Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Review of Chuck Regan’s Beneath the Fungoid Moon: Tales of Cosmic Horror and Other Oddities

(Rayguns and Mayhem/Kindle Direct Publishing, 2018).

I have known Chuck Regan and his work for a long time. Three decades, actually. I started as a fan of his comic books, including Nether Age of Maga—a post-apocalyptic vision that’s everything from Plato to P. K. Dick. His skills as an artist—he’s known for his attention to detail and authenticity in his science fiction–based designs—translate successfully into prose. Regan has always had fun using made up words and he incorporates just the right amount of pop culture references in his work to give us grounding in the odd.
Regan’s vision has always been dark, but with touches of comedy and hope in all the right places. He opens his About the Author section at the end of this collection by saying he’s technically not an author because he has yet to publish a novel. But I’ve read several of his longer works in whole or in part, and “author” certainly applies. He is as much a technician of the craft of storytelling as any author I know. He’s even created a workbook for writers of long-form stories called Give Your Hero Bad Breath: A Character, Plot and World-Building Workbook that I have incorporated into my starting routine for new stories.
Beneath the Fungoid Moon is a collection of seven short stories, each with an opening passage about the history of the piece. For budding writers and those who want to see how the sausage gets made for writers in the thorny world of publishing, these introductions are invaluable.
The first story in the collection is “They Bite.” Before I share my thoughts, I have to say that I. Love. Tropes. I received a custom t-shirt for my fiftieth birthday this year that says, “You say trope like it’s a bad thing.” Tropes are our gateway into something new so that, no matter how bizarre or unfamiliar the story, there are things onto which we can grab hold. They are the mile-markers in a genre.
“The Bite” packs a lot of tropes into a tight, terrifying tale. It’s got hordes of angry insects; the meta- and micro-storylines of a city defending while a family defends; plenty of psychological aspects that explore the metaphors that make good horror so resonant; the destruction wrought from economic greed; the Star Trek red-shirt expendability of emergency medical personnel; and the attempted escape in the family vehicle—to name the most prevalent.
And Regan isn’t shy about it. At one point he writes, “Dan was scared his father might be losing it like they did in the old disaster movies.” Because that’s most likely how it would/will be when the bad stuff starts to go down. Social media will be flooded with posts saying “It’s just like in… [film, book, TV show].” Because writers help society Rehearse. Call it empathy, vicarious living, willing suspension of disbelief… Robert Heinlein and other masters of sci-fi were on retainer with the Department of Defense. If they could dream it, the military–industrial–intelligence complex could build it. And they have.
“Embrace of the Jabberwock” is an homage to both the Lewis Carroll poem and the works of HP Lovecraft (of which I can only say, don’t dismiss the possibility that Lovecraft was more of a reporter than a fiction writer). Regan really captures the underground nerd culture of hackers and online gaming aficionados (I have two of the latter sleeping off an all-nighter upstairs in my house as I type. Quietly…).
If Lovecraft was writing in the twenty-first-century uber-tech landscape, he would have written this story. Here we have the Web, the Deep Web with all its many horrors, and then the Beyond-the-Web, which could be a partial driver for the other two. Especially if you see in the data-eating AI tree all the grasping tentacles of Cthulhu.
This story weaves together not only Carroll and Lovecraft but films like the Matrix and Into the Mouth of Madness and the wacky world of back-alley occultists.
And we are left with the lingering question so often posed by Stephen King and perhaps evidenced in the Slenderman phenomena: can we, if we write these things well enough, actually pen them into existence? Maybe we already have.
“Friday Night Karaoke” is a riff on Purgatory. I love the focus on the nature of music to trigger memory. Regan’s vivid character descriptions are fully on display. It’s also a fun homage to the 1980s music scene, especially for a guy who’s just turned 50—I may have mentioned that—and grew up on the iconic songs that are woven into the story. Regan also does a fine job of revealing an illuminating backstory.
The next two stories are horror Westerns, a sub-genre that I have started working in because, with the deep metaphoric landscape that has always been the heart and soul of the Western, comes plenty of opportunity and overlap to play with the mechanisms of horror. The first story, “Headhunter” uses the trope of the bounty hunter and the second, “Jester’s Bliss” (which my literary website first published a version of about 10 years ago), uses as its frame the traveling carnival, although the parallel storyline of a frontier family being attacked on the trail is just as strong. Regan’s sense of physical landscape and vivid detail (again showing his background in visual art) makes this a perfect sub-genre for his talents.
The final story, “Rafter Man,” is a tapestry of many of the tropes in the previous stories, and is the only one told in the first person—via a Poe-esque, unreliable narrator who juices up the ride. This psychological mind-trip works well alone but is the perfect button/summation for the collection.
You can learn more about Chuck Regan and his writing, illustrations, and workbook at http://www.chuckregan.com. There will also be updates on some current long-form works he is creating, including a series of six novellas he describes as a “Superhero Noir.”

Pay attention: You might learn something that might just save your life in the bizarro years to come.

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