Review of RADIX OMNIUM MALUM
"Anyone who wants to spend time with the uncanny and horrific will find this volume contains gems"
Pauline Morgan has reviewed RADIX OMNIUM MALUM & OTHER INCURSIONS for both the SFCrowsnest website and the Birmingham SF Group's newsletter. With Pauline's permission, I happily repost the review.
Anyone who has heard of Mike Chinn will probably be familiar with either his steampunk versions of Sherlock Holmes or his Damian Paladin stories. Since the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are now out of copyright, there have been a number of stories and novels (of varying degrees of competence) using this character. Mike Chinn’s rank in the higher echelons of the sub-genre but there is a danger of them being lost. Damian Paladin has, so far, two collections devoted to his exploits which are well worth hunting down. Mike, though, has written and had published a wide range of other stories, some of which are included in this new volume. From a man who keeps guinea pigs they are often surprisingly dark.
Devising ways to end the world, or at least human domination of it, is a favourite pastime of horror writers. ‘Radix Omnium Malus’ (loosely translates as ‘The Root of Evil’) is reminiscent of Brian Lumley’s ‘Fruiting Bodies’ but here the malicious growth has been magically invoked and is out of hand and is consuming everything. In ‘Blood of Eden’ instead of an indestructible plant it is Dracula threatening world domination using corporate means. ‘Cheechee’s Out’ is the start of an alien invasion, with Cthulhu-type creatures taking over men in high positions. Inevitably, there will be collateral damage.
Monsters of several varieties occur within a number of these stories. The trick is doing something new with them. In ‘Sons of the Dragon’ the road builders in Romania encounter vampire worms and ‘Considering the Dead’ relates the history of Cthulhu, but the biggest monsters are human. ‘Kittens’ begins as an urban myth, this time the story of kittens being dumped in a glass recycling bin and morphs into serial killer nastiness. In ‘Only the Lonely’ the monster is a female sexual predator. Instead of being a warning for young girls it is the middle-aged man that needs to beware.
One of the causes of people believing they have had supernatural encounters is anxiety. ‘Two Weeks From Saturday’ is one of those stories that anyone who has been reluctantly included in an event will understand. For Cliff it is the impossibility of writing a decent story for the writers’ meeting run by his boss’s son that creates nightmares. Grief, too, is an emotion that can affect the mind. ‘The Streets Of Crazy Cities’ demonstrates an extreme reaction that Martyn has after the death of wife, child and several other people that he knows. It is a story that initially misleads and shows the skill of the author in its construction.
These and the others stories in this volume challenge the reader. They meld folklore and myth into, mostly, modern settings. There is one historical story there, ‘Suffer A Witch’ which demonstrates petty human jealousy and the danger of drawing conclusions. Like the characters it is unwise to assume that you have all the knowledge needed to understand the situation. In ‘The Pygmalion Conjuration’ both Dennis, who finds a conjuration to bring to life photographs of desirable women for sex, and Miss Grant, the librarian who pointed him towards the relevant book, find to their cost that they have missing information.
Folklore doesn’t have to have an ancient pedigree. The urban myth behind ‘The Owl That Calls’ has a more recent genesis, but even these may have some reality behind them as Tomas Ullerden discovers when expecting to debunk the sighting of a Mothman on Bodmin Moor. While many myths have their roots in a pagan or superstitious past, the coming of the steam age has imbued trains with a degree of mysticism, often involving death. Two train stories are included here. ‘Rescheduled’ sees Graeme having to go home to fetch the office keys and having distinct problems with trains, while in ‘The Mercy Seat’ Jim catches up with two friends from his youth. The memories revolve around the railway bridge by the station and the trains that run over it
Some of the stories in this volume need to be read more than once to find the subtleties in the story telling, but for anyone who wants to spend time with the uncanny and horrific they will find this volume contains gems.