To Wake the Dead by Ramsey Campbell

David Lloyd

To Wake the Dead originally appeared in Dark Horizons 20 published by the British Fantasy Society. Personal note-Our occasional reader, Malcolm Mills from the podcast, is the one who originally pushed Campbell onto me and I’m so glad he did. One of the things that stands out to me the most in Campbell’s writing is his choice of voice. He shows us the people of society we’d rather walk past on the street or ignore on the train. The characters head we get to travel in during the course of the story may not always be reliable or it may leave you feeling grimy but it’s always a damn good ride.

In addition to being a damn fine writer Campbell and his wife were good friends with Wagner on a personal level. Both have bittersweet remembrances collected in Exorcisms and Ecstasies. But as Wagner points out Campbell had been included in almost every Year’s Best so far by three separate editors so it was not nepotism that got him into this collection.

To Wake the Dead is a planchett/divination tale. The story is actually the opening to a novel called either To Wake the Dead in North America or The Parasite in England. A young unnamed girl joins a group of teenagers as they break into a local empty house to try and communicate with the spirits suspected to be there. What started as a joke turns terrifyingly real. If this story is any indicator for the rest of the book it’s going to be the next Campbell I read.

Campbell’s most effective part in this story is the sense of Doom that pervades the entire piece. Right at the start we are alienated from the protagonist. She is only referred to as ‘her’ or ‘the younger girl’. She is only a gender, and a person in contrast, to all the others who are given names; Wendy, Richard, Ken. Even the spirit is assumed to have a name, Mr. Allen. This absence of name subtly makes the protagonist feel less than the others, powerless, and expendable. Through the course of the story she’s constantly looking for ways out of the situation, but instead of taking any actions she lets the opportunity pass and just questions why she or the others aren’t doing anything. In the older sense of the word it felt ‘weird’ like she was on a track of fate to her destiny. This story was great, so far we’ve had two winners right out of the gate. So far so good Mr. Wagner.

I’ll be taking tomorrow off from the blog so I can post episode two of our coverage of .220 Swift so be sure to look out for that.

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