“A paralysis had seized them, that state of soul known to those who dwell on the highest state of madness, aristocrats of insanity whose nightmares confront them on either side of sleep.”
—from Thomas Ligotti’s THE TSALAL short story, available in his excellent collection NOCTUARY
I’ve spent an inordinate amount on collecting the work of Thomas Ligotti, and I’m not quite sure of it, his works, or even sure of him yet, as a writer.
His MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE, one of his later collection of stories, was just plain… endless. It was often tiresome, un-engaging writing that spiraled itself into ever tightening circles of disinterest. Luckily, I did not buy MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE, but had the good sense to rent from the Library.
While Nihilism is a state we all flirt with, particularly the artistic minded, to make of those fleeting moments a religion or a philosophy or a world view, is the height of maudlin, affected, self indulgent claptrap.
Particularly to invoke thousands of words to the belief in meaninglessness or the uselessness of everything or the need for everything to be exterminated, as Ligotti purportedly does in his non-fiction book THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE (and no I’m not about to read it, the snippets I’ve read are enough, when Ligotti is being maudlin I can’t make it through his short stories, much less his novel length attempt at philosophy) is the height of affectation and self-delusion.
If nothing means anything what the eff are you writing for?
Have the strength of your convictions and off yourself, or the more rational and preferred thing… embrace the fact that your convictions may need work, and life can be good as well as bad, and that’s reason enough… for everything.
So Ligotti, when he gets out of his own way, and doesn’t succumb to his own ennui, or believe too much in the precarious hype heaped on him by his overly ‘cultist’ fan base… can be a great writer (the only thing more detrimental to a writer than the critic who believes he can do no right, is the fan who believes he can do no wrong. The former at least would potentially embrace change, the latter, should your style change/mature, would hate you for ‘selling out’). Unfortunately in any given collection, he tends to be a .500 hitter.
However perusing his earlier collections there is much there to be enamored of, in that 50%.
SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER (1985,1989)
Songs of a Dead Dreamer
Grimscribe: His Lives and Works
THE AGONIZING RESURRECTION OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (1994 – On the low end copies of this are going for a few hundred dollars. Pretty expensive for a book of not even short stories, but snippets, vignettes. Save yourself money and buy SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER instead, as they share some of the same vignettes.)
The agonizing resurrection of Victor Frankenstein: & other gothic tales
THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY (1996- Collects the previous, at the time, out of print story collections).
The Nightmare Factory
[There were some CD chap books that were released in this period.]
MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE (2001)
THE SHADOW AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD (2005- With NIGHTMARE FACTORY being out of print, this is NIGHTMARE FACTORY light, being a smaller, less comprehensive collection, sampling of Ligotti’s previously published work. With a few new stories tossed in. This was my introduction to Ligotti, and considering I’m still talking about him, I guess it was a good one)
The Shadow at the Bottom of the World
TEATRO GROTTESCO (2006)- And as with previous volumes there’s very little new here, it’s mostly a repackaging of previously collected stories. However, because this is the newest, this is the most affordable collection out there, so makes a great starting place. Plus the Virgin Books edition that is available is very nicely laid out, readable interior, comfortable compact shape, and a cover that is a closeup on the face of a weathered, broken doll… which says everything you need it to say about the work within.
So I’m not sure the future is going to bring us anything substantially new from Ligotti, more than likely just ever more expensive repackaging of older stories. But it does mean you can pick up just about any volume and get a nice sampling of Ligotti’s work.
I think you’ll find, Ligotti at his best… worth your time.