Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.
Author: Nick Marsh
Publisher: Immanion Press
Author: Nick Marsh
Publisher: Immanion Press
“Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” – H.P. Lovecraft.
Like all great speculative fiction writers, Lovecraft knew the real source of delight – and terror (he learned it from Poe, after all): what is experienced as the `here and now’ is but a shadow, a veil for what has always been. The phenomenal world we inhabit – this desk, that chair, the man sleeping on the subway – are merely markers of a larger, darker, less ephemeral existence. The genius of most great horror writers has frequently resided in taking the Platonic idea of “forms” and investing it with sinister overtones. This world is a simulation – all the REAL action is taking place somewhere “out there.”
Most contemporary writers of horror and sci-fi, however, are content to build a story on the monster-of-the-moment: vampires, werewolves, aliens, and their ilk, but every so often a writer comes along who seems to really get what Lovecraft was selling. Such a writer is Nick Marsh, and his novel Past Tense – the second in what he calls his “Conduit Sequence” – is a fitting heir to the Lovecraftian tradition.
Though not as consistently dark as Lovecraft, there are obvious similarities in their work – a fact Marsh acknowledges in his book, with his characters referencing Lovecraft’s mythic elder god Cthulhu. And though Marsh leavens his work with dollops of Douglas Adams-type farce, he never imperils the genuine threat of menace that animates this page-turning novel.
This is the second book in a series, but I think I can say with some confidence that it stands alone as a good read (I haven’t yet read the first book, Soul Purpose, though I intend to). Marsh gives enough back story to acquaint readers with the characters, chief of which is Alan Reece, a veterinarian from England’s “West Country.” Reece’s real claim to fame – make that immortality – is his role as a “conduit,” a sort of link between the present world and a phantasmal world of “soul spheres” and time travel.
In this case, his travels take him to Ancient Rome, where a good deal of the novel takes place. Reece and a woman acquaintance from the present find themselves thrown back in time, navigating the unfamiliar world of Empire, centurions, and slaves, all the while both hiding from and seeking a shape-shifting mythic beast that’s intent on ravaging the past to disrupt the present and rule in the future.
The novel’s long middle section, “Pax Romana.” Is filled with enlightening – and nauseating – glimpses into life during the Empire. Though the narrative enumerates the pedestrian activities of everyday life, from the ruling class to the lowliest slaves, Marsh keeps a steady eye on the main plot, and builds in enough suspense to keep the reader on the hook.
Will our heroes make it back to the present? Will this shape-shifting creature disrupt the historical timeline? Can our mild-mannered protagonists simply survive the grueling regimen of life as a cog in the annihilating machine of Empire? And how do you destroy an enemy who, like the devil, has a mortal form but an eternal soul? As the tension mounts and the challenges begin to seem insurmountable, Alan Reece comes to think of what’s happening to him as a cruel joke: “Once more, he berated the vagaries of fate that had turned him into a spiritual super-hero, with powers that were precisely no help whatsoever…” As Lovecraft once famously noted: “The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind.” Readers of this engaging and well-wrought novel will certainly find themselves nodding in affirmation.
Follow Here To Purchase Past Tense