Aficionados of the very finest weird writing have long been aware that Robert Aickman is the ne plus ultra of the genre; his elegant and atmospheric stories leave most of his contemporaries and successors standing. For those who felt that they had collected all the essential Aickman in the recent Faber volumes, there is a particular pleasure to be had with this newest collection, containing material that was not included in the latter reprints. These less familiar tales have all the consummate skill at macabre writing that we associate with Aickman. The New York Review of Books has published Compulsory Games in an edition edited by Victoria Nelson, and Neil Gaiman’s encomium seems very a propos: ‘Reading Robert Aickman is like watching a magician work, and very often I’m not even sure what the trick was. All I know is that he did it beautifully.’
Aickman described his work as “strange” stories concerned with the “void behind the face of order.” They are utterly original and, despite the fact that Aickman’s work has long been confined to supernatural or fantasy bookshelves, adhere to none of the conventions of any genre. His expert application of the supernatural only heightens the already-unnerving elements of the stories, and always results in some state of disorder. To Aickman, a good story “must open a door, preferably where no one had previously noticed a door to exist; and, at the end, to leave it open, or possibly ajar.” These stories probe at the rational façade of reality, only to discover its dangerous—and unsettling—foundations.
Compulsory Games by Robert Aickman is published by The New York Review of Books