Monsters who love us. Monsters who hate us. The monsters we nurture, and the monsters we become. They may be imperceptibly small or unimaginably vast,completely devoid of thought or filled with incomprehensible rage and hunger, but regardless of scale or motivation, they cannot be ignored.
On these pages, you will meet an artist who plays with the geometry of madness, a child who refuses to accept the rules of loss, and a mind unravelled by the forgotten touch of a cold dark world. From the illusionary safety of childhood, to the intersection of beauty and horror, corporeal prisons, and serial suicides, these stories expose the lingering echoes of forsaken lives, disturbing visions of cruel futures, and ultimately ask the question: "What do you do when faced with the unthinkable?"
Includes the complete novel Critical Mass, along with the following short stories:
Come into the Light, My Darlings Infernal Ratio Wake Killing Me Softly The Angel's Seed Ice Riders
C, Scott Davis is a writer, computer programmer, game designer, humorist (of dubious quality), composer/musician (even more dubious), and generally interested in almost everything. He is also an Olympic-class waffler and has two Silver Medals in Procrastination (he keeps meaning to go for the Gold, but never seems to get around to it).
His stories have been published in "404 Ink", "The Nassau Review", and several anthologies. His first novel, "Critical Mass", is available now.
Come Into The Light, My Darlings by C. Scott Davis
My Review: So, I read a lot of fucked up stories as a kid (what can I say — Goosebumps was my favorite thing on Earth when I was 7, and the collection of horror stories just branched off from there) and this reminded me exactly of something I would find in one of my old books of short horror stories. And I *loved* it. It was short, but the horrific shock factor was spot on, as well as the... morbid fascination. This story had the perfect mixture of horrific fascination, nostalgia, and shock value. I loved it.
My Rating: 5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ * Infernal Ratio by Joel Byers
My Review: When I was asked to review this series of short stories, I was told that the theme behind the compilation was largely inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. I’ve never read Lovecraft so I can’t tell you how accurately these stories portray his ideas, but I *can* tell you who this short story, Infernal Ratio, does remind me of: Stephen King. Specifically, it reminds me of his novel Rose Madder. I do think this particular story was a little slow-paced, but the plot events themselves were easily horrific. The mental image of Robert, driven crazy and having painted for days, is particularly haunting. The imagery was particularly good in this short story, and I think the imagery was definitely Infernal Ratio’s strongest point — rather fitting, considering the story centers around an artist.
My Rating: 4 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ * Wake by Deneen Ansley
My Review: All I have to say is: what the fuck. That was... disturbing. I’m not even sure I fully understand what the hell was going on, but all I know is 1) I am disturbed and 2) that was excellent. It was so short, but I was thoroughly mind-fucked and I can perfectly picture the... fleshy surroundings. Urgh. I’m not even sure I fully know what that was, but either way I approve.
My Rating: 4 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ * Killing Me Softly by C. Scott Davis
My Review: Much like ‘Wake,’ all I have to say is: what the fuck. It took a second to figure out what the hell was going on, but once it did finally click, I loved it. I love the openness of wondering why the hell this is a thing that happens to this character. And, actually, while I know the things in this story weren’t necessarily shadows, this story reminds me of one of the novels I just recently read — The Darkening by Chris Sarantopoulos. While Killing Me Softly was *much* shorter, the concepts are very similar.
My Rating: 5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ * The Angel’s Seed by R. Eric Smith
My Review: Well, I think I can officially say I’ve never read anything quite like this story. The Angel’s Seed was... horrifyingly unique? I still don’t think I quite understand what the hell the angels were, other than creepy as fuck, but I can perfectly picture the, er... mass of bodies that formed, and the narration in this particular story was incredible. I don’t know how, but somehow The Angel’s Seed, while being an... interesting title, ended up being horrifying, but it tugged at my heartstrings as well — particularly the relationship between Sophie and her Nannie. Earlier, I compared the story Infernal Ratio to the Stephen King novel Rose Madder. This story also reminds me of King — particularly his novel “Pet Sematary.” While The Angel’s Seed didn’t involve any pets or zombie toddlers, the post-deceased Nannie, and the fact that Sophie tried so hard to protect her, reminded me of the father/son relationship in the novel by King.
My Rating: 5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ * Ice Riders by Sue Bowers
My Review: This story was interesting, I think, because of its brevity. All things considered, the idea of animals-attacking-animals is fairly simple, but it was written in a way that made it just as... intriguing? horrific? as the other stories in this compilation. The imagery was simple, but effective, and I think that’s what made this story so strong. And, I liked the narration. Especially the way it ended — it leaves the reader with a feeling of... hopelessness, I think. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this addition to the compilation.
My Rating: 4 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ * Critical Mass by C. Scott Davis
My Review: This story took a little while, maybe a chapter or so, to get into, because it took took me a second to figure out what the hell was going on, but I’m glad I stuck with it because I think it was definitely my favorite of the set. The imagery was... incredible? horrifying? incredibly horrifying?, and after awhile the characters themselves felt incredibly real. The ending in particular reminds me of something, but I... can’t figure out what? I think it reminds me of another story somewhere, but I can’t think of the name. And, I absolutely Was Not expecting the ending. Maybe it was because of this story’s length compared to the others, but the plot twists were incredible, and I’m definitely glad that Critical Mass was saved for last.
My Rating: 5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Overall Thoughts: First of all, I don’t know why these stories took me so long to finish — it certainly wasn’t because of poor subject matter, because, in case the 4 and 5 star indicators weren’t evidence enough, I think each and every one of them were horrifyingly incredible. A random reading slump just kinda hit me like a freight train, I think, but even a slump can’t change what I think of these stories. As I said in one of the above reviews, I’ve never read H.P. Lovecraft so I’m not really the best to determine whether these stories accurately portray Lovecraftian horror, but, assuming that they do, then I definitely need to check the guy out. A lot of these stories — notably Come Into The Light, My Darlings and Critical Mass — portrayed a type of horror that I’m most definitely into, that also lowkey reminded me of more intense, higher reading level versions of stories I read as a kid, kinda like the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. There were some stories in this set that were able to ‘spook’ me more than others, but I think it’s safe to say that I liked all of the writings involved in different ways. Like I said when I reviewed another anthology that included C. Scott Davis’s work, I’m usually pretty wary when reading anthologies because of how differently I might take to each story. But, just like that other anthology review, there were none in this set that lacked compared to any others. I’m excited to say that Critical Mass & Other Stories is another example of a strong anthology, and I loved it a lot. Overall, I would definitely recommend to any horror fan — whether you’re familiar with Lovecraft or not — because these are a set of stories that will not disappoint. I am amazed at how much I liked these, and, as a long time horror fan myself, I can confidently say that I think most people will find at least one story in this set that will genuinely spook them in a way that “modern” horror usually can’t.
Overall Rating: 4.5, rounded up to 5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This book is a collection of stories that are original and satisfying. Each author brings a distinct new taste to what horror is. I started this book thinking I would read one story at a time only to find myself slaving over it with tired eyes refusing to wait until morning for the end of the book. When I finished I found myself feeling as though a crime had been committed. I wanted more. I ate the whole pie in one sitting. I found every story not only well crafted but utterly immersive. This is a book you will want to settle down and get comfortable with. You might not need a bookmark for this one.
Critical Mass and other stories was highly recommended to me, on the condition that I liked cosmic horror. I’d never read anything calling itself cosmic horror, but Google told me that cosmic horror is largely about the fear and awe we feel when confronted by our own insignificance in the face of something beyond our scope of comprehension.
That certainly sounded interesting to me; there is something both grand and pitiful about the smallness of the human condition. About the slim, narrow stretch of written and personal knowledge that we claim is both accurate and vast. For all we know, even the solipsists are too optimistic about what we can know. We are, on the whole, too weak and ignorant to create lives of true meaning for ourselves, much less grapple with the cosmos(if indeed it is a cosmos; the very word implies order, which is at best a hopeful assessment of the universe).
So I began to read. And then I had some thoughts. And now I am writing those thoughts down, out of either boredom or snobby hubris or a desire to be known. Be aware, I do spoil things quite a bit from hereon out.
Because of space issues, I will only be able to post my thoughts on the first three short stories.
Come into the Light, My Darlings
Somewhere, in some town that could be every town, there is an empty house in which lives an angel. A creature of beauty and holy grace, whose very presence causes the soul to sing.
It eats children.
We learn about this through the perspective of one such child, a ringleader of a small band of friends. We are given no explanation of what the angel actually is, or why it lives in a mysterious house, or why it is so hungry. We only know what the child experiences and believes. The children flee into the darkness and survive, therefore they and the reader both assume that the angel cannot leave the light, cannot follow into the darkness. But the angel is a constant allure; once you have heard your soul sing, you cannot help but long to hear it again. Even if you must perish in the hearing.
This is, I think, my favorite of the stories compiled here, for several reasons. First and foremost, we are given no way to really understand the situation. We get no references to a larger mythos, we get no paranormal investigators swooping in to make sense of things. We don’t even experience our narrator’s final, deadly exposure to the angel. We know only what has happened, and how that has made our narrator feel. How it would make us feel.
Why is it important that we do not truly understand the situation? If we knew what the angel was, then we would have some manner of control over it. In understanding it, we would bring it down onto our playing field, into the realm of the comprehensible. There are some things that, in the understanding, become more terrible and horrifying. But that horror is not cosmic, it is not concerned with our smallness. This angel shows us how small and apparently delicious we are.
Secondly, there is a very obvious allegory to this story that strikes home to me. The angel, in having a form readily associated with Westernized Christianity, is a ready stand-in for the religion itself. There is something about heaven, an eternity spent in worship of a vast, immeasurable, incomprehensible being, that threatens the sense of self. How could a human be expected to retain their own individuality when bound to a single activity with all other humans for an eternity? The self, the soul, would be devoured. Consumed. Eaten.
To further affix this allegory in my mind, my pastor-turned-quasi-missionary father has sent me a book and an article, both of which decry individuality as a barrier to godly salvation. One work ecstatically analyzes John 6:37 (All who the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.), glorying in the fact that those who the Father chooses to give to his son will invariably be given. Divine grace “reaches down and turns around our very desires.” We are drawn, quite apart from our own decisions and desires, inexorably to the son, who, I’m sure Christians would be quite eager to assure me, is not a child-eating angel. We hope.
Thirdly, the end of the story speaks to the inherent self-contradiction of the human condition. Our narrator is huddled in the dark, trying desperately to stay alive. But she knows, deep down, that she will one day give in to the angel. She will return to it, hear her soul sing, and be devoured. There is nothing really that she can do. The hound of heaven has its hooks in her. She is doomed.
As are we all. Death comes for us all, in the end, and we must all huddle in the dark until then. Sure, our huddling may look like building skyscrapers or raising families or finding meaning. But in the end, we all die. In the end, we are all incapable of rising above ourselves to thwart the cosmos’ design(or lack thereof).
Finally, I just liked the way the story was written. Our narrator is consistent throughout. The writing draws us into the reality of these children’s lives before, during, and after their encounter with something beyond them. The structure of the story gives us just enough information to follow the situation and avoid confusion, but does not threaten us with comprehension of the cosmic horror.
The next story I enjoyed, but considerably less well. A betrayed and not-quite desperate artist is contracted by an obviously unusual woman to paint a mural. To do so, she requires him to eschew the artistic Golden Ratio in favor of a more off-putting Infernal Ratio. As it happens, the whole thing ties into the Cthulhu mythos, and the mural becomes a gateway for the King in Yellow to enter our world. The artist and his loyal friend attempt to destroy the mural before it is too late. The artist and the woman who contracted him are taken by the King in Yellow beyond our world as the mural is burned. All who witnessed the mural are either consumed in flame or driven completely mad.
My first critique of this story is the fact that we spend the first twelve pages of the story wandering around our artistic hero’s descent into desperation. We learn that he is arrogant, prone to violence, and disliked by the vast majority of people with which he interacts. His studio is legally stolen from him, and he is reduced to working as a painter for a construction company before he receives a mysterious offer and goes off to paint the infernal mural.
However, being reduced to working as a painter for a construction company doesn’t seem to be that bad of a situation. Our artist friend is successful, and is well on his way to saving enough money to open another fine art studio. While our artist would rather not be painting, he is able to accept commiseration from his boss, and seems to be better liked than he had been as a fine artist. He is, in short, not actually desperate when he receives the offer to paint the mural. He has a choice, he has control in this matter.
And even though he is told quite clearly that people who use the Infernal Ratio go insane, and even though he clearly has reservations about the person contracting him to paint the mural, he still agrees to do so. Our artist hero is the engine of his own destruction. While this certainly has the potential to paint us a grim analogy about the self-destructive nature of humanity, it seems instead to make our hero difficult to sympathize with. Our artistic hero was at his most likeable when he was working as a painter, and spends the rest of the story either wrapped in his own hubris or trapped by the Infernal Ratio.
Furthermore, we get very little payoff for the extended description of our artist’s fall from grace. At the end, in a final confrontation with the mural and the woman who commissioned it, our artist is tempted by the power to wreak vengeance on those who did him wrong. The temptation is partially successful; our artist slows in his preparations to burn the mural, and the villain seizes her opportunity to draw a knife. Our artist at no point chooses to finish the mural. He is robbed of the actual self-destructive act both by the villain, who cuts his arm, and by accident, as his blood accidentally splashes onto the mural in such a way that completes the portal, allowing the King in Yellow to pass over. For twelve pages we read about our artist’s spiral downward, and those who betrayed him. Twelve pages for a paragraph of payoff that doesn’t actually make much of a difference to the story. I don’t think that balances out very well, but I am only one person.
My second critique is perhaps a little snobbish. I did not enjoy the semi-omniscient point of view that hopped between characters with no discernable pattern. If knowing what someone feels at a specific time is useful to the author, we are told how they feel. We don’t always quite get a snapshot of their perspective. The story feels like a very third person experience to me. I am told many things, but I’m not shown nearly so much. The writing does not quite land for me.
My third critique is perhaps unfair. I am only passingly familiar with the Cthulhu mythos. I’ve only read one or two of Lovecraft’s stories, and I’ve watched roleplayers and board gamers work their way through a few scenarios set in the mythos. For me, perhaps because most of my interaction with it has been through secondary sources like games and short stories not written by Lovecraft, the mythos feels played out. Like a child in a bedsheet pretending to be a spooky ghost. I could not help but roll my eyes when the villainous woman’s servants started to mutter about “cthul-hu r’lyeh.” From that point on, the story became a guessing game about which figure in the mythos was going to come out and play.
The very fact that the Cthulhu mythos is a mythos, that there have been so many stories told and game mechanics worked around it, reduces the cosmic horror of any story it touches. Readers can say “Ah! This is Lovecraftian!” and a whole slew of data and assumptions click into place. It is more understandable. It is more comprehensible. Even though the stories are about these strange, other-worldly entities, the stories have certain rules and tendencies. Once I knew this story was Lovecraftian, it was pretty clear to me that the mural was going to be completed enough for the King in Yellow to cause some minor havoc, and then it would be destroyed. Nothing truly cosmic would happen. I as a reader was no longer small. I understood the threat, and knew it would be handled, probably with fire or explosives. The people who survived would be driven mad, and the whole thing would tie up in a neat bow. It was no longer horrifying. It was just a slowly-written adventure.
My final critique is entirely hypocritical, because I often do something quite similar when I attempt to write or plot a gaming narrative. When the Golden Ratio came up, and the story revealed the existence of the Infernal Ratio, I rolled my eyes. There is a tendency in some fiction to use a popularly-understood(or misunderstood) scientific or artistic principle to lend credibility to their gimmick. You’ve heard of the Golden Ratio, and know that it has something to do with art, right? Well, here’s the Infernal Ratio, which is the Golden Ratio’s spooky cousin. When you use the Infernal Ratio instead of the Golden Ratio, you can open doors to other worlds! Cue spooky noises.
This is similar to what I do creatively, which is to borrow heavily from a historical period for my setting and background drama. I rely on the history to grant my story depth and character, instead of actually doing the work myself. It is lazy and poorly-done when I do it. It’s not much better when I see it in published writing. I would rather have seen this story build its own explanation for how the mural became a portal, or, better still, not have explained it at all. It had already been established that there was something unusual about the house in which the mural was to be painted, and something unusual about the woman requesting the mural, and something unusual about the picture to be turned into a mural. The whole talk of the Golden/Infernal Ratio was unnecessary, and pulled me right out of the story. But then, I am no artist.
If the story had just stood on its own feet, and not relied on the twin crutches of the Golden Ratio and the Cthulhu mythos, I would have enjoyed it much more. The story has its own rebar without leaning on Lovecraft, and, at its heart, I think it is a good story with a potentially horrifying view into the self-destructive nature of humanity. We are all small in the face of our own unknowable nature.
This is a very short, and not entirely a story, but it is excellent. The writing is clear and insistent; it draws the reader into its strange world. Nothing actually happens, but it is a beautiful description of a horrifying state of mind. Our narrator is trapped in a human fleshbag, and cannot remember what or who they really are, or where their home truly lies. They are trapped and alone and afraid of what they can no longer remember. Afraid of what might come next.
It struck me as a fairly accurate depiction of an anxious suicidal person’s thoughts. Speaking as someone who has fantasized about, considered, and, on rare occasions, attempted suicide, I felt a great deal of kinship with the trapped, isolated being in its flesh cage. Fear of what comes next has quite literally kept me alive a few times. I can empathize, deeply, with the last four sentences of the story. I have no critiques. I am too self-absorbed by what the writing means to me to actually engage what it is.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
If I could give this book 10 stars I would in a second.
I have never read such a compelling series of works in my life and I have read A LOT of literature. This is like Black Mirror before Black Mirror was Black Mirror...and better!
The characters in every tale are vivid, realistic, and have such a depth to them no matter how short the stories within this books covers are. The world building in these stories too...wow. Just amazing. How is this book not freaking worldwide famous?!?!?!
5 stars with a heaping helping of “HOLY FUCKING SHIT WHAT A RIDE!”
If you love horror stories you'll love this book. Having different authors collaborate to make this book gives it such a unique set of themes and flavours. Cosmic, psychological, fantasy, and body horror; it has it all. Get warmed up with some short stories before reading a slightly longer one, then get refreshed with a short one again. All culimnating with the finale of Critical Mass. Great pacing to slowly build up the tension and laying the seeds of doubt for what lies ahead. You'll feel uncomfortable reading all of these stories and that's exactly what I was hoping for.