THE CONTROLLERS by Paul Kane
Luna Press, 173 page pb, £9.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
For some time, it has been a tradition to ask contributors to an anthology to write stories on a particular theme. Since the imagination can head off in any direction, the stories often take very varies approaches with only the theme linking them. Single author collections with a theme running through the stories are rarer. Two excellent ones are The Palladin Mandates by Mike Chinn and Where Furnaces Burn by Joel Lane. The stories in both of these were written and published separately in various places but have the same principle characters and settings. Then there is this collection by Paul Kane.
The Controllers is a collection of six stories, all of which have distinct characters and settings. They are linked by the idea that our lives are being controlled by alien beings that dwell in a different dimension.
The first story ‘Astral’ Is a Lovecraftian story where the narrator is largely passive. It introduces us to the concept of the Controllers. He discovers that he is capable of astral projection and on one of his voyages, he breaks through into another dimension. There he discovers a world in which the main occupation of the beings that live there spend their days manipulating human lives.
‘Eye Of The Beholder’ takes the concept further and shows how the life of Lucy is manipulated. If the story was just Lucy’s life, it would be mundane, but the idea that everything that happens to her is being overseen from another dimension gives it a sinister twist.
‘The Pain Cages’ is a centre-piece of the collection. It both casts doubt and reinforces the concept of the Controllers. In the previous stories, the beings to do the manipulation have been hooded, their features obscured. Here the narrator wakes to find himself in a hanging cage. Hooded figures murder the occupants of other cages at intervals, replacing them with people from his life. Between killings, he relates events that led up to the point where he awakes in the cage. It is a sinister and nasty story (in content, not style) and leaves the unanswered question as to whether these events are due to the manipulations of the Controllers or the imaginings of a disturbed mind.
‘Secrets’ turns the situation around. This time one of the manipulators is the fugitive and walks into a bar, telling the barman how human lives are controlled. The tale instils doubt in the barman’s mind about the nature of free will.
Characters from other stories appear in ‘The Scoop’ as journalist Adam Regis, pieces together the actuality of the Controllers before being warned off. Like many people in that sort of situation, he cannot leave well alone.
‘Reflections’ brings us closer to the Controllers. Professor Maxwell Strauss is a scientist sent to a distant planet to examine an alien artefact in the form of a prism. It draws him in and shows him things he doesn’t really want to see.
The main part of this collection is rounded off by ‘They Watch’, a poem that distils many of the themes behind these stories.
Horror is meant to unsettle and disturb; otherwise, it is not doing its job. It is not just the ideas that create the effect but the way the words are put together. Kane has the kind of writing style that enhances the sense of unease without going over the top. Many of the stories are first-person narration which immediately allows for the doubt to creep in about the reliability of the observations. All the characters seem to have messed up private lives. It allows for the idea that their belief in the Controllers is an excuse for having made bad decisions. The line between reality and delusion is tenuous.
It must be noted that the book has twenty-four pages of illustrations by various artists that relate to the stories, possibly from the original publications. They are excellent compliments to the text, although I would have preferred them scattered throughout the book, adjacent to the relevant story.
It is worth mentioning that, for those who have an interest in the evolution of a story, there are facsimiles of original and annotated manuscripts.