Reviews In The Machine : Dark Frontiers, part one of two
I love westerns. I love horror. And frankly, when those two things manage to come together I think great things can happen. Look at the landscape of a great western story. You have a barren and hostile terrain, where death lurks around every corner. You have people struggling to survive in a world they don’t completely understand. It’s about striking out, exploring and breaking out onto new ground.
With those parameters in mind, it’s easy to see how naturally the horror genre fits in alongside it. All the elements needed for great horror come gift wrapped in the western genre so all that’s required is a great author to pull it off.
Cue Benedict Jones, please.
Mulligan’s Idol is the first of two novellas found in the book Dark Frontiers. It tells the story of Pedro Mulligan, a man who is drawn into a mysterious expedition due to his unique knowledge of the area in question. The journey will take them through hostile territory, into even more dangerous areas and for reasons that Mulligan is only barely aware of at first.
What I thought came through the strongest in this was the strength of the characters. Mulligan himself is a great protagonist but the supporting cast around him is fantastic as well. Pretty much every major character proves to have much more depth and texture than they seem to have at first and this only serves to enhance the power of the story. You could certainly make the argument that on some level, the characters in this are fairly representative of certain archetypes. I, however, have always been of the opinion that pretty much everything can be argued as being derivative or archetypal, it just becomes a convenient weapon when people want to criticize a thing. It’s more important to actually look at those specific elements and see how they are being used.
This story is exciting. It’s also bleak and brutal. There’s despair and fear and complexity here and that is what lifts the book up above any superficial complaints that might be levied against it. Ingredients in and of themselves may have the potential to be bland but when they are put into the proper hands, the execution makes everything sing.
The novella length of this story is also perfect for me. I don’t know if it’s my essential existential angst driving my reading preferences now but I just don’t have the patience for long books that I once had. Mulligan’s Idol is just right. Establish the premise and get to the point. Speaking as an writer myself, I find brevity to be a valuable trait and goal in story telling. In a world that’s overfilled with distractions, I don’t want to have to ask you for too much of your attention, just enough.
I found the title of the story to be kind of fascinating and I have no idea if this was by design or if it was coincidental. I don’t know how extensively this is used in the U.K. but in the states, a “mulligan” is basically a do-over. You’re playing golf and you shank it into the trees? Declare a mulligan and take another shot.
The reason I find this intriguing in this context is that (in the story) I often felt like there were undercurrents of redemption or second chances or getting what you think you are deserved. I felt this with a number of the characters so I found myself frequently coming back to the title and wondering if maybe there was a hidden message intended there.
I said at the start that I love westerns, although most of what I have ingested has been on film. And I say this, fully cognizant of how western stories are often guilty of distorting somewhat what life really was like then. It’s hard to be so far separated by time and distance and to tell a story that is historically accurate and an entertaining read. But frankly, I think that if an accurate understanding of humanity during a specific time period is your goal, there are far more academically inclined texts which are there for the reading. I have never taken novels or film to be historical documents but I also thought Jones did a good job putting in the extra time and effort to give this book a feeling of authenticity. Historical fiction is something I could never do, as I lack the patience and will power you really need in order to get that work done. So just add that to the list of reasons I have to show the love and respect for this book.
The point of all this is basic and simple. The pursuit of treasure and riches may be foolhardy. But there is plenty to be found within the confines of this story. And the best part is that with as good as this is, it only represents half of the book it appeared in.
A do-over on this one will not be necessary for Benedict Jones.