Over the past decade or so, I’ve gradually become a fan or at least an appreciator of horror fiction, and as that process happened, I began to hear Thomas Ligotti’s name as one of the foremost horror practitioners of the craft. He was spoken of as if he were here to dominate the world that Lovecraft opened up, with a bleakness Lovecraft couldn’t touch. So, when I saw a copy of the omnibus of his first two collections, Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe at a used bookstore a year or so ago, I snapped it up. I finally got around to reading the first of those collections and have to say they largely lived up to the hype.
Ligotti’s ability to create an oppressive atmosphere that is truly horrifying is tied directly to his essentially pessimistic/nihilistic view. His core philosophical idea, to the extent that I understand it from the borderline nonfiction pieces in this collection without having read his philosophical book The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, is that there is absolutely no reason to hope or to think that there is any objective good and that in, any attempts to say otherwise, people are lying either to others or to themselves. I don’t share that view, though I am tempted by it at times. I fall closer to the existentialist view best expressed in the TV show Angel (of all places), “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.” It’s a subtle distinction, but it is a distinction nonetheless. But in Ligotti’s fiction, the pessimistic conviction goes bone deep and is as much a source of horror as anything supernatural happening.
Despite that, once I got on the storys’ wavelength I enjoyed the collection as a whole. The standout stories, for me, were “The Lost Art of Twilight," "Masquerade of a Dead Sword: A Tragedie," “Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech,” and most of all, “Vastarian.” That last is among the best stories I read this year, a year in which I read great work from China Mieville, Elizabeth Hand, Abbey Mei Otis, Peter Beagle and Ted Chiang. I’m not as fond of Ligotti yet as his most vocal fans, but I very much get what they’re on about.
From An Omnibus and Everything Else 2020 29/35