Kathe Koja has long been regarded as one of the true artists in dark fiction, weaving horror into stories and novels that blur the lines of genres and realities. From her Stoker winning The Cipher back in 1991, she has upended what’s to be expected from the genre. Of course, she’s also diverted on occasion into historical fiction, young adult, suspense, and simply plain weird fiction over the years. In Velocities, some of her best has been collected, ranging from “Pas De Deux” from 1995 to “Urb Civ” from 2019 — a stunning array of styles and stories that, while accessible, reach into surreal corners of our reality and others, almost as if creeping down into the hole in The Cipher itself.
As for the stories, while some collections can be read in a sitting or two, it’s suggested that they be savored with a break between them. You’ll understand why after reading them. The range of topics, from death to love to animals and dance, stretch the imagination in such deceptive language that, when the emotional impact arrives, it’s akin to a slow-motion blow to the back of the head. Koja’s stories slither around the horror, creeping underneath the flesh and perception until she decides it’s time to reveal herself.
The sections are delineated as “At Home,” “Downtown,” “Over There,” and “Inside,” which gives a subtle indication of the themes that Koja explores in each story. The stories, although written several years apart, connect somehow in those sections and proceed to sharply deviate at the conclusion of each.
To pick a favorite is to choose a favorite fleeting thought or memory, mood, or emotion that still slithers into the soul with all of its shadows. There’s a sense that with each reread, a different tale will resonate stronger, with sharper barbs, while others retract for the moment.
Still, there are standouts that need to be highlighted here. “Coyote Pass,” “Eventide,” and “Road Trip” rise to the forefront on this day, leaving a trail of tiny scars as each page is turned. Yet “Pas De Deux” remains a story that sticks to this reviewers soul upon repeated reads. It’s something special that is both touching and taunting.
To describe each would bring Koja a major disservice as these stories often defy a simple explanation and can often be interpreted, should be interpreted by the reader at the moment that is resonating within.
A different sort of read but like much of Kathe Koja’s work, it will leave a pleasant stain. Recommended.