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“To Rouse Leviathan” by Matt Cardin

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While Vastarien co-editor Matt Cardin has written two books of nonfiction, To Rouse Leviathan is his first fiction collection, and it includes all the stories he’d published as of its release in 2019. The stories in this volume are complex and dense, inviting comparisons to Thomas Ligotti’s work.

Reviewers have described Cardin’s work as “philosophical horror” or “ontological horror,” and these are both fitting descriptions. The horror in these stories doesn’t come from monsters or serial killers but from the characters’ realizations that reality is fundamentally different from what they thought it was. While tales like “The God of Foulness” do include entities that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lovecraft story, it isn’t simply the existence of vast, unknowable beings that causes Cardin’s characters to “go mad from the revelation.” Instead, the source of the horror is the structure of the universe itself—or rather, the intimation that structure and order themselves are only temporary things.

One interesting aspect of Cardin’s fiction is the degree to which it’s rooted in the Abrahamic faith tradition. Cosmic horror tends to treat the benevolent deities of various religions as nothing more than comforting illusions. In the world of Leviathan, some of the major Biblical figures are clearly real—Satan even makes an appearance in “The Devil and One Lump.” (The Father of Lies enjoying terrible instant coffee is a pretty amusing moment.) The version of God presented here isn’t omnipotent, though. He’s ultimately just as vulnerable to the inevitable decay of existence as any of His creations. In a way, that might be even scarier than the nonexistence of the divine. Nietzche’s famous proclamation that “God is dead” at least has some weight or grandeur to it that “God is just a regular schmuck like everyone else” lacks.

Many of Cardin’s stories reference esoteric philosophical concepts or quote from philosophical and theological texts. Even when the central metaphor of a story is relatively simple—a play in “The Basement Theater” or a corporate organizational structure in “The Stars Shine Without Me”—the language and sentence structure are elaborate. This, along with the similarity in theme of all the stories, can make the collection feel a bit repetitive if it’s read all at once (as opposed to interspersing the stories with other books). That said, most of the stories were interesting and unsettling. I’m looking forward to seeing what Cardin writes in the future, especially if he chooses to branch out a bit in style and tone.

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