Nightside Codex

The Nightside Codex is the latest anthology from editor Justin A. Burnett. This time, the theme is mysterious, invented writings–secret texts, obscure notes, unknowable symbols. The idea of hidden knowledge–whether actual or purely fiction–has a long history in the human imagination. It is the basis of much weird literature, and many conspiracy theories. It is fertile ground, here.

There are a couple of literal texts to be found among the inspirations for these tales (Dante’s Inferno and Virgil’s Aeneid are put to good use, as is a bit of Lewis Carroll). Otherwise, the authors have created their own imaginary works to serve as guidebooks to the dark side. Some are innocuous. Some are never shown. Some offer more than enough information to get into trouble with.

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Nightside CodexOpening with a striking poem, “The Book of Black Dreams” by K.A Opperman, The Nightside Codex plunges into seventeen strong stories:

Richard Thomas’s “In His House” presents a strange and dangerous chain letter, of sorts, with a curse the recipient cannot avoid.

Brian Evenson”s “I Cannot Remember” is a discomfiting locked-room mystery, with the future perhaps already written. 

Nadia Bulkin’s “Les Belles Infideles” deciphers the symbols of a lost language against a background of male-dominated academia, cultural fetishization, and the long shadow of colonialism. Dreamy and gripping.

Jessica McHugh’s “Pulpit Fiction” repurposes the ever-popular religious tract as a gateway to weirdness.  

Alistair Rey’s “The Past is a Foreign Country” uses an unholy piece of music as its roadmap to the unknowable. Quiet, and very dark.

Michael Fassbender’s “Schattenlenker’s Hidden Treasure” presents a psychological treatise that can inspire fantastic intellectual achievements–but at what cost?

Scott J. Couturier’s “Monster of the Mind” puts a very different spin on an author’s attempts at world-building. 

Selene dePackh’s “The Red King” features the unspeakable reference books of an experimental clinician.

S.E. Casey’s “The Redneck Library” takes several strange turns before it reveals just how far the characters have gone in their pursuit of knowledge.

Devora Gray’s “Tongue-Tied” dives without hesitation into misogyny, fetishes, online echo chambers, and dismal life circumstances. Stunning, sad, and upsetting.

Philip Fracassi’s “As I Sit to Write This Story” uses a fragmented diary and the unreliable narrator trope to great effect. 

Luciano Marano’s “My Eyes are Closed to Your Light” takes the cult of personality and mixes it with both the warning against meeting your heroes and the obsessiveness of fandom.

Christine Morgan’s “For Bobby” gives the convention scene a classic Twilight Zone treatment.

Sarah Walker’s “Ouroboros” proves to be wonderfully atmospheric and chilling, in a distinctly M.R. James sort of way. 

Rhys Hughes’s “Between the Circles” turns to the classics for a new way to visit doom on its characters. 

Austin James’s “Vanity” uses the message from a fortune cookie to create a grim tale of identity and the need to be loved. 

Stephen Graham Jones’s “The Hero of Flight 247” begins with a deceptively simple concept, and follows it to its devastating non-end. Funny, bleak, and wonderfully overwhelming.

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The Nightside Codex offers up a satisfying mix of moods, from the darkly playful to the profoundly grim–sometimes in the same story. There are unexpected philosophical questions, traditional weird turns, and several hauntingly untraditional weirder turns. All in all, a fine anthology. I heartily recommend it.

blood quantum

Blood Quantum presents its take on the zombie apocalypse with a sure hand and a wry sense of humor. It starts in the usual place, and follows the generally accepted plot line of zombie flicks, but it also chooses a much-needed new perspective. By focusing the story on the experiences and actions of its First Nations characters, we get a view of the end of one world from another one that may just survive.

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blood quantumSet in 1981 on the Red Crow Reservation in Quebec, Blood Quantum wastes no time in diving into the beginnings of the plague. To do so, it relies on most of the instantly-familiar tropes of zombie horror. As always, people begin to act strangely. Animals won’t stay dead. People become violent, dangerous, bitey. Chaos erupts at the hospital. Things go downhill fast. 

The zombies here are dubbed “zeds”, and the tribe figures out very quickly that headshots are the best method of stopping them–but they still burn the bodies to be sure. The tribe also figures out very quickly that this plague turns White people into zeds, and that Indigenous people are immune.

Six months later finds the reservation transformed into an armed compound, with the Red Crow tribe holding their own and rescuing what White survivors they can. But there are long-standing family conflicts, wide-open racial wounds, and the question of how dangerous or vulnerable a new baby will be. As always, somebody lets the zombies loose in the middle of it.

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The actors are excellent in roles that are familiar, but still outside the usual zombie apocalypse range.

Michael Greyeyes brings a believable dedication to Traylor, the reservation sheriff.

Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers is frustrated, competent, and caring as Joss, a nurse and Traylor’s ex-wife

Forrest Goodluck plays Joss’s and Traylor’s son, Joseph, as a good person struggling to make better choices.

Kiowa Gordon is Traylor’s other son, Lysol, who has already embraced his rage at what the world has handed him.

Stonehorse Lone Goeman gives Gisigu, Traylor’s father, both wit and gravitas as an elder intending to make a stand.

Olivia Scriven is sympathetic as Joseph’s pregnant, White girlfriend, Charlie, who’s condition raises both real-world and horror movie questions.

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blood quantumI was struck by how beautifully filmed Blood Quantum is. It opens with a spinning shot of sea and sky, bridge and shoreline, before it descends into the reservation and the town. There are brief segments of animation mixed into the live action, bringing to mind the spaciness and style of Mandy but on a more human level.

The gorgeousness extends to the splatter, as well. And there is a lot of it. Beside the thoughtful sociological issues it raises, Blood Quantum is a good, gleeful, old-fashioned gore-fest. 

It is full of great effects, from the makeup to the sunlight glistening off entrails to the creative destruction of various zeds. 

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My takeaway? Tight, engaging, and fast-paced, Blood Quantum packs a lot of story into an hour and a half. It raises issues that need to acknowledged, while still delivering a great little horror movie. This is definitely one to watch, and relish, more than once.