Mutator by Gary Fry and published by DarkFuse is a story of discovery, or finding things concealed in the darkness. James Parry a retired professor moves to a new home in the country along with his instinctive beagle Damian and discovers the idyll he craves after a life of hard work in academia. The house and bucolic surroundings offer all the peace and privacy he needs. But if Gary Fry’s story takes you to a peaceful Yorkshire village you know the walls of quiet solitude will be smashed soon enough.
Often I’ll mention how shorter work ends too quickly without giving enough space to explore its themes. Or I’ll say it extended slightly when a more abrupt conclusion would have reinforced the overall story. Here Gary Fry has paced Mutator with a precise eye. The reader is introduced to the action quickly while the mysteries of the cosmic creature are unraveled with a patient yearning like unwrapping the final chocolate on Boxing Day.
The professor’s quiet existence is disturbed when a hole appears in his lawn overnight. Inspecting the hollow anomaly James discovers a secreted room holding strange books and star maps. But these discoveries are overshadowed by a small silver sphere etched with with Rosetta defying hieroglyphics. While James examines this ancient cosmic craft a small wormlike creature with wings and spidery legs slithers out. This cosmic Pandora changes everything in the professor’s life and questions everything he believes about physical adaptation in nature.
Mutator examines how we react to our environment, how we adapt to the world we find ourselves in and the life we strive to develop. These questions are reflected in the paradigm shifting physiology of the winged insectoid that crawls from the sphere. When James is first introduced to his wealthy neighbour Barnes he has to look up as he’s on horseback, or rather Barnes looks down on the retired professor. This conflict of class is a theme that runs through the story reaching back to his unambitious parents and his journey from council house to country cottage. A life of continual adaptation.
As the creature grows and shrinks to suit its environment we see a silvered reflection in James. The deliberate broadening of his working-class accent when meeting Barnes, to his growth in education and academia. Are there things inside humans and even the planet we travel on that we’ll only find by digging holes in what we hold fast?
The terrors that follow in the wake and slime of the alien insect are executed with sharp writing designed to unnerve. These horrors weave between the revealed history of Lister, the previous owner of the cottage, from local rumours and the discovered books. There’s enough mystery and horror to satisfy anybody requiring a short but intelligent read.
Mutator is a story brimming with questions that feel as though they’re written on the edge of the world. If you look too closely you may fall into the stars and the horrors that lurk beyond this spinning rock we call home.
Gary Fry has been called a Lovecraftian writer a lot. I think it’s time we started saying this style is Fryesque as he’s made it uniquely his own. Mutator is another example of why Gary Fry’s name is rising among the stars he fills with horrors.