A Review of Francis Top’s Grand Design by Craig Rodgers, via Death Of Print
According to his publishers, Craig Rodgers is “a writer who doesn’t care about fads or schools, only words and stories” with several books to his name including The Ghost of Mile 43, One More Number, and Moonbeams. I first became aware of Rodgers when we ran “THE RAILS” back in March. I was quite taken with it. Concerning a young man’s visit to a trainyard and the terrifying tales he hears there, “The Rails” is as characteristic of Rodgers’ work as an individual piece in so varied an oeuvre can be; by turns hopeful and horrific. “The Rails,” as well as eleven other stories, has recently been collected in a new anthology of Rodgers’ work entitled Francis Top’s Grand Design from Death of Print.
Francis Top’s Grand Design represents the culmination of nearly two decades worth of work, with the earliest story dating back to 2007. Rodgers eschews a unifying theme in a brief preface to the collection, where he writes:
What is this book? It’s a set of stories, one after the other. It’s a collection, but it isn’t any one thing. It’s not horror, but if some night down the road you wake from a nightmare of something met herein, I would understand. It’s not mystery, but there are questions that will go unanswered. Is it literary? Pal, I don’t even know what that means.
Regardless, all the stories contained in this collection could be described with adjectives ending in -esque or -ian, as the cover blurbs readily attest–Kafka’s name receives equal billing with Rodgers’ own on the back flap. And, indeed, “The Weather Man” is Bradbury-esque, what with its focus on fantastical Americana; “Modern Romance” is Oates-ian in its elliptical obsessions and punchline ending; et cetera, et cetera. But to do so would be to unfairly reduce Rodgers’ immense skill as a storyteller to a mere constellation of influences. For while his stories do recall these earlier masters of the form, they are far from derivative. Any attempt to classify his work quickly devolves into tautology: Rodgers is Rodgers-ian. He is a true inheritor of the tradition.
Take, for instance, his story “Morning Stockton,” in which the protagonist, Howard, comes into possession of an eldritch grimoire that leads him to Stockton, a town that may or may not exist. “Morning Stockton” obviously borrows from the fiction of one Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, and John Carpenter, to the point one almost wonders if Rodgers’ semi-mythical Stockton doesn’t share a zip code with Dunwich, Mirocaw, and/or Hobb’s End. However, Rodgers expertly repurposes what could be tired tropes to deliver a wholly original, and wholly captivating, story. It is precisely this ability to work within a genre without resorting to pastiche or simple subversion that we are looking for at APOCALYPSE CONFIDENTIAL and we are proud to count Craig Rodgers among our contributors.
— Dawson Wohler is a fiction editor at APOCALYPSE CONFIDENTIAL