiss Ligotti’s worldview as simply antinatalistic and pessimistic, I found this a compelling demonstration of how Ligotti’s work can relieve and even heal. For someone who has taken much comfort and solace in Ligotti’s words/worlds, I am glad to see this concept eloquently explored.
Finally, closing the collection, is Christopher Ropes’ “Singing the Song of My Unmaking”. This hybrid piece sums VASTARIEN as it is part poem, fictional story, and confessional autobiography blended into a coherent whole. It’s a fitting closer where dissociation, depression, and the dissolving of reality play out under the threatening clouds of engulfing nihilism. A emotional story that will stay with you long after reading.
VASTARIEN is a must read for the Ligotti fan. I found this dedicated journal gave me insights into his works that I hadn’t before. Also, to see what Ligotti inspires in others was something I hadn’t anticipated and gave me much to contemplate. For those who may not be familiar with Ligotti, there is a lot to enjoy here, nothing too esoteric or ‘inside’. The different pieces, while certainly challenging, are never out of reach, written both for the neophyte and Ligotti-phile. The inclusion of starkly personal works, too, make this an accessible book. An exciting beginning to the VASTARIEN journey. Congratulations to editors Jon Padgett and Matt Cardin of ‘Thomas Ligotti Online’ to make this project come to fruition. Looking forward to Issue 2!
Vastarien, Vol 1 on Amazon: Click for Link
Vastarien, Vol 1 on Goodreads: Click for Link