Mundane reality mixes with the magical and the macabre in this scintillating collection of speculative fiction.
Inspired by the pop-enigma TV anthology hosted by Leonard Nimoy, Ludwigsen’s droll yet haunting title piece sets the tone, answering the puzzling questions with a blend of mythology and cynical common sense—“[t]he creature in Loch Ness was a plesiosaur, but it died in 1976 and locals concealed the carcass”—that eventually homes in on a homicide detective’s buried secrets. In other stories, characters confront the supernatural—or actively recruit it: A realtor specializing in haunted houses and murder scenes seeks out those special buyers who might like “stigmatized properties”; a 13-year-old girl tries to quantify her dog’s dream world for a science-fair project; a cantankerous hillbilly family resists government agents who want to upload their consciousnesses into a paradise simulation; a sentient house tears lose from its foundations and embarks on an epic journey to salve its guilty conscience; and the imaginary kingdom of Thuria intrudes into several narratives, cropping up in an off-kilter scouting expedition, a mother’s psychotic break and a post-modern literary scholar’s research on an ancient coded text. Ludwigsen’s well-wrought, entertaining tales feel like a mashup of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, and his evocative, whip-smart prose steeps readers in a realism that’s mordantly funny and matter-of-fact but glimmering with whimsy and horror that leaks around the edges. The stories also work as subtle explorations of character and psychology, especially in the superb story “The Ghost Factory,” in which the spectral inhabitants of a defunct mental hospital enact the spiritual dysfunctions of modern life by fading from the world. Ludwigsen’s creepy, comic world reveals plenty about our own.
Crackerjack genre yarns with real literary depth and polish.