the_author() rating onrating onrating onrating halfrating off

THE SIMULACRUM OF DREAD

Don’t Panic, There’s a Glossary

By Pyrocardiac, member

Mar 8, 2019: The author of The Simulacrum of Dread knows what he’s talking about when he describes it as "quite emphatically not for everyone”. Let me expand on that. If you love aliens, morally conflicted heroes with supernatural powers, quests for mythical swords, power struggles that “dwarf words as simple as ‘cosmic,’” and/or vampires, it may be for you. If you love those things in the context of an easily-digestible narrative that gets right to the point, run for your life. If you love intricate world-building rife with metaphysical imagination above all else, allow me to congratulate you on your entry into nerd heaven. And if you’re still not sure, you should have a good sense by the second chapter at least.

Elliott Thomas Staude does not believe in hand-holding. Expect to find yourself foundering in made-up words early on, and I’m not even talking about the proper nouns like Weguerreguwregerr. He has, however, been kind enough to start building a glossary within the “Thomas Generalized Recountings Library,” still under construction at the time of this writing. His work explores an all-encompassing reality called “the gem,” where anything can happen and probably already has, somewhere. It’s a blender full of quirky races, impossible places, magic (wait till you see how he defines magic), and other sufficiently advanced technology. These and other elements are liable to be introduced by name only, with no explanation or description until context allows for it organically, which may not happen until much later in the novella if ever. Unless you have an exceptional memory, some scenes will only make sense upon a second reading. I fully respect this approach, but fair warning to those who don’t like being confused.

Elliott decidedly nails the immersion in this multifaceted world of his. In fact, so immersed was I in the scenarios and concepts presented during the early chapters that I found myself forgetting what the story was supposed to be about. Some will undoubtedly find this a drawback. Mercifully, he dials it back long enough for anyone still reading to get invested in the main events. Just when you think things might be settling into a more straightforward action fantasy groove, you’ll be whisked off to causality watchdogs or entropy-based interplanar trade deals to remind you just whose story this is, which you may or may not find refreshing. Simulacrum really shines in its evocation of things beyond the bounds of our experience or comprehension, stoking the imagination with big surreal ideas composited from fantasy, philosophy, and pseudoscience.

Right. The plot. It’s there, though it sometimes feels more like a connecting thread between stops on a tour than anything in its own right. Elliott is interested above all in exploring his uberworld with us, and a glance at the upcoming tales in the Recountings Library suggests there’s also a fair amount of setup happening here. It centers on Sebastio Artaxerxes, security consultant with a troubled past, who’s been chosen as a pawn in one of the vague feuds of an eclectic and mind-squashingly powerful bunch called the Beings of Old. A few unexpected consequences later, he finds himself in a unique position to carve out a slice of destiny for himself – if an old friend, and the titanic machinations surrounding them both, don’t get him first. A story worth following, though it could have been much more enjoyable had it received the same level of care as its setting.

You’ll have to decide for yourself whether this novella’s strengths compensate for its lack of heart. There are no endearing characters to be found here, with the possible exceptions of Bugbear and Sun – everyone else is simply too pragmatic. A POV character may be introduced and discarded within the span of a chapter, never to be seen again, which I suppose is a matter of personal preference. Sebastio himself is sympathetic at best. The villain is creepy, bloodsoaked cardboard, and although putting up with him for a chapter yields hints of a more compelling conflict, it’s never fully realized. No compelling conflict is, for that matter. Some of the person-to-person confrontations do succeed in creating dramatic tension, none of which ever lasts for long. What action there is suffers from detachment and the inherent limitations of unlimited possibility, striking and creative though its imagery may be. I followed the world-shattering events as a curious onlooker rather than an engaged participant. I then had to go back and double check that this was listed as a complete novel, as it doesn’t build to anything resembling a satisfactory climax or conclusion. Presumably Mourners, Abednego, Persistence will pick up the dangling threads whenever it comes out. I’m more than willing to revise the above criticisms if the sequel gets around to remedying them, since I will certainly be reading it.

Other thoughts:

It’s only the author’s penchant for maximum vocabulistics at the expense of flow that keeps the overall writing just shy of elegant. He loves language and wants to employ it as fully as possible, for better and worse. Sentences on the better end are fun little brainteasers or wonderfully inventive descriptions; on the worse end they’re unholy dictionary pileups. (Grammatically impeccable pileups, mind you; I don’t want to slander the man.) But there are so many more deft and even poetic lines that I suspect the monstrosities are just thrown in to mess with us.

Though Simulacrum can get pretty spectacularly violent and grotesque, Elliott is having way too much fun for it to ever go full grimdark. The humor he injects ranges from subtle to disarming to outright absurd, and it all lands. I’m thinking of the particular scene in Chapter 2 that convinced me to keep reading. You’ll know it when you see it.

With unearthly happenings recounted in a deadpan-erudite manner, it put me in mind by turns of the Wanderer’s Library and the SCP Foundation, Vitaly S. Alexius, Garth Nix, and even a certain guidebook for hitchhikers, but the truth is that I’ve never read anything quite like The Simulacrum of Dread. If you have a taste for the unconventional, a sense of wonder, and a bit of patience, give it a try. You’ll either be pleasantly surprised or give yourself a headache. Possibly both.

2 of 2 members found this review helpful.
Help us improve!  Request an invite or log in to rate this review.