Written by William F. Nolan
Published by Leisure Books
Anyone out there that’s not at least passively familiar with author William F. Nolan must have lived most of their lives under a very warm, very comfortable rock, having no desire to venture outside their sedimentary haven to pick up a book or two.
For everyone else, Nolan’s known for one thing more than any else; Logan’s Run. A sci-fi epic series, to be sure, but Nolan’s never been afraid to dip into the dark side of genre fiction over his numerous years as an author, and Nightworlds is the latest collection of his best short work. Unlike collections by some other authors that collect recent tales, this collection is, quite literally, career spanning.
Since we’re dealing with an anthology instead of a straightforward novel, this review will likely be shorter than most, since I’m just going to focus on the standout stories of the book. Suffice it to say there’s nary a bad one in the bunch, the only ones that fall flat are mainly due to their excessively short length and confusing subject matter.
First off, the best of the best: “The Party”. Voted by Newsweek back in 1991 as one of seven most effective tales of terror of the century…not just the year, friends, the century. Essentially the story is a really good episode of “The Twilight Zone”, indeed Nolan had adapted it for television back in the 80’s, though I’m not sure if it was for “TZ” or not.
The story is of a man who arrives at a hipper than hip party in Manhattan with no knowledge of why he is there or who invited him. He’s waiting for the host for seemingly hours, and in that time is stuck in vapid, empty conversation after vapid, empty conversation until he realizes he has to get out. Upon doing so he runs into an old friend, but there is something very wrong with this situation. I don’t want to give away the reveal, but if you’re familiar with “The Twilight Zone” you can guess how it ends.
”The Party” is a perfect example of Nolan’s gift to submerge the reader into a tale, and the fact he can do so, so quickly and efficiently over the course of just a few pages is a testament to his skills. You’re stuck with this guy, you’ve been to these parties, you know the feel of claustrophobia, of being in an intellectual vacuum, and the desperation is palpable. The horrifying truth of it all just makes it that much worse.
Another one that really grabbed me by the short and curlys was “Him, Her, Them”, a tale of two serial killers that are out for the thrill of death, and how they come to meet one another. It’s deceptive because you think you’ve got a good handle on it until the last few sections, and thus the ending will most likely leave you with a big, wicked grin on your face.
If I have one complaint, it’s that seemingly everyone in Nolan’s world has a tendency to kill for no discernable reason. There’s not one but three stories within Nightworlds in which the tables are turned on a killer at the last second, and in two cases two serial killers actually meet and interact with one another. It’s a pretty strange subject to focus on, but Nolan seems to have a lot to say about it if he’s got this many short examples of it bouncing around his head.
Nothing bad can be said of the man’s style, though. He’s honed it throughout almost 50 years of wordslinging, and the switch between EC Comic-style horror to futuristic worlds to quiet, internal madness is dizzying at times. William F. Nolan is not an author that could ever be called one-note, and this book is a perfect example of just how varied he can get. Stories like “Vympyre” (detailing a vampire’s entire existence in about 5 pages), to another of my standout favorites, “Starblood” (in which an alien race trying to take over our planet runs into some very strange issues), and “A Real Nice Guy” (the first story I’ve read from the point of view of a sniper) demonstrate why Nolan can and should be viewed outside of the Logan’s Run universe, and horror fans that can’t see him as anything other than a sci-fi author should give him a chance.
3 ½ out of 5
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