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The most terrifying horror stories are the ones placed in worlds like our own: the ones we realize could very well happen to us. Brian Evenson’s The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell (Coffee House Press, 2021) blurs the line between reality and fantasy. He skillfully combines eerily realistic features of humanity and sci-fi elements to evoke feelings of the uncanny. In stories embedded with poison clouds and sentient prosthetic legs, Evenson draws on very real fears about climate change and artificial intelligence, reminding the reader that this fantastical future he creates is not far from what our real world could become. The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell is Brian Evenson’s most recent published collection and comes at a time when fear is running rampant. His collection of stories acts as a sort of prophecy—warning readers that if we continue on the way we are, eventually humanity will fall. Whether the title means “where” we’ll fall, or what the planet might eventually look like if we don’t course correct soon, is up to the reader to decide.
Evenson’s collection of short stories features many different settings and characters. However, most stories take place in ravaged dystopian worlds that parallel the world we live in today. Due to the nature of the short stories, they offer minimal exposition. However, this is not a loss for us. The characters are not entirely fleshed out, but as readers, we feel a bond with them because our current fears of the future are unfolding before them in their present. This shared fear connects us, often terribly. We feel as scrambled and lost as Evenson’s characters: we’re all just fighting to survive.
One of my favorite short stories in the collection is “Curator.” It features an archivist who, rather than documenting humanity, decides to destroy all evidence that humanity ever existed. As a toxic mist overwhelms her position, her choice in her final moments alive is to not to “curate” humanity, but to destroy the archive in her care. “Here is how monstrous humans are… humans are what they did to this world, their home. Here is why, once humans are extinct, they should never be brought back to life.” Evenson’s thoughts are clear: we are all a part of our mutual destruction. “Curator” clearly alludes to our current climate crisis, and our own ignorance as we continue to put off acting on scientific data. Evenson creates these very real scenarios as a warning and makes readers consider what role we play in our own impending doom.
While The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell is certainly well-written, it is not for the faint of heart. For those who like horror, this is the book for you. Coming face to face with a possible reality of our own world is uncomfortable, to say the least. Evenson creates fantasy worlds that challenge us, rather than to find escapism in. A piece of advice: this collection is best enjoyed in pieces, rather than consuming it all at once. Otherwise, the continuous feelings of dread, hopelessness, and fear are overwhelming. Still, persevering is worth it. The collection addresses real-world issues that should be discussed. Although Evenson writes about the fantastical, the poison clouds in “Curator” allude to pollution and the results of nuclear war. The science-fiction world in “To Breathe the Air” reflects a political world that separates the elite from its subjugated peoples. “In Dreams” captures the fear that, as technology advances, we will be at its mercy. Discomfort is exactly what Brian Evenson wants us to feel, and he does a wonderful job of making us feel each descending step as we make our excruciating descent into hell with each page.
Each of Evenson’s stories ends with a choice whose consequences remain unclear. This is a particularly important feature of The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell because it sets it apart from other collections and novels. Had Evenson included the results of his character’s choices, he’d likely take us another path into a novel. Instead, he gives the readers the chance to reflect and consider what might happen next—a reminder to the reader that the fate of humanity lies in whatever choices we make now. Evenson prods readers to see how unnerving these potential realities are and gives us the chance to decide what happens next in the stories we’re making in the present, and hopefully the impetus to right our wrongs. His work offers us this lesson: we ought not soon forget it.
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