Book Review: Ichthyic in the Afterglow by Jason Wayne Allen

Ichthyic in the Afterglow is the kind of book that the subgenre “bizarro” was invented for. It uses the mythologies of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert W. Chambers, but it isn’t really horror. It takes place in a dystopian future, but it isn’t really science fiction. Its story is driven by factions of warring cults, but it’s not really fantasy either. Also, one of the main characters happens to make his living as a mime.

Clem, the mime, doesn’t have much to live for, but can’t bring himself to die in the public suicide chamber. He finds comfort in his Chihuahua, Chico, but that gets taken away from him when he’s forced out of his apartment by his landlady, who keeps the dog for her own purposes.

Cassie is a rich punk chick. The daughter of a plastic surgeon named Dr. Syndrome. When her dad demands she abort her pregnancy, she decides to run away with the father of her baby. The problem is, she hasn’t heard from him and he isn’t at home. She sets out to find her boyfriend Carl and his conjoined twin Lee.

While all this is going on, war breaks out in the Imperiam between the ruling cult of Nosarii, dog worshipers, and a gang of militant cat worshipers called the Ultharians. Clem and Cassie find themselves stuck in the middle. Partially because they have their own problems to deal with. Also, Clem being descended from the fish people of Y’ha-nthlei and Cassie from the people of Carcosa, they find they have no dog (or cat) in this fight.

The crowd packed tight and let go a deafening cheer. Dusk was approaching and a cancerous sun turned everything an eerie maroon. All would be pitch black soon.

Allen has a lot of plot going on in this short novel. For the most part, he manages to balance out the competing plot lines. He keeps Clem and Cassie at the front lines, which works to the book’s advantage. It’s really about two (seemingly) unimportant people in the middle of a massive conflict and how they deal with it.

I had first read Allen’s work in an online workshop we were both in. Even then, he showed an ability to deal with sad and downtrodden people in ways that were hilarious without losing any empathy towards them. Ichthyic in the Afterglow is full of dark humor. Clem is a ridiculous character in a ridiculous situation. Yet his complete loss of any will to live is perfectly understandable. Cassie, being a spoiled rich girl, is harder to like. I won’t spoil it, but how she ends up in the story’s conclusion is strangely satisfying.

Because he makes use of the mythoi of Lovecraft and Chambers, people more familiar with those authors may get more out of this book. Despite that, Allen still uses the characters and places from those authors in such a way that won’t alienate everyone else. I haven’t read any Chambers and only a little bit of Lovecraft, and I still enjoyed this novel.

The biggest flaw in Ichthyic in the Afterglow is that not all the story lines end very well. Characters that are built up to be important will often die or disappear from the story with little consequence. This is especially bad with Clem. For being the protagonist of this book, the way his part of the story ends is incredibly anticlimactic.

Overall, Ichthyic in the Afterglow is a funny and entertaining read and a promising first novel. Fans of Lovecraft and bizarro fiction will especially get a lot out of this. Jason Wayne Allen is a new bizarro/horror author to keep an eye on.

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4c4iIXqDBen Arzate lives in Des Moines, Iowa. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Ugly Babies, Bizarro Central, Spoilage, The Mustache Factor, Twenty Something Press, and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He blogs at http://dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com/

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