In the hyper-kinetic world we find ourselves living in, hardly anything is original or unique. With every simple outing, we are bombarded with a mosaic of styles and of formerly popular fads. This fusion of styles has seeped into all of culture’s popular mediums; from music to film, from television to social media, having a voice means inherently having many former voices all rolled into one. It’s both exhausting and revelatory because no rules apply. This new paradigm is what is prominently used to great success in Aaron Black’s novella “Under the Shadow of Madness.”
Set in the exotic locale of Egypt in 1920, the plot has undertones of post WWI newfound peace. The plot further contains elements of the theme of alliance, the generally deemed formal ending of the war itself. Sentiments of hope and confederacy are catalysts to the novella’s collusion of horror, comedy and adventure.
The tale itself is replete with the most popular characters types of the genres the author employs. An abject English playboy, a bombshell who is unafraid to carry a gun anywhere she goes, and the ever-present Mad Doctor (who just happens to be German) comprise the characters that drive the story forward. Filled with just the perfect amount of stereotypical traits, each of these characters assist in forming a whole plot that attempts to close all holes that may have been created as the story proceeds.
Roger Whistbury, aforementioned befallen playboy, travels to the US to start a new life, despite the controversial events that precipitated his departure from England. It is on this journey to a new place that he meets a mysterious woman, Clara, who has many secrets of her own. Their first few interactions are terse and stilted – indicative of their later interactions as the plot kicks into full swing. Once they make the acquaintance of the zany Doctor Sturm, the reader becomes exposed to a true roller coaster ride of events. Similar to the familiar hi-jinx of the films “Romancing the Stone” and even, to a certain extent “Indiana Jones,” “Under the Shadow of Madness” carves its own niche into the mash up genre. Black’s tendency to borrow the most exciting parts of formerly popular genres demonstrates his ability to cohesively formulate a story out of many parts. Interesting and unique. “Under the Shadow of Madness” was a joy to read, and without being too lengthy, a succinct rendering of the post-modern age.