Richard Christian Matheson
Reviewed by Rick Hipson
Whether you’re an established RC Matheson connoisseur or you’ve just discovered his work, Zoopraxis is sure to satiate any fan of raw, visceral literature. Waiting to oblige such cravings are thirteen brand-new stories with nine more gathered from various years best anthologies and the like. With introductions from John Shirley and Chet Williamson, Gauntlet Press presents a macabre world full of Twilight Zone-inspired chills with plenty of introspective twists worth revisiting.
Helping to bring us closer to the heart of each tale is cover artist extraordinaire, Harry O’Morris. Harry’s black and white designs provide a cohesive yet subtle visual interpretation to kick off each story. As a bonus, the author includes a personal anecdote coinciding with the origin of each tale. The additions of Harry’s artwork combined with RC’s introductions tied in well with the overall experience of what this collection clearly sought to do in the first place: to take your senses on a journey along the rugged mental terrain of a true master of terror.
As with any literary collection, mileage will always vary and while this collection is unlikely to threaten that moniker, you’ll be hard pressed not to be impressed all the same with each entry read. Even those which didn’t quite work for me were so well-written and from the heart they still managed to capture my imagination and desire for more.
Reading through this collection, it felt as though RC wasn’t so much writing to be read as he was writing to explore the many facets of good and evil hiding beneath the surface of a complex, fascinating mind. Even when the author’s narrative hints of hope and goodness in the world he so flawlessly portrays, such underlying good is overshadowed by layers of ‘what ifs’ and ‘why nots,’ all presented as only a master of dark illusion can. Though some entries may come across as more musing than standardized story by way of length and style, each entry helps complete the spectrum of dark poetic to outright terror, in a language that’s as honest as it is captivating.
The collection aptly opens with “How To Edit,” a story disguised as an essay for minimalism. RC reels us in with a velvet rope then forces our eyes wide open as he peels back the skin of his narrator. We soon bear witness to a man so painfully aware of his own existence and the exact space it fills that we can only wonder how far he must go before his image of perfection can be achieved.
My personal favourite of the bunch, “Transfiguration” (from 2011’s The Best Horror of the Year, Volume 3), provides the haunting tale of an ice trucker whose destination proves to be closer to himself than he could ever have envisioned, or feared. This one had a distinct Twilight Zone-esque feel to it, complete with an ending which resonated long after I’d read the last line. Another story, “Slaves of Nowhere,” offers a story that’s perfectly poised to strike at the heart. Much like the cognac-drinking narrator of this dark gem, this one’s written to be savoured and repeated. But don’t expect to enjoy the outcome. Definitely one of the heavier emotional hitters in a collection where every piece is a fine contender. Stories like “Last Words” and “Infomercial!” RC showcases his flare for the macabre while teaching us once again that not everything is as it seems no matter how eloquently dressed up it may be.
Impactful, point blank, and constantly daring, Zoopraxis provides a lasting adventure through RC Matheson’s collection of his inner most thoughts and demons. Suffice to say I can’t wait to see into which dark and fantastic world they take him – and us – next.