I bought Knife Fight and Other Struggles last year at Ad Astra after I heard David Nickle read the first half of "The Exorcist: A Love Story." He didn't finish reading the story and I HAD to know how it ended. So I bought it and proceeded to leave it on my shelf for a year, untouched. I don't know why I did that, because I was really excited by that story. But stay on the shelf it did. Until a few days ago when I finally decided to pick up the book and finish "The Exorcist: A Love Story."
Knife Fight has 12 short stories in it. 13 if you count "Orlok," a prelude to Nickle's novel Volk. Oh yeah, and a really awesome introduction by Peter Watts. Most of the stories were written in first person, but you always had an excellent sense of what the narrator was like; Nickle could write as a lovestruck young woman as easily as a jaded old man. And Nickle's prose was almost hypnotic. Whatever he was writing about, the stories sucked you in with their details. This was true even of the stories that I honestly didn't get (and unfortunately there were a few of them).
I'm not going to give detailed thoughts on all the stories like I have been doing lately; instead I'll give a little more detail on my favourites and just mention the rest.
Oh course, starting the list is "The Exorcist: A Love Story." The beginning of that story is just as good as I remember it being when I heard Nickle reading it a year ago. It's told from the demon's perspective, who has inhabited a baby boy. It turns out the demon has a very specific motive in its choice of inhabitants: the baby is the child of the girl the exorcist has had a crush on since high school.
After (finally!) finishing "The Exorcist: A Love Story," I went back and started from the beginning of the book. "Looker" was odd. I honestly didn't get what was going on in "The Radejastians" (although that was the point where I felt like I really should have read the Lovecraft book I have before reading this). "The Summer Worms" was super creepy (although that may also be because I have seen army worms and the thought of them congregating on a house and cocooning it is really creepy!) "Basements"
was another one that was weird and I didn't really understand it at
all. I liked a lot of the middle of it, but the beginning and end were
weird and vague. Who was the company? Who or what was Mr. Nu? These
are questions I cannot answer. "Oops" was a short one that was a bit weird, but okay. Same with "Black Hen a la Ford." Oh, and "Orlok." I didn't really care for it unfortunately. :(
Now on to the (other) awesome stories!
"Knife Fight" was pure awesome. A mayor of a city (which may be based off of a rather infamous Toronto mayor) has a Fight Club with knives. Battles go to the first blood. Winner takes all. His advisors and staff are made or broken in the fights (which ends with them losing their jobs - no one dies or anything). The press gets wind of these fights, and one journalist challenges the mayor. They end up fighting an epic, multi-week battle with no clear winner or loser. It's quite the fantastic story.
"Love Means Forever" was a really powerful story. A woman awakens from cryogenic sleep to find the man she loves no longer loves her. The medical support staff who remained awake on the ship had gone crazy and ended up removing their feelings (it reminded me of Equilibrium quite a bit). So she has to decide what she will do: move on, or remain with the man she loves, even knowing he isn't capable of loving her back. (By the way, there's a scalpel fight in this story. No details, but it made me laugh that another knife fight definitely happened).
"Wylde's Kingdom" was another really good read. There's a super storm over the world called Atlantica (think of it like Jupiter's big red spot). A man named Jerry Wylde has a boat in the middle of it (well, hanging out away from the storm). He started a TV show with Max (who he insisted on calling Jim), who goes into crazy scenarios and survives (which really means killing a whole bunch of animals). But Max ran away several years ago and wanted to be left in peace as the world ended. But such was not to be; Jerry Wylde has tracked him down for a big comeback special - Max versus a whole nest of Kraken! Max resigns himself to the show. All seems set for the greatest comeback of all time...until they realize the Kraken are much more organized than they have any right to be.
"The Nothing Book of the Dead" was really interesting. It was written as notes back and forth between a woman and her grandson. But then the woman dies...but keeps correcting his grammar and writing him notes...this one was definitely worth the read!
"Drakeela Must Die" was a rather fun story. There's a vampire in a kindergarten class, and some of his classmates have taken it upon themselves to vanquish him like they've seen it done in the old movies.
So that, in brief, is Knife Fight. It's an interesting collection of stories. Like Peter Watts says, most of them are horror, in the broadest definition possible. But Nickle is not limited to that genre, capable of writing other things as well ("Love Means Forever" is definitely sci fi, not a typical supernatural horror). There's no hack and slash stuff, which I really liked (I much prefer when things are left up to your imagination anyway, even though that's not really applicable here because there was no gore, implied or otherwise). I do wish I hadn't put this off for so long. But I wish even more that I had read some Lovecraft first. So I'll probably be getting to that Lovecraft book I have sooner rather than later.
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