Stonefish: Not your basic horror novel

Stonefish by Scott R. Jones science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsStonefish by Scott R. Jones

Stonefish by Scott R. Jones science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews2020’s horror novel Stonefish by Scott R. Jones is not your basic horror novel. I tend to forget that, like every other genre, horror has an array of subgenres, styles, and tropes. Even so, it’s hard for me to “sum up” what kind of horror story Stonefish is. I’m settling for futuristic-dystopian-gnostic-phantasmagorical weird horror, with Sasquatch.

Climate change and leaps in high technology have created the everyday world of Den Secord, who writes things for his generation’s version of the internet. Secord has an editor so I’m calling him a journalist. (“Content-provider” might be more accurate.) Den lives in a plural community called a crèche. Social changes have been driven by the noönet, which lets people interact with each other’s minds and emotions directly, in a vast network. You might think that would bring out a sense of collective good, our innate altruism, and improve things — in this book, you’d be wrong. Secord’s acerbic male editor, a stand-in for old-fashioned cynical cigar-chomping editors beloved in fiction, mocks everything, but he especially mocks the noönet and the crèche lifestyle choice. Still, it’s how his publication makes a living, mining the “meme shoals” to see what gets the most “hits” and directing the content accordingly.

After explaining about a place called the Numpty, where the laws of physics don’t work (at least for humans), the editor sends Secord to track down the noted futurist and tech-guru Gregor Makarios, who might have opinions about it. Once stunningly high-profile, Makarios has disappeared from public view and vanished off the social grid, something nearly impossible to do. Secord’s assignment sends him to the drying, dying rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, and deep into the isolated wilderness, where he meets Makarios. There, Secord finds his understanding of the nature of reality inexorably shredding around him.

After a devastating injury strands Secord in the forest, Makarios saves him and brings him to Stonefish House, his strange compound. In short order Secord encounters extreme healing; home theaters; gourmet food; Little Dougie, an artificial intelligence that chooses the holographic form of a quasi-human male and masturbates constantly, and the nearly endless crazy monologues of Gregor Makarios.

Scott R. Jones

Scott R. Jones

If you’ve read or heard much about Gnosticism, you know about the archons,  the godlike beings who actually rule this reality. To Makarios, they are sadistic gods. At least, this is what Gregor Makarios believes. As Secord spends time with him, it becomes hard not to believe it too.

Den Secord, our viewpoint character, is a bit of a blank page, a passive observer from the very beginning. The centerpiece and work-of-art character in Stonefish is Makarios and his endless verbal pyrotechnics. While he’s with Gregor, Secord works as a faintly stunned audience because he’s a stand-in for us.

The archons are here now, Gregor says, torturing humans and twisting reality simply for fun, or some purpose of their own that we humans will never understand. This would sound like insanity to Secord if he hadn’t observed reality shifting before his very eyes. The sense of existential dread builds, until Secord encounters the archons in their Sasquatch form himself. While he’s a bit of a slow study at times (I mean, the food?) Secord is plausible as someone whose entire world view is under assault.

Makarios has come to a terrifying détente with the archons — or surrendered to them completely, I’m not sure which. Secord will face that same choice by the end of the book.

“Enjoyed” is not the word I reach for when I think about reading Stonefish. The world is bleak and sordid, and because this is horror, as the story continues it becomes clear that escape — conventional escape, at least — is not possible. As far as building a sense of helpless dread goes, Jones excels. Jones’s language is dense and symbolism is everywhere. The use of “crèche” for a polyamorous group is telling, since crèches care for children — it’s an infantilization. A scene early in the book with a set of totem poles resonates through the story. The stonefish itself is a symbol.

I found the text a little self-indulgent at times, but the story never lost its twisted momentum as it corkscrewed through fungi, forests, video games and layers of universes.

There were several times when I wanted to put the book down, but I couldn’t because I needed to know what happened next. Jones also nails it as a writer of the beautiful but strange, and the horribly, vividly concrete — like Secord’s accident in the forest and the description of the damage to his knee. Horror fans will love this. For me, while it wasn’t an easy read in any way, it was worth it for Jones’s vision and his amazing prose.  And I’ll probably never look at a frog again without a small shudder.

Published in 2020. A missing tech mogul… a jaded reporter… a damaged AI returned from a horrifying reality… and something lurking in the woods. When journalist Den Secord is tasked with locating enigmatic tech guru Gregor Makarios, he soon finds his understanding of reality under threat. At the edge of the world, surrounded by primeval forests, in the paradisaical environs of Gregor’s hi-tech hermitage, Den learns of the true nature of our Universe. This is the way the world ends. Heart of Darkness meets The Magus meets bleeding-edge psychedelic gnosticism in Stonefish, the debut novel from Scott R. Jones (When Stars Are RightShout Kill Revel Repeat)

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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