Constellations of Ruin
Andrew S. Fuller
Trepidatio Publishing (April 21, 2023)
Reviewed by Andrew Byers
Andrew S. Fuller has been writing and editing horror fiction for a very long time, but this was my first exposure to his work. I’m absolutely certain it won’t be my last. Fuller’s fiction exposes the fragility of reality, and the toll that is wrought on equally fragile human bodies and minds when that reality suddenly shifts. Fuller is part of the vanguard of a new wave of cosmic horror that unsettles and terrifies not because it name-drops unspeakable entities from beyond the stars but because it suggests that the world around you—whatever comfortable spot in which you are reading this—could become destabilized and unfathomable at any moment with no warning.
Because Constellations of Ruin contains twenty-seven (!) stories—though some are very brief—I’m just going to focus on some of the most impactful to me.
One of my very favorite stories in this unusually strong collection is “Stationed at the Breach.” A young man named Ward seems to be the only person who can perceive the breaches in reality that appear near him, unleashing a variety of inimical alien beings that seek to destroy and consume the people and things in our world. Ward deals with these rifts as they emerge around him, but it has come at great cost to his personal relationships and life; since no one else can perceive these things, Ward simply seems like a dreamer who regularly peers off into space and comes across an uninterested or unengaged with his friends and family. A terrific look at the costs of the kind of self-sacrificing life that Ward has had thrust upon him. Or is he merely insane and no one else can perceive any of it because it’s not actually happening? Really wonderful depictions of incomprehensively alien life forms as well.
“The Circus Wagon” is a perfect example of the kind of mind-blowingly inexplicable cosmic horror that Fuller specializes in with this collection. The narrator inherits his parents’ home, and with it comes the long abandoned circus wagon that once rotted in his grandmother’s backyard. He had always been vaguely unsettled by it, especially since no one ever wanted to talk about it or had an explanation for why it had been sitting there so long. Then shocking acts of violence begin and the narrator’s life and any prospects for happiness he might have once had begin to unravel.
Fuller excels at innovative science fictional settings in some of his stories. For example, in “Ina’s Day,” a young woman named Ina and her father live aboard a generation starship in which society seems to have almost entirely broken down. A few people like Ina and her father try desperately to maintain the ship, though it seems as though it is being slowly overtaken by a virulent fungal infection. It doesn’t help that they are also preyed upon by scavengers who exploit them. Plus, no one knows when or even if the ship is ever going to reach its (unknown) destination. Heartbreaking. In “They Shall Flourish and Spread,” Orel and her family, like everyone else from their homeworld, were taken up by an alien race that placed them inside The Passage, a large corridor that seems to go on forever. They walk continuously, marching ever onward toward some unknown destination. Is there a point to any of this?
Fuller also isn’t afraid to venture into the past, with several delightful pieces of historically grounded weird fiction. “Another Country Doctor” is set in the 1870s out west. The wealthy Sherborne family’s son, Jonathan, was hideously mutated or somehow transformed into an alien being by a meteorite (reminiscent of “The Colour Out of Space”). He is eventually cured/fixed in some way by a man or alien who eventually arrives in town. Very suggestive and evocative. “Immigrant” is another such tale. This is the utterly fascinating story of an alien being with a unique physiognomy arrives on the shores of Depression Era United States. This being tries assimilation and hiding in plain sight, but that fails when he faces discrimination and abuse, plus, there is another entity that seems to be in pursuit.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention one of my favorites in the collection, “Unfinished Painting of Empty Classroom.” Here we have a nameless and beleaguered art teacher at a high school who tries to keep her class going in the face of massive funding cuts, strange disappearances, a gradual breakdown of society, and other reality-bending changes that seem to happen literally every day. Exactly the kind of reality-shifting weird fiction I like to read.
Constellations of Ruin is a terrific collection of weird fiction and horrific elements presented across past, present, and future. Fuller’s characterization of real people experiencing mind-blowing reality-warping is top-notch. Highly recommended.