This horror / sci-fi novella is billed as a ‘dystopian’ tale, which suggests a bleak futurescape of social or technological woe. Instead, Crossfades uses movie-making language in a supernatural / paranormal setting, to describe the moment between life and death, where a few lost souls get stuck in imaginary worlds of their own making. So, naturally, there’s a team of Men In Black – these ones carefully trained in the art of meditation and in controlling their chi. This was my favourite part of the story: the intricacies of the set-up, the braindead ‘partner’ providing a bridge through whom the dead could murmur; the role of ‘control’ who anchors the operatives when they step into the dreams of the recently departed, the weird worlds of the unconscious. Inventive and intriguing, with echoes of ‘Inception’, this is a background it’d be interesting to explore in greater depth.
For me, however, the main plot of Crossfades was less fulfilling. A serial killer met the righteous end of his earthly existence, but he’s carrying on exactly where he left off in an appalling interpretation of an afterlife. He delights in the gleeful manipulation and torture of the confused souls of the freshly dead. Cue long descriptions of Awful Things, crawling and gibbering and bleeding and screaming. And so on. At great length. Around a half of the story is given over to the bad guy’s tower of festering torment… which, if you like reading about flayed souls and evil incarnate, may well do it for you. I prefer my menace to be a more suggestive and psychological, and a little less explicit and anatomical – not through squeamishness, but because there’s only so many pulsing livers being eaten from a living body you can endure before ennui sets in. (Compare the final season of Hannibal to the first – it’s the difference between explicit description which has its own natural limit, and the boundless power of understated psychological suggestion).
However, there’s plenty of opportunity left at the end of the story for author William Todd Rose to return to this reality and to explore the agency in more detail. A more complex plot; different agents; different religions; a link to mediums and parapsychology – there’s heaps of potential here. Far more than a fairly straightforward shlock-horror-movie story, so I hope Rose comes back to his creation with a more complex tale to tell.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Crossfades by William Todd Rose is available as an ebook