Saturday, March 27, 2010

Creatures of the Pool, (Leisure Fiction), by Ramsey Campbell

There's a reason why Ramsey Campbell is considered by many as one of the finest horror writers ever, and those reasons are alive and well in Leisure's latest release, “Creatures of the Pool”. Brimming with a surreality found only in waking fever dreams, “Creatures” is an utterly enthralling, brooding tale about ancient secrets buried in deep, dark, wet places that only exist in memory and dreams...but still ooze upwards from their burial places to shape and mold the reality of what we've become.

Gavin Meadows' relatively comfortable life is thrown askew when his eccentric father disappears without a trace shortly after sharing some strange research ideas with Gavin, ideas that smack more of obsession than research. Apparently, his father felt that watery secrets lurked in the subterranean tunnels beneath Liverpool; secrets steeped in mystery, ancient rites and beings, covered up by modern authorities. At first, Gavin is worried chiefly about his father's sanity and wellbeing, and that's all.

However, as hours and days pass and Gavin – however reluctantly – finds himself increasingly drawn into his father's studies, things fall apart. Distracted, he mishandles his tour guide duties. That, and the legendary history stored in his head to spice up his tours has mixed with his father's theories, turning the world around him into a hallucinatory haze of dreams, half-thought ideas and vague conspiracies. He encounters insubstantial beings more rubbery than human, experiences watery glimpses of amoeboid creatures haunting his steps, and suddenly has cause to distrust everyone he knows or meets: the policemen searching for his father, strangers on the street...even his girlfriend, Lucinda.

What is she hiding at the local library? Why do the police seem unconcerned over his father's disappearance, vaguely threatening, even? And why does water trickle everywhere, and not normal water either but a thicker, viscous liquid teeming with a strange life that leaves even Gavin feeling bloated, misshapen...floating inside his body and head.

Campbell's masterful use of the first-person, present tense narrative puts readers directly into Gavin's head, making them subject to his increasing disorientation as the lines separating fact, reality, history, legend and race-memory fade and everything mixes together. There's the temptation to call this story intensely Lovecraftian, but doing so does Campbell a grave disservice. However much “Creatures” smacks of Lovecraft, it is Campbell's own. Better to call it a “Campbellian” tale, because though it instills a familiar dread, it belongs in a category all its own.

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