2017’s A Song for Quiet is the second volume in Cassandra Khaw’s Persons Non Grata series.
Blues musician Deacon James leaves his father’s funeral and discovers that he is being stalked by a persistent madman. Life in Jim-Crow-era America is already hard enough for a black musician; there’s no room for complications. Whatever the lunatic wants, Deacon wants no part of it.
What John Persons would like to do is save Deacon, but Persons’ communication skills could use some work.
Deacon can elude Persons. He cannot elude the eldritch tune in his head or his disturbing visions of audiences hideously transformed. Something has taken root in Deacon and if it hatches, the world is doomed.
Deacon escapes Persons with the help of a mysterious young woman named Ana. Like Deacon, Ana has a seed of something growing within her. Unlike Deacon, Ana knows what it is and what will happen to the world if the seed hatches: utter annihilation of reality.
Having seen what the future will bring, Ana is convinced preventing that future is worth the cost.
One could (and perhaps I will) write an entire essay on the recent phenomenon of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror being reworked to better purpose by authors of backgrounds Lovecraft would have denounced with horror and disgust. The image of Lovecraft expiring from outraged apoplexy is a pleasing one.
This is very early in Persons’ career as a detective, so the thing wearing the human meat suit is lamentably inept at playing human. To meet this version of Persons is to gain a deep personal understanding of the uncanny valley. His inability to avoid triggering fight or flight reactions keeps this book from being a short story (that, and the fact that Deacon, the black musician, didn’t get to his current age by trusting random white guys).
One notes that despite being in the same boat as Ana, Deacon is never convinced that the future is to be avoided. I suppose it depends on the relative weight one places on the goods and bad of existence. Khaw’s presentation of someone convinced by glimpses of the future that humans are sufficiently irredeemable as to warrant annihilating the universe may not be quite what you want to read as a particular election looms. On the other hand, the text appears to take Deacon’s side more than it does Ana’s.
(Persons for his part believes that apocalypse cannot be avoided … but it can be deferred and that’s good enough for now.)
Current events leave me not entirely in the mood for a story that is essentially an argument over whether humans are so intrinsically malevolent that the best option is feeding them to eldritch horrors from beyond the stars. That said, the tale is skillfully told so … if that’s the kind of thing you want to read right now, consider picking this up.