A Tunnel in the Sky

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No One Will Come Back For Us (and Other Stories)
by Premee Mohamed

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted May 7, 2023

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Thanks to Edelweiss and Undertow Publications for a digital review copy of Premee Mohamed's first story collection. Release day is next Tuesday, May 16. The stories are not presented in chronological order, or as far as I could tell any thematic order. Quite a few play around with the ideas of the Old Gods, pastiches on Lovecraft, and possibly others. Most are horror, or fantasy, but I'd classify four of them as science fiction, even if they have other elements in their makeup. In her story notes at the end, Premee says she dropped in Easter eggs of her first novel, Beneath the Rising (not yet published at the time), but there was only one I spotted for sure before reading the notes, when the Dimensional Anomaly was referenced in the title story. Without doing more research, it's possible some mentions of gods are not from Lovecraft, but earlier folktales instead.

I should say here that I've never cared for Lovecraft. I realize his importance in the history of horror, but his style, and the repetitive phrases concerning the eldritch terrors, is mostly laughable. Of course, it is possible some of the stories I haven't read might be better. However, I also realize why it is necessary for others to reference him, if only to cast the stories in a different light, excising the racism and misogyny, and presenting them in better prose styles. All of the stories that reference him or similar themes are good individually, but so many together in one collection lessens their impact. The first story chronologically comes fifth in the collection, and it is the first of Premee's I had read. "The Adventurer's Wife" first appeared in She Walks in Darkness, a Lovecraft themed anthology with all women authors, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles in 2015. It is told from the perspective of a reporter interviewing Sima, an African woman who had married a British explorer and returned with him to England, along with a certain 'something' from her village. Going back to the start of the collection, "Below the Kirk, Below the Hill" (2018) takes its title from Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Philomena lives in an old, abandoned lighthouse on a small island (off the coast of Maine I believe). She finds a young girl on the beach, apparently dead, then Devon comes back to life(?), but the gods of the deep want her back. The "Instructions" (2016) are from pamphlets given to Allied soldiers during World War 2, things to look out for, among possible collaborators, and from German soldiers, considering they are actually [REDACTED]. "The Evaluator" (2017) is another that may be Lovecraft inspired, or perhaps derives from older traditions. It is the first time leaving food out for the gods is mentioned, but that comes up in at least two other stories.

In "At the Hand of Every Beast" (2018), a young boy is able to get inside a cathedral which is moving on its own across the landscape, and which had just destroyed his house. An old man is also inside, and they devise a scheme to direct the cathedral to plunge off the edge of a cliff. "The General's Turn" (2021) concerns a war prisoner forced to compete for his life in an intricate game set within the gears of a giant clock. The general seems to have tired of the torture, or else sees in the prisoner a kindred spirit, so he attempts to send him surreptitious clues on how to win the game. "Sixteen Minutes" (2016) is about a man who goes directly to his bomb shelter when the alarm comes, sure that he does not have time to also save his wife and son. Is it his guilt that produces his later hallucinations, or are they hallucinations? "Fortunato" (2017) is one of the SF stories, although it is also horror, possibly Lovecraft inspired, with terrors found on a distant planet when a crew shows up to evacuate previous colonists. "The Honeymakers" (2016) is about children who are recruited into the hive mind of bees that live in the woods near their homes. "Four Hours of a Revolution" (2017) is post-apocalyptic horror, set in a ravaged city under a strict curfew, with several "Deaths" following people destined to die. "For Each of These Miseries" (2018) is another SF/horror tale, set in an underwater research facility. "Everything as Part of its Infinite Place" (2021) is either set in an alternate world, or else actions by one of the characters produces an alternate world.

That brings us to the title story, "No One Will Come Back For Us" (2017), the one that mentions the Dimensional Anomaly from Premee's first novel. It's set in Uganda during a new pandemic, with a reporter following the doctors trying to pinpoint Patient Zero. The gods mentioned in "Willing" (2017) are probably from older folktales, not Lovecraft. Premee mentions she is a child of the prairies of Alberta, which may be where she heard stories of leaving food out for the gods, although the summons from the gods might be from her own imagination. "Us and Ours" (2019) seems to be about the battle between the old gods and the new. "The Redoubtables" (2020) is another SF story, but few details are given as to what happened at a research station on a Pacific island to determine if it might also have fantasy/horror elements. The last story, "Quietus," is original to this collection. Experiments are being conducted on volunteer soldiers to determine if they can be induced to act while in a state of unihempispheric sleep. Some animals can do it, particularly fish; while one portion of the brain is asleep, the other portion is awake and functional. The subjects are put through a series of virtual battle simulations to determine the feasibility of the program, while scientists communicate with each other on their progress.

In spite of my somewhat negative comments about the Lovecraft influence above, I still recommend this collection. There is enough variety that almost any reader will find several stories that please them. I can't criticize Premee for continuing to mine Lovecraft for ideas; after all, I loved the Beneath the Rising series, which is rife with them. It is not all she writes about, as seen in half the stories here, and in others I have read. Even though I got an advance review copy I had already pre-ordered the paperback, which will sit next to four other paperbacks, plus I have more as ebooks. If you haven't read Premee yet, this would be a good place to start, and another I will always recommend when her name comes up, the second of her stories I read, The Apple-Tree Throne, unfortunately still not in print, but available as an ebook or audio book. She is also always on my radar for new books and stories, including one from Tor next February I just pre-ordered, which I think might be a novella, and another novel from Solaris is mentioned at the end of the "About the Author" section in this book. It's possible The Siege of Burning Grass might get a title change, but I am sure I will pre-order whenever it is available.


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Premee Mohamed

Stories: 2015-2023
Collection: 5/16/23

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