Ramsey Campbell's The Pretence, a Review.

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Summary: Paul Slater flies home on the night the world is supposed to end due to yet another doomsday prediction. But something is wrong this time, things feel...off. Campbell taps into a vibe of truth and consequences, and comes out with a good novella about the nagging fear that reality is more fragile that it looks.

BLOT: (10 Dec 2013 - 08:26:24 PM)

Ramsey Campbell's The Pretence, a Review.

gist. The world was supposed to an end at midnight GMT, at least that's what The Finalists said, and they were everywhere. Paul Slater wasn't able to worry much about it, he was having to fly back home after tending to his sickly mother who fell ill panicking over those very end-of-the-world predictions. After Slater gets back home and wakes up the next day, he is glad to be back with his wife and children, except things feel off. Authorities take people away who talk too much, the sun refuses to come out from behind the clouds, the trees seem to be reversing from spring back into winter, the general flow at work is missing a beat, and everyone is afraid to talk about the weird sensations they felt at the supposedly final midnight of the world. Keeping his family sane with promises of "finding the sun" on a weekend outing, he starts to feel the edge of reality slipping, the spaces in-between growing larger even as his family clings tighter together, but it will be ok if he can just hold on for a moment longer. Hopefully.

review. Kind of weird to remember the fuss and bother building up to December 2012, with a blend of earnest end-of-the-world panic mixed with profit-driven fearmongering. It ate up such a large swath of popular culture, with actual debates over a nonsense reading of Mayan culture, and yet it has gone the way of a breeze with very little circumstance. What if we played a little mind game, though, and blended the end-of-the-world with that most famous of [albeit misunderstood] thought experiments—Schrodinger's Cat—and we asked: what if the cat also doesn't know if it is alive or dead? How does it open its own box? And, is it insane to even doubt itself in such a way?

This is game that The Pretence wants to play, making it something nearly like Philip K. Dick story told through Ramsey Campbell prose and protagonists. It is speculative horror, a really long shot story masquerading as a novella, with nearly no real character development nor plot outside of the minimum needed to build the concept. Instead, Campbell focuses entirely on a sustained mood piece about the way keeping touch on reality can be hard at the best of times, and even worse when the world and its people go a little out of whack, tapping effortless into those days where nothing feels to be in its proper place anymore.

Had it lasted any longer, The Pretence could have became unbearable, for Campbell refuses to let up, filling the whole thing with awkward conversations, half-spoken concepts, gray days, insubstantial emotions, pasty-faced people, off-kilter strangers, repetitive word games, the vague retail-hell of a bookshop, and a sense of loss and jamais vu. Tension begins early and has nowhere to go, threatening to dull any who try to pace it over more than one sitting. By the end, the reader is forced to conclude that any ending is better than nothing, even a non-ending. Campbell has almost mastered the mood too well, turning this long story into a scar of text dense in flavor, and it is hard to imagine preferring it to his more traditional "with a wallop" tales that at least offer a peak to the tension, but hats off to any writer who can shape such a perfect example of his craft, for better or worse.

score. 6/8. +1 for those who didn't get enough end-of-the-world weirdness last year, fans of speculative horror, or those who fear social interactions more than serial killers. -1 for those who like strong endings or like their horror to have bad guys and good guys.

links: {PS Publishing | Amazon | Goodreads}

publisher's description. Paul Slater has been offshore to reassure his mother about the prediction that the media made so much of, but now he's home with his wife and children. Why should any of them worry when it's already the day after the prediction was meant to come true? Surely their life is the way it always was, and they just need to keep it normal—there's the school concert, and computers for Melanie to repair, and Paul's job in the bookshop music department. Surely the sun will come out soon, and if not they can go away to find it at the weekend. Paul doesn't need to worry about people interrogating him or anyone being taken away for talking too much. He only needs to remember what he has to remember, and then it will keep them all safe . . .

Weird Fiction, Ramsey Campbell


Written by Doug Bolden

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