Scott Nicolay’s lean, pitiless horror novella is the kind of narrative that feels slight initially, but ends up staying with you long after you’ve finished it. Experienced from the point of view of a young Asian American woman, the story follows three hikers exploring the Arizona desert. Stumbling upon a shallow cave, they decide to camp for the night. Things go massively wrong shortly after, but lets’ not spoil anything.
Nicolay covers a hell of a lot of ground (touching on casual bigotry, sexism and rape culture) without coming across as preachy, or bogging the story down with needless exposition. There is a feeling that he knows what he is talking about, little details about the setting and the circumstances that offer familiarity to the reader. As a result, when the numinous invades the narrative, the reader is in for the ride. Lush descriptions of nature give way to matter- of- fact weirdness and stark survival horror (I read the last third of the book turning the pages faster and faster). But in the end, it’s the little things that stay with you. The way that human behaviour can turn monstrous under duress. The inexplicable, ultimately unknowable nature of the threat (if you have read your Blackwood, you might enjoy this aspect). And the scattered potential clues about what is really going on, clues that are not nearly enough to offer answers.
At this point, Portland’s King Shot Press deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the legendary, Athenian Oxy Publications for their mix of antiauthoritarian and transgressive books. In any case, Noctuidae packs a punch. Recommended.