This collection combines the four stories in “A Gentle Hell” with six previously unpublished pieces. Within Ecstatic Inferno themes of loss, madness and melancholy prevail, with haunting characters in the form of insectoid monsters, broken butterflies, demons and blackened beings. When compared to her previous output, it could be said that Ecstatic Inferno is at times a bit more sci-fi or a even a slightly more accessible form of darkness, but I find it hard to say this for certain because each story carves it’s own identity. The author’s work has a feral, hallucinogenic quality that never fails to get the endorphins going. Akin to an IV delivering a “reader’s high,” her prose maintains a poetic intelligence that has me hooked.
They Promised Dreamless Death – Would you trust all that is involved in turning off consciousness, having a machine take over your daily duties so that you can get that much needed “rest?” How do you re-assimilate upon returning to form? The interconnectedness of the characters and the changes in their relationships play a big part in shaping the context. A great way to begin.
Crystalmouth – Possibly my favorite. The siamese twins and their experiences are extremely vivid and the entity they face is beyond creepy. I loved the interplay between the two as their conflicting personalities and ideas clashed. This could be deemed a coming of age story, but is much more eerie than any I have read. The ending may surprise you.
Your Demiurge is Dead – The examination of religion is the thread running pulling this one together. The despondent, damaged nature of Mimi’s children, especially Tuesday, pull at the emotions as a society’s accepted deity shifts rapidly.
Sunshine, Sunshine – “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said. “In these corridors, you’re an angel.” These are the words of the sunshine man. Creepy nostalgia with life experiences coming full circle after a prolonged distance grows between you and all that you came from.
“I remembered the paths I used to walk like the ache people sometimes get in broken bones that have long since healed. That’s what this swamp was – a deep ache.”
Pink Crane Girls – Possibly the most PK-Dickish of all. The protagonist is “a manager of living time bombs.” The turning of the girls into their new roles was a bit terrifying and sad. There is a strong sense that there is so much going on under the surface, but I am sure that I only grasped a small percentage of it. This one is immersive to say the least. “Where do they go when the work is finished?”
The Dog that Bit Her – Following June’s character through the phantasmal changes in her life kept me under this story’s thumb until the end. Studying the changes in the dynamic of the relationship between her and her husband was a highlight and an indicator that something monumental is about to happen.
The Bad Baby Meniscus is the other contender for favorite of the bunch. Also the most reminiscent of “We Are Wormwood” to me. I adored the character of Mellie. Her wit and ideals were extremely amusing. This one also had that trademark dark fantasy feel that Autumn does like no one else.
“Everything got real slow, like I’d just stuck my head underwater and the reeds reached out to tug on my hair and encircle my face. I got the feeling that underwater lived another me, a liquid, luminous blue me, who parted the reeds and struck me on the mouth.”
Tugging at my heart strings, the story had me hoping against what seemed an inevitably tragic end.
I have never been one to keep it secret that Autumn Christian is a favorite of mine, but do not let this take anything away from the convictions of the review. Ecstatic Inferno is a book I have anticipated for quite some time, and is everything I expected, with some newly forged territory as well. I highly recommend this one as well as any of Christian’s books. 5/5 stars.