Psychedlia Gothique by Dale L. Sproule is a collection of short stories spanning a number of years from his writing career. The stories cover a wide range of topics, themes, and formats, from dark urban fantasy/horror, to stories of more traditional horror and slasher elements, psychological horror, and even a horror themed poem that kicks off the whole collection. There’s a story in this book for almost everybody, and while some stories are more engaging and spoke to me more than others (as is the way with short story collections), all the stories in this book offer the reader something to identify with and enjoy.
I really enjoyed this collection as a whole. Sproule has a distinct knack for creeping into your psyche through clever use of setting and psychology in order to chill the reader. The stories are very skillfully created and written, offering a peep into a horrifying world, and then slamming the door on your face, forcing you to really think about what you just read while desperately wishing there was more.
Sproule also employs some pretty fantastic writing tricks to further bring you into his world – one case that sticks out to me specifically is in the story “Labour Relations”, and while I don’t think this story thematically relates to any other story in this book, Sproule uses the story to bring you in and out of the narrative, creating a non-traditional narrative that a lesser writer would have floundered with.
Themes of paranoia are really what draws all these stories together however, the characters you’re following not knowing their place in the world exactly, and therefore don’t know how to navigate it effectively, and despite the fact that some of Sproule’s protagonists are the complete opposite of what one would consider a good person, you can still identify with at least a part of them – sometimes just their last vestiges of humanity.
The thing I liked least about this selection of short stories actually had nothing to do with the stories themselves; At the beginning of each work there’s an introduction by the author explaining various things, but mostly it came down to publication history and whether or not the story won any awards, etc. Except for one story “Exposure” (where the story felt extremely personal), the introductions were needless, and on more than one occasion, they came off as Sproule boasting about where the story had been published and if it won any awards. While I understand the excitement and pride Sproule felt when his stories had been accepted for publication, the sentiments came off as boasting, and that actually really detracted from the overall book. I really wish the book hadn’t included those introductions, because I’m a firm believer in a story speaking for itself – either the introductions were needless (as they were in this case), or they have to explain the story itself in order for it to make sense (thankfully, not the case with this book).
Another aspect of the book I didn’t like was the title, and the Sproule’s reasoning behind the title (which he explains ad nauseum in another introduction – there’s just too many intros in this book). The stories themselves are not psychedelic or even very Gothic for that matter – what they are are a selection of stories heavily rooted in psychological terror rather than your normal blood and guts horror. Sproule writes this style very well and each story left me wanting more, and not wanting to be ripped out of the world that he had just introduced me to. However, the title and the reasoning behind it felt off, and once again came off as a bit self-important, same with his introduction to “Razorwings” where he details how he came up with the idea of “splatterfairy”. Which really doubly rings contrite as a name for this genre already exists as urban fantasy.
Having said those two things, this is a really solid selection of short horror stories (except for the aforementioned “Labour Relations”), and a great read for anybody interested in short horror fiction.
Note: While the books is published by “Arctic Mage Press”, it’s of my belief that this is a publishing title created by the author, and therefore I putting this down in the self-published category.