VASTARIEN: A Literary Journal


Volume 1, Issue 1


Matt Cardin and Jon Padgett, Co-Editors-In Chief
Dagny Paul, Senior Editor

Material by Thomas Ligotti, Kurt Fawver, S. Silverwood, Christopher Slatsky, Robert Beveridge, Michael Uhall, Michael J. Abolafia, Wojciech Gunia, Wade German, Colby Smith, Aaron Worth, S.L. Edwards, Ian Mullins, Paul L. Bates, Michael Penkas, Martin Rose, Devin Goff, Jordan Krall, Dr. Raymond Thoss, Christopher Ropes.

When I review this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

43 thoughts on “VASTARIEN: A Literary Journal

  1. Cover art: Dave Felton.
    Appropriately, a rather grey book, one of over 270 pages.
    As with my all my gestalt real-time reviews over the last ten years, I shall be concentrating on any ostensible fiction works, as I consider myself primarily to be a fiction reviewer.
    Meanwhile, with my interest, since 1967, in the literary theory of the intentional fallacy — and with no personal association with this book, other than being a long-term fan of Ligottian works — I shall try to keep a beady eye on the rest of this book, too. As well as on its future issues.

    My previous critical work on Ligotti fiction linked from here:

  2. “This is the most sophisticatedly inchoate set of obsessions and self-questionings you are ever likely to meet in all literature, ranging from the relatively simple interpretation of VASTARIEN as ‘vast and nothing’ to the agonisingly tantalising concepts of the bookshop and the Crow Man, and which book is ABOUT something, and which book IS that something.”
    — from my own real-time review of the story ‘Vastarien’ here:


    Pages 1 – 4

    by Thomas Ligotti
    First English publication here in Vastarien.

    “I am a horror writer, after all, and not a genius free to recreate the whole world,…”

    An interesting dwelling upon the author’s relationship with the works of Schulz, Lovecraft and Poe. Perhaps also some ironic asides such as the words I quote above and a seeming Rhys-Hughesian type comment about the unwholesomeness of horror readers!

    Followed by untitled artwork by Dave Felton.

    by Kurt Fawver

    “The eyes! The ears! They’re shading us right now, applying a spectrum of grey to everything about us—“

    On first impressions, this ‘story’ is likely to be alone worth the entrance price to the whole book, with you as both audience and participant. I would love to see this playscript of Doctor and Patient really performed, if perform is the right word. I have a sense that if it is performed, it would be a big theatrical hit. Resonating between Captain Ahab and Milton’s Satan, it is also a highly accessible and disturbing means to convey the paranoia and helplessness of existence, where the play itself is instrumental in what it otherwise conveys. The contextual explanation in italics is there as a helpful decoy from actually believing what the play devastatingly implies, but if you don’t believe it, the decoy immediately vanishes! As also does vanish perhaps my earlier intention in this review above about concentrating on this book’s fiction rather than on its non-fiction. That gestalt feeling again…

    “It’s fiction. It’s all fiction. Everything is fiction. We just choose to cling tightly to some of those fictions and call them reality.”

    My previous reviews of Kurt Fawver:

  4. THE NIGHTMARE OF HIS ART: The Horrific Power of the Imagination in ‘The Troubles of Dr. Thoss’ and ‘Gas Station Carnivals’ by W. Silverwood, is an interesting and illuminating treatment of these two stories. Dealing with the self referential-art of horror fiction as a form of metafiction, the aesthetics of angst, the gestalt of collaboration or plagiarism, the art of the blank, the self-consciousness of self as the artist or horror writer. And a ‘desire for annihilation’ mentioned soon after quoting Jeff VanderMeer’s preface to the Ligotti Penguin Classics. And ‘discreet categories’ instead of ‘discrete’ ones? There are admirably as many as sixty footnotes of sources and a short bibliography. And I shall humbly add to that with links to my own three relatively brief real-time reviews of these two stories: GSC 2008Thoss 2015GSC 2015

  5. Another untitled artwork by Dave Felton, followed by…

    AFFIRMATION OF THE SPIRIT: Consciousness, Transformation, and the Fourth World in Film, by Christopher Slatsky, is for me and my innocent eyes an enthralling, well-researched essay on the nature of horror films, some so horrific they become sought after cult classics, and the essay’s resulting discussion connecting Cinema with Religion. Based on the previous Fawver work above, I would suggest extending this to Theatre and Religion. I have myself discussed the gestalt of Fiction and Religion in many places, including during my early days on TLO.

    My previous reviews of the fiction of Christopher Slatsky:

  6. TRY THE VEAL by Robert Beveridge

    “long pig. You order in tongues,”

    I have in recent years been reviewing more and more poetry. This meatily nifty poem — where enjambment works well and perhaps takes on a new meaning in the context! — reminds me constructively of Matthew M. Bartlett work, although his is not usually cast as verse.

    by Michael Uhall

    “…you must either build it in or shit it out. In other words, to construct a gun from your own flesh, the body must become a factory, a body factory,…”

    A nightmare factory, indeed.
    This is an amazing Ligottian short short fiction or an academic essay in the teratology of bodily ballistics. Probably both.
    I have again been constructively bewildered by my own preternatural trajectory towards a gestalt synchronicity (more and more in recent years), as, yesterday (here), I happened to start real-time reviewing ‘The Good Terrorist’ (1985) by Doris Lessing, where many pails of bodily human shit and efficient terrorism seem to be seeking synergy.

  8. 6D92B00E-8F2D-43B1-939E-B31745C37294”ECCENTRIC TO THE HEALTHY SOCIAL ORDER”: Inversions of Family, Community, and Religion in Thomas Ligotti’s ‘The Last Feast of Harlequin’, by Michael J. Abolafia, is admirably what it says on the tin. I enjoyed and resonated with it, although I do not often read academic articles and may not be a good judge of them. I note that it dates from before Spring 2016, and no doubt would otherwise have taken its audit trail further into the Trump phenomenon of November 2016. (My own real-time take on this story in 2015 here in 3 discrete blog comments, including the Joan Miró connection.)

  9. ”THEY SAY I SHOULD KILL MYSELF AND NOT TRY TO SPOIL THEIR ENJOYMENT IN BEING ALIVE”: An Interview with Thomas Ligotti, by Wojciech Gunia, is a 2014 interview published here for the first time in English. As many of my friends know, I try to avoid reading interviews with authors of fiction, for various reasons I have tried to explain over many years. So please forgive me if that is all I say about this item.

    • I also try not to read author story notes before reading and reviewing the stories.
      I read the above TL Foreword as I had already reviewed Teatro Grottesco (twice!)

      If there are any inconsistencies perceived about my approach, that will likely be the result of my being a mixed up kid, without which I would not be able to do these gestalt real-time reviews at all! 🙂

    by Wade German

    A traditional rhyming poem with darkly romantic turns of phase and some resonant archaisms, expressing a promise of peace accompanied by a blessing upon self-destruction.

  11. ERASERHEAD as Antinatalist Allegory, by Colby Smith, intrigues me with its well-expressed speculations about this film. It is one of those rare films that I have actually watched!

    There follows another untitled piece of artwork by Dave Felton.

    by Aaron Worth

    “Had it an audience at all?”

    “In those vandalised margins,” I, too, hold my court, my gestalt theatre, a theatre connecting us all with its “unseen filaments.” This, for me, is a major work of fiction borne up by utter truth. If the Fawver was the original entrance fee, this is its ultimate showmanship. In truth, there are definite connections between Fawver’s theatre, where audience and performers are in some strange synergy, and Charlotte’s theatre here and the one that this story accretively deploys. An imaginary theatre, become real, as told by Charlotte’s husband, having married his ‘mad’ patient Charlotte, as told passionately in letters from an outlandish part of “Roumania”, on holiday with that wife and a venue chosen by her, these letters being to his friend back home. He had wanted to go to Bayreuth for the holiday to see PARSIFAL (my own favourite opera.) Well, I should not give too much away about Charlotte’s theatre; she wants to nurture it, seemingly, from a rare Roman or Latin work by Ovid, thus via ROMANia, RoMANIA, stemming originally from the palimpsest world of her own marginalia in her father’s books. As it happens, I myself possess a vast library of Romanian books in which I have appended my own pencilled palimpsest of marginalia to aid my gestalt real-time reviewing, dreamcatching or hawling all of this library’s gestalt, its “net-work” theatre of weird literature (my reviews of it specifically are linked from here, to prove my point.) I am agog, amazed, astonished. One of those synchronous and creative moments in my life, worthy to record here! And a great standalone story, to boot.

    “…difficult to know know, where performance ended, and reality began . . .”

    by Ian Mullins

    Thoughtful free verse, with humanity seen wryly from the ancient future. A nice twist at the end. Seems also beautifully to fit in with this book’s front cover that I just considered above earlier this morning.

    by Paul L. Bates

    “To his surprise, his shoes did not stick to the pavement.”

    …nor my fingers to the pages devoted to this story.
    Yet, in many ways they did. A remarkable vision of a car journey by the narrator to see his friends, a cloying symphony of black static, as he incants refrains about the nature of his friends. Something has happened to the world, since he started this journey, we infer. And it swaddles you with the passing Ligottian urban storefronts, punctuated by cones of light, alienation from the people you assumed to have once been your friends, and a sudden sharp swizzling noise like that at the end of each episode of Twin Peaks III, a rare item of screen drama that I have watched in recent years.

  15. NIGHT WALKS: The Films of Val Lewton, by Michael Penkas, seems to be an interesting and thorough essay on the subject that its title describes on the tin, although I am not an expert.

    There follows artwork entitled STONED by Dejan Ognjanović, which explains why this name is one of the few names on this book’s back cover list of contributors that do not also appear in the table of contents.

  16. The previous artwork seems an apt prelude to…

    by Martin Rose

    “They exist in a knot of ley lines that conspire to vanish their location, saturate them in shadows,…”

    …like the Temple now unvanished by this often transcendental story around the time the Americans were in Viet Nam. Evocatively seen, within a harvest-defined valley, from two POVs, the first being that of Võ, an old man whose dead son seems accretively to subsume the second POV of an American soldier who meets Võ and enters that Temple, thus this man arguably becoming an army deserter. An amorphous fiction experience of power politics of an “imperial empire” and of Eastern meditative religion, including smarting scenes of the birth of the Third Eye…and the “burning crawl”. And the Ligottian aspect that I perceive within such amorphousness: “Things about honor and country and the sad summation of his brief and useless life.” The ‘ruined dog tags’, notwithstanding.

    by Devin Goff

    “Is my mind trying to see order where there is none?”

    A real-time review itself, towards a gestalt. A crazy gestalt? Well, judge for yourself, but you must be a bit crazy already if you are reading this, I guess. It is a fine story for Ligotti fiction lovers, pure and simple, without any extraneous Anti-Natalist pomposity. A diary of someone who sets up a storefront among other storefronts in a small Ligottian town in America’s heartland, I guess, sitting as I do reading it here in the UK. The diary writer’s store is for ceramics and sundries and is full of hope on its initial opening. But, accretively, a slow entropy is conveyed in the community, other storefronts closing, certain people vanishing, connections to orange flags and other things orange, the writer’s commissions to make strange statues, plus a suspected cult… and the writer’s eventual need to, dreamcatch or hawl a gestalt of seeming rationalisation, call it what you will, via the ‘coincidence’ of dates and numbers. Absolutely wonderful stuff. It is also connected, in my mind, to a Kurt Fawver story (whose work also appears earlier in Vastarien), a story in Looming Low that has just been chosen overnight for this Year’s Best Weird Fiction Book and one that I reviewed here last November, where I suggest a possible spoiler of interpretation, one that may be a spoiler, too, for this Goff story, if you should choose to open that link.

    by Jordan Krall

    “I think this is a case of mild loop panic . . .”

    Not mild! How wrong can you be? This is powerful, and you are not a fiction at all, not a game, certainly. You, O story, are biting not only at its reader but at its author, too. It is a devastatingly frustrating loop like the Fawver and the Aaron Worth, turning itself into a terrorist’s weapon from its own flesh like the Uhall. Teacher and class, class and teacher, where does the loop begin? Employer and employee? Performer and audience? Body and mind? Ligotti and Aickman, metaphors and humanity? In the mind or in the tablets that the same mind needs? And there I will leave it, because I only review fiction, as I stated at the start of this gestalt real-time review above. Review and Reviewer in autonomous synergy. Tarr and Fether. Drake and mind’s Armada. War and not-war. Pure panic.

  19. NOTES ON A HORROR, by Dr. Raymond Thoss, presents itself as a substantive work of non-fiction written by a clinical psychologist specialising in trauma, here using the above pseudonym. The various sections of this work: 1. Ontological Gaslighting, 2. Ubiquity of Iniquity and Gnostic Disconnect, 3. The Shattered and the Tattered, 4. The Darkness … The Darkness. The work seems to draw succour, perhaps paradoxically, from the works of Ligotti. I am not an expert on assessing such works as this seems to be, as most of my own material is based on an Aesthetic of synchronicity-instinct, but my instinct here tells me this is an important work.

  20. There follows another artwork by Dejan Ognjanović, one entitled BLACK UNIVERSE, then…

    by Christopher Ropes

    “because this impossible world has
    divided itself by zero, and nothing survives the absurdity.”

    Indeed. Though I treat this mind-awakening, yet swaddling, work with my fiction hat on, the one with a wide brim that hinders my view of what this work describes as the Void in the sky as the ultimate Vasta-Rien. Yet, I may remove it, when this work’s autobiographical rhapsody reaches its highest pitch, which it will, as I have just finished reading it, but I am slavishly following my own real-time thoughts about it from within the work as it swaddled me in a process, now fast becoming hindsight, however immediate my reaction to it is now, as I write this. The previous work above this morning by Thoss of Azathoss, ended with a song, Ligotti’s song. As does this Ropes start and end, too, by dint of its title and last paragraph. It is a paean to depression, being depression, rather than suffering it. The granular galaxy that we all become eventually. But how do we know? We are not there yet. This is the author’s life, his missteps as well as his successes, with people and animals, those who abandoned him, deliberately or by disease, and those with whom he still lives. The sense of losing the plot. I sort of lost the plot of this work, but that made it better, helping me escape the twin enemies of hope and despair, as I ‘hope’ this review will similarly help the author, as my return of his favour. We all have the unpompous side of Ligotti to thank for this at outset of our thinking about all these things. A succour from Ligotti that Dr Thoss also earlier recognised above, I infer. “This is a religion”, it says somewhere in this Ropes rhapsody of rapture. Darkness turned against itself, but still leaving us in the delicious dark. The soda cans laugh, it says somewhere else. So does my tin of biscuits above. What it says on the tin, as I have said already a number of times in this gestalt real-time review, a phenomenon of expression that also covers this Ropes. I have often translated the word ‘ligotti’ as ‘knots’ (for example here: and now ‘ropes’ provide the means, I guess. I hope the Ropes author is pleased with my honest stream of thoughts about this major work, a work that sort of gestalts a whole first issue of a fine Literary Journal. A symphony of poetic movements, laced with truth, upon which we can all rest, sure that we are not alone, also sure that we are alone, while awaiting the end. (My previous Ropes reviews:


    Not always.

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