J. A. Nicholl’s collection of 15 weird tales was published by Counter-Currents in 2017. The stories perfectly synthesize the various sentiments and viewpoints of those on the Dissident Right with horror-based literature; most importantly, this is done without beating the reader over the head with politics or painstakingly proving a point. To put it as plainly as possible, Nicholl’s writing and storytelling abilities are superb, and this collection is a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in the genre. Greg Johnson accurately summarizes the feel of this work in his back-cover description:
Modern liberal Lovecraftians cluck disapprovingly about HPL’s “xenophobia,” but you can’t really write genuine “weird fiction” if you believe in cosmopolitan liberalism and make a fetish of openness to “the other.” Weird fiction arises from the terrifying encounter between the settled and the unsettling, the familiar and the alien, us and them–the very xenophobia suppressed by political correctness. J. A. Nicholl’s weird fiction is so powerful and authentic because it is so honest.
Below are brief reviews of five of my favorite stories in Venus & Her Thugs.
Biopoiesis: A process by which living organisms are thought to develop from non-living matter. This is a borderline creepy thought, and Nicholl wastes no time making it beyond unsettling. There is a dead old woman in an apartment somewhere; we don’t know her identity with certainty, but she did most of her shopping while her neighbors were at the mosque, so we can assume she’s not one of them. Furthermore, no one has come to check on her — not a family member, friend, or even a concerned neighbor. In fact, the first to notice her absence are two Muslim youths who decide to rob her apartment on the assumption she’s no longer there. They’re in for a surprise.
Nicholl sets the stage well. He describes the stench of the dead as something that would normally have caused alarm, but the odor of the building’s rat infestation has masked it. It makes one think that maybe Nicholl has spent some time in a Muslim country or, at a minimum, a Muslim-invaded city somewhere in the West.
As the two boys enter the apartment and see the deceased woman laying on her bed, something else quite horrific is also discovered and it’s feasting on the corpse. I’ll leave the fate of the two boys up for you to find out, but their discovery — something physical, terrifying, and alive –eventually procreates, only to be found by another curious neighbor.
The vicious cycle of the death of something old and its subsequent replacement by a more horrible, base entity seems to continue in this short story. Evola’s downward spiral of civilization comes to mind, and the reader is left wondering: What horrible thing comes next?
“Dry Leafless Trees”
Aloysius, or simply “Al,” is a Catholic schoolboy from a family that doesn’t seem to take their faith too seriously. If you grew up in a predominantly Papal-faithed area, then you know the type. They were sent to a Catholic school for one of two reasons: The standard of education was better than public school, or they were problem children who needed more discipline. The actually devout religious types are always a minority in this environment. This seems to be true in Al’s class as well, as there’re devious bullies and even a few Muslims in his Catholic school.
Al is that rare boy who, at a young age, actually has questions that extend beyond his immediate existence. He’s dismayed when his school’s priest can’t answer these questions, and furthermore, doesn’t even seem to care. Like all modern disaffected young men, Al winds up on the Internet, where he becomes intrigued by the simplicity and directness of Islam, to which he secretly yet informally converts. He goes pork-free, outwardly because of animal rights reasons, though he can’t square this in his head with the brutality of halal practices, and he even begins to think of his name, Al, as the Arab definite article.
The outing of his private belief comes during a class discussion on the conundrum of outwardly-assimilated Muslim immigrants returning home to fight for their homelands in the Middle East. Al blurts out something about Allah and is sent to the school’s therapist. He’s surprised by the lack of punishment over this issue that “had been too high-profile . . . to go unnoticed”; Al chocks it up to the look of conviction and jihad in his eyes, not realizing that he’s now part of a protected class in the West.
Just as fast as it began, Al’s interest in Islam begins to wane. This is caused by a physical attraction to the school’s beautiful white therapist, as well as second-guessing the possibility of the religion of a “seventh-century desert bandit” leading to transcendence. Back to the Internet he goes only to discover another alien belief system: that of Eastern mysticism. This venture is taken more seriously, and he begins frequenting a Buddhist monastery and taking courses.
Here, too, inconsistencies are found. Notions of being non-judgmental and living in adherence with dharma are subtly upended when visiting Asian monks speak of the uselessness of explaining the Heart Sutra to Westerners, and the appearance of an alluring beatnik girl who calls herself Akasha — a name that means sky. This is enough to entice Al away from the stodgy, skin-deep beliefs of his newfound peers.
The beautiful bohemian takes Al to what he thinks will be another, more true-to-form monastery; he also cannot help but wonder if this adventure will lead to romance. Nicholl’s dive into the heart of a meek adolescent reminds the reader of name-your-Houellebecq novel, especially when he states, “Like any other young man, especially one of his shy temperament, Al had often dreamt of a girl who would walk into his life unexpectedly and offer herself in some overt, implausible way.” Well, here it is for our protagonist, but where it leads is a purgatory that the reader of this review will need to discover for himself.
The story has parallels to Michel Faber’s 2000 novel Under the Skin, as well as its 2013 screen adaptation. However, where “Dry Leafless Trees” differs is in its warnings about curiosity on a metaphysical level. Al whimsically sheds the faith into which he was born, casually drifting from one identity to the next at the first whiff of something less than perfect. He appears to be a casualty of the Western predilection to rationalize and overthink everything, as opposed to simply knowing, being, or holding true to his faith.
Looking at the stories up until “Miss Polly,” it becomes clear to the reader that Nicholl has the ability to show the true horror in something we inherently know to be wrong. In this story, a woman named Maureen sleeps alone after hearing her partner, Yusuf, fail to stand up to his parent’s offers to set him up with a woman more to their liking.
As her frustration slides into slumber, she dreams of an angel of her kinship taking her away and making love to her, something she interprets as a “genuine religious experience.” There are additional dreams of a boy angel, one who later physically manifests to stave off “youths” on a commuter rail that her husband forces her to take while he drives the family car. The materialized being discerns that Maureen is pregnant with Yusuf’s baby, culminating in more unconscious thoughts to which the term “nightmare” simply doesn’t do justice: monster-like babies falling from a tree and swarming a picnic basket of rotting garbage to feast on.
Divine intervention lies at this story’s finale, but sadly doesn’t exist in the real world of round-the-clock promotion of miscegenation by our media-driven ruling class. I assume the title of this short story is a reference to the 1941 film Miss Polly, about a woman attempting to liberalize a stuffy town and break its sexually conservative mores; the cult of race-mixing is merely the twenty-first century’s version. The bottom line is that “Miss Polly” shows how disgusting we know this behavior to be.
“The Horrible Thing”
This is another story that touches on the horrors of miscegenation. A 14-year-old girl watches a pornographic movie on late-night cable television that depicts a bunch of “ESL” people gang-raping a woman in her home. Needless to say, the child is horrified by what she sees and feels that she will probably never really get over it, though she continues to live her life normally. She graduates from high school, attends university, and winds up becoming a librarian.
We discern that she’s a standard, liberally-educated college girl type, which comes with a life that’ll more than likely lead to loneliness and all the associated belief systems that come with it. One of these is dating lots of men, one of whom is an African migrant who goes by the name John. He has a thick accent and limited English.
After a fast-paced initial dating faze, our protagonist finds herself dozing on the living room couch with her dark-skinned lover, only to be interrupted by the pornographic film she viewed as a child playing on the television. Luckily, John is sleeping and she becomes entranced by the horrible childhood memory that she has since blocked out. After noticing an eerie resemblance between the film’s rapists and the migrant sleeping next to her, a series of body-horror mutations occur on the screen that makes David Cronenberg’s Videodrome seem like a children’s cartoon. What’s even more terrifying is that the onscreen mutations begin to physically manifest in the librarian’s life. Having not heeded a warning viewed during adolescence, it appears as if she has crossed a rubicon.
“The Birth of Venus”
Mainstream society has always had a fascination with extremist groups, cults, and the esoterically-minded: witches, Branch Davidians, and the Manson Family all have movies, documentaries, and miniseries made about them that are consumed by the masses with glee. Nowadays, fictional depictions of these types of outsiders are almost formulaic, and are rarely taken in a new direction. This is not the case with this story, however.
18-year-old Paul is smitten with his younger sister’s friend, new-to-town Kamala Williams. Kamala’s mother, Faye, is on the run from some secretive cult that she was born into; her ex-husband holds a position of power in the esoteric group, and Faye fears he will stop at nothing to get his daughter back into its fold. Kamala seems to wield the attention of all the young men in her orbit, as well as Paul, the hoodlums in their nearby park, and undoubtedly others at school. More than likely building on memories from her former cult life, Kamala initiates a blood pact with Paul, and he feels drawn to her ever after.
Others are drawn to her as well, unfortunately. Someone — maybe her father, maybe something not exactly human — tracks Kamala and Faye down while they’re at Paul’s family home. He attempts to intervene, but is overpowered and knocked unconscious. What occurs next is a terminal illness and a series of physical changes that are better left unsaid in a review. Paul, or whatever you can now call him, becomes led by an urge that also drew him to Kamala, but this time brings him to a cult’s meeting place…
In Plato’s Symposium, arguments are made over the effects on men of viewing Venus, the most beautiful of all goddesses. Most, including Plato, would agree that something positive is to be gained. After all, millions flock to see Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus in the Uffizi in Florence. But Nicholl’s story shows a scarier side of it that I admit to almost wishing I hadn’t read.
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