The Year Under the Machine, by Swedish author Peter Danielsson, occupies a place somewhere between art book, artist’s book, and illustrated novel. Story-wise, it is a sci-fi / horror novel told in brief chapters, which are often minimalist to the point that they border on poetry.

The book relates a year-long visitation by a vast alien structure which fills the sky, which soon begins taking people via a nightmarish process of infection and transportation. As the titular “year” progresses, a sense of the inevitable begins to take hold, with some victims even sensing their impending disappearance in a feeling akin to the discharge of energy that precedes a lightning-strike:

He’s still running, numb legs pounding the concrete. The world spins around him, he almost loses his balance, but he forces himself to keep going. In the middle of a final lurching step, he is gone.

The brief chapters alternate with black-and-white paintings, which convey dynamism and motion, often along vertical axes, using dense, paint-heavy brushstrokes. While each painting can be taken as a semi-abstract illustration of the chapter preceding it, they have a broadly abstract style that conveys a greater and more frightening ambiguity, and in their juxtaposition with the text create a feedback loop of dread, greater than either text or image alone could convey.

The chapters themselves, despite being a scant few paragraphs at their longest, are prominently numbered; as the story nears its end, the significance of their numbering becomes clearer. The foretold year has run its course, leaving only a void of meaning as its legacy to the survivors.

Overall, The Year Under the Machine is a singular work that builds dread chapter by chapter. Without any of the familiar signifiers that frame most texts—preface, notes, acknowledgements, nor coda—the same ambiguity the characters feel is extended to the reader, with an ending that hints at a sort of resolution accompanied by a greater, unspoken horror.

The Year Under the Machine
By Peter Danielsson
Hardcover / 110 pages / $25