This is a meditation on death and consciousness through fictional narratives. Is consciousness the foundation of reality? If it is, then we hardly know it, preoccupied as we are with material concerns. It is quite possible that the trajectory of consciousness isn’t as it is assumed - beginning at birth and ending in death. What if it is naturally unpredictable? Where do we return to when we fall asleep and are momentarily cut off from the projections of our minds? Do we return to that same place when we die? Our freedom is somehow tied to how these questions are answered.
“Dreams of Life and Death” follows a man who wanders through a dream world, aware that he’s dreaming and learning about facets of his own mortality. In “A Sky that Rains Numbers,” a dying woman dreams of trading her soul to hell so her nonverbal son can be made “normal”; in “The Woman Who Woke Up,” another dying woman grapples with her life and the implications of memory. “Inherent Emptiness” follows K.T., a hospital patient whose body grows scales and vomits up aspects of his self. “Clinging, Mourning, Magic” sees the deterioration of a relationship between a boy and his father as the father gradually loses his grip on reality.
Chan’s characters are ordinary; there is no one particularly heroic or wise. Bewildered (or erroneously certain they know what’s going on), they fight and flail against an onslaught of strange situations. Chan’s poetic turns of phrase (“What was so pitiful about being seventeen? But you are only seventeen. Those five little words were like five little cancers, five little tombstones”) underscore the meditative quality of his stories, which lack a certain definition. However, the reader simply does not get to know enough about Chan’s characters to gain a foothold through caring about them, costing the narrative some of its thrust. Even when philosophizing outweighs characterization, these works are a fine example of the more existential end of weird fiction.
Takeaway: Chan’s work is perfect for seasoned readers of weird fiction who like horror with a side of existential dread.
Great for fans of Michael Kelly, Sam Weller.
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