"Noctuidae" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by King Shot Press
Written by Scott Nicolay
2016, 108 pages, Fiction
Released on March 11th, 2016
Scott Nicolay’s Noctuidae packs a lot of great elements, but its brevity and frenetic pace make it easy to miss some of them. The narrative kicks off with something akin to an adventure tale with a touch of tension, but quickly turns into a bizarre story propelled by dialogue that looks at human nature under duress and features one of the most memorable monsters in recent history. When you throw in the type of ending that sticks with you long after the last page has been turned and the fact that Nicolay is a very talented storyteller who seems to possess the ability to construct stories that are naturally lean and violently quick, the result is a short narrative that demands to be read and shows the author is doing his own thing and producing outstanding work that’s on the fringes of contemporary horror fiction.
Sue-Min thought she was going on a hike with her lover Ron, but things started going downhill the second Paul, Ron’s obnoxious friend, decided to tag along. The trio head to an Arizona canyon and start the tense, somewhat uncomfortable trip, which kicks off with a strange encounter with some weird farmers who push them off course. Paul is a pain and Sue-Min knows he’s not to be trusted. That feeling is multiplied the second Ron goes missing. Far from civilization, worried about the missing hiker, and with no way to call for help, the two remaining hikers find themselves trapped in a shallow cave. They are suspicious of each other, but soon the biggest worry for them becomes a moving thing right outside the cave. The organic entity is impossible to understand, and it might be responsible for Ron’s disappearance. Surviving until sunrise is the only option, but first they have to spend the rest of the night very close to each other and to a monster neither of them can begin to understand.
Noctuidae is one of those narratives that would have been a mess in less capable hands because the unknown threat is both visible and unidentifiable and because the two characters who are there for most of the action don’t get along. Instead, Nicolay takes tension to a new level, creates a unique threat that’s at once entirely new and somewhat familiar, and uses dialogue in a way that makes this novella something they should be teaching those who want to learn about how to use dialogue effectively. The microcosm of the cave is the perfect space to place to fearful, worried characters and forces a sense of claustrophobia because, even looking at the open space of the cave’s entrance, there is no way out.
What Nicolay accomplishes with two characters moving around in the dark and talking to each other through clenched teeth cannot be stressed enough. Noctuidae is 108 pages that demand to be read in a single sitting, but there is enough tension in its pages to fill three novels. Distrust is a serious issue, especially when it is based on someone’s actions, but when you mix it with physical and psychological fear, uncertainty, and the possibility of death, the result is an explosive novella that’s full of classic elements while also pushing into new territory.
Anxiety and primal fear, the kind that pushes everything away and replaces it with the need to survive, are the fuel that keeps this novella moving forward at a frenetic speed. Survival horror is popular and thus a subgenre that’s packed with mediocrity, but Nicolay does it in a way that makes it a superb addition to the scene. It also shows that King Shot Press is willing to go in new directions as long as the writing is top notch. Noctuidae is a must read for fans of weird horror and those who appreciate it when genre dips its very entertaining toes in literary fiction.