I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A paperback book I received yesterday as part of my membership subscription to the BFS.
British Fantasy Society Journal – Spring 2012
Published by the BFS
Editors: Lou Morgan, Guy Adams, Ian Hunter
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
As is common with all my real-time reviews, I shall only be reviewing the fiction and poetry. There is much else in this book I anticipate enjoying. My previous real-time review of a BFS publication: BFS Journal (Winter 2010).
The authors as they appear in the Journal: Jonathan Oliver, Zoe Elizabeth Barrett, Kelda Crich, Neil Fulwood, Rhys Hughes, David Glen Larson, Grant Quimper, Marie O’Regan, John DesPlaines, Fiona Moore, Allen Ashley, Garry Kilworth.
don’t you like the bird man? – Jonathan Oliver
“At the convention the two of them had picked up several awards for A Murder of Crows and now they were at Midtown Comics, drinking complimentary booze and meeting the fans.”
A story worthy of the legendary long-running 1990s magazine: ‘A Nasty Piece of Work’ – in plain prose an exercise in extrapolating from the creativity of seamlessly blending art and story: that, then, here, blends further into real life: a story of a monstrous bird man, and the writer’s wife’s regression to abuse in her childhood. Honestly nasty, but leaving a thoughtful aftertaste regarding life’s hidden motives and waking undercurrents deriving from sometimes meaningless, sometimes meaningful nightmares. [I became muddled about section breaks when coupled with page breaks on at least two occasions and I also spotted a loose comma. Having already riffled through the rest of the book, I noticed that the 'don't you like the birdman' title is shown on the second page of the Rhys Hughes story.] (29 Apr 12 – 9.20 am bst)
morningmares (poem) - Zoë Elizabeth Barrett
“in darkness, deep as death,”
Graceful horror lines that seem the perfect coda to the previous story: inasmuch as haunting by day blends with hunting by night: those waking dreams from nightmares being factored into real life…and vice versa. (29 Apr 12 – 9.35 am bst)
shadow whisperer at black hole hotel (poem) – Kelda Crich
“Don’t look into ink-space face.”
A woman born from the actual paper text’s dark enjambement: from TS Eliot, Bob Dylan, with a touch of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel? And, thankfully, more I can’t quite pin down. Sinewy – and good. Wouldn’t work psychologically as well in ebook format, I feel. ['Add you life' --> 'Add your life'?] (29 Apr 12 – 12.25 pm bst)
the call of chavthulu – Neil Fulwood
Sorry, I’ve tried to read this but – probably due to my own shortcomings – I cannot read pages and pages of a story in such mock-dialect. I just can’t do it. It may be brilliant should one be able to get past that hurdle. (29 Apr 12 – 12.55 pm)
jenny khan – Rhys Hughes
“‘When I go to Parliament,’ said Jenny, ‘I’ll abolish clouds. And I’ll live on cakes and peanuts! And when I’m full, I’ll jump up and down until I’m sick and start eating again!‘”
The older I get, the odder. But never as creatively and constructively and dyslogically odd as Rhys Hughes or, at least, Rhys Hughes’ work. This is genuinely one of his greater pieces (and quite different from, if the same as, most of the other works I’ve read of his); good job! It takes up about 30 pages of this Journal. Worth every page. It starts off with Jenny as a wonderful new take on Jane Turpin (by Evadne Price), a young girl version of Richmal Crompton’s ‘Just William’, but better. And it evolves into a major satiric, Lewis-Carrollian ironic-fantasy: absurdist, hootingly funny, with at least half serious undercurrents about Parliament and voting, and power, and monarchy, and the Middle Class, and Machiavelli: with so many wonderful new Rhys-Hughesian conceits: eg: Alky / Alchemist, Jingo /Bingo, buying years for the amount of their numerical ‘name’: with all manner of larger-than-life characters and references like the one to the Guy who tried to blow up Parliament: and Whovian statue-blinks, Whovian mayhem in Westminster, slime things underground etc. Even a version of Facebook for Dictators. And much much more. The prose is plain and short-paragraphed (not usually to my taste), but the ideas scintillate. And it’s thought-provoking, too, if you have any thoughts to be provoked. It even has childish conceits, to go with the more clever ones, like not finding any kangaroos in a kangaroo court. And the ending is not bathetic. It’s almost touching. (29 Apr 12 – 3.05 pm bst)
As for the book’s gestalt, the ‘Jenny Khan’ absurdist syndrome is perhaps, inadvertently, a subtle symbol of the woman about to emerge from the Crich poem and feistily resisting any girl’s ‘abuse’ backstory touched upon by the Oliver story. The politically correct incorrectness of Hughes’ quantatative teasing. (29 Apr 12 - 3.20 pm bst)
doorways (poem) – David Glen Larson
“But he being me didn’t know.”
What I call a plainstyle poem, yet skilfully carrying a metaphysical punch – derived from the ‘Dark Tower’ doorways between universes – with an interesting twist.
Further book credits: Design: Cavan Scott – Cover Illustration: Chris Roberts (30 Apr 12 – 8.20 am bst)
mother’s boy – Grant Quimper
“His hand fell onto the wooden grip of a carving knife and he paused for moment to enjoy the soft feel of the handle on his fingers.”
A striking vignette, starting, at relative length, with almost an ‘anti-novel’ precision of descriptive tactility in the making of a cup of tea and other kitchen activities: for example the quote above, where the softness of the fingers are deftly transposed psychologically to the hard handle. He makes the tea, thus, while listening to the screams of his mother before going off to help her. And ending with a “Nasty Piece of Work” slaughter in a Swiftian ‘Modest Proposal’ mode, the carving knife left for the source of the brood… Effectively sick.
[I wonder whether it is worth my while continuing to seek a gestalt in this book's fiction / poetry, as is my wont heretofore in real-time reviewing. I think this is the first time where I'm processing works scattered about a book rather than grouped together. In my similar regular real-time reviews, i.e. of Black Static, Interzone, Theaker's Quarterly Fiction, BFS Journal: Winter 2010 etc, the fiction is grouped together whereby the gestalt can seep from one to the other, unlike here. That's not a criticism, of course, but an observation. Or it may be simply an excuse from me for struggling here to find the usual, almost 'occult', gestalt that has always emerged with sweet synchronicity when processing discrete items of fiction that had been deliberately grouped together edge to edge! ] (30 Apr 12 – 3.15 pm bst)
listen – Marie O’Regan
“‘Then came the wind,’ he said, and the children instinctively moved closer together as the room seemed to fill with whispers borne on the breeze,”
[On reflection, maybe the book's fiction gestalt was destroyed by my omission of an earlier story -] … yet here I seem to be back on some sort of serendipitous course, with Storyteller O’Regan’s Storyteller starting to tell his story about the wind [I am currently reading Stephen King's new book 'The Wind through the Keyhole' and the latest homework task for our local writers' group has to have the title "The Wind Whispers" -] and here the children gather around O’Regan’s Storyteller, abandoned in all good faith to this ‘enjoyment’ by their parents in the library. The children’s good faith, too, to listen – to suspend disbelief. One boy in particular grows more and more discomforted by the tenor of the story as if he is the only one present to spot the evil Pied Piper disguised as the Storyteller. A sudden change of point-of-view to the Storyteller then discomforted me - until I realised this was a skilful way to convey the fact that Story now faced Story in some battle: in a world that needs evil so as to create the good by contrast with that evil. The prose is satisfyingly dense, longish-paragraphed: yet it slides easily through the ‘assumed’ reading-ears carrying the transcendent story deeper and deeper into you - with toing and froing – and later the subtle influence of other horror figures but upon whose side they fight is uncertain. Very effective story indeed reaching an ending that is at first inscrutable – but, on reflection, I think I know what it tells about a child’s life, the future dangers any child faces and the people whom to suspect or whom to depend upon. Very powerful and poignant climax, by innuendo: a final teasing hug for the reader before you depart the layers of storytelling. Listen and thou shalt hear. (30 Apr 12 – 8.20 pm bst)
the wheel of whumpus (poem) – John DesPlaines
“For inscribed there…are the names of every bad boy and girl”
I think this is a gem of a new old-fashioned nursery-rhyme with a “morality-compass” message threading the near-nonsense verse. It means more than it says and resonates with the girls and boys in the audience of the previous story. Back on track-o with a perpetuo mot-o. (1 May 12 – 7.55 am bst)
the kindly race – Fiona Moore
“‘Isn’t that the guy who directed Death in Venice last May?’ she asked.”
An engaging, poignant, well-written, humorous, slightly SF RomCom: with a well-characterised friendship – stretching over many of the years of our recent past - of a lesbian woman and a gay guy who are involved with artistic projects (collective drama etc) many of which are all Greek to me. Deals with exploitation of self and others: dealing with ends and means: immortality and Ishiguro-type clones, sexual politics, business ethics. Loved it. Like ‘the wheel of whumpus’, a morality-compass. Like the audience and storyteller in ’listen’, the gullibility of “longevity, not youthening“: and a superb ending that reminded me of a side-show climax of a Freaks film: factored into by an earlier telling reference (hidden in the text) to the poem ‘Tithonus’ by Tennyson that I’ve just re-read. I’m off to get my Greek haircut now. (1 May 12 – 9.30 am bst)
faerie mails – Allen Ashley
“I have read you over the ether and I know we can connect.”
A wittily dotty series of phishing spam emails that remind me of Ramsey Campbell’s instigated real-time thread ‘Amazing Rubbish’ here and some of the devices in his book ‘The Grin of the Dark’. Also resonates with the phishing promise of immortality and its implicit traps from the previous story. Just fill in the dots. Rumpelstiltskin had a thing about Greek haircuts, too, I guess. All upon the weirdmonger ‘wheel of whumpus’ that is the internet. (1 May 12 – 10.00 am bst)
the fabulous beast – Garry Kilworth
“It seemed as if the edges were melding together, [...] …texts on the hides. I studied the edges of the scrolls and found their rippling hems locked together like pieces of a jigsaw.”
OMG, I think this is my Holy Grail of a gestalt in all my years of real-time reviewing. Why did I mention ‘edges’ of stories through which they seep together earlier in this review? Here this concept reaches something I did not expect when I said that: something so uncanny for me, I think there is a tadness of ’occult’ about this process, after all! Taken on its own, this Kilworth story is a genuinely original mad scientist story, touching on gaia undercurnents worthy of Algernon Blackwood (cf The Centaur) and the ‘workshop of filthy creation’ in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. On top of that discreteness as a compelling story in or out of this book’s context, ’fabulous beast’ echoes the immortality theme of the Moore (even explicitly mentioning a ‘freak circus’ in the Kilworth), the ‘birth’ of those autonomous creatures in the O’Regan, and the destruction of the ‘brood‘ in the Quimper: and the emergence of the bird man in the Oliver, ‘the wheel of whompus’ now spinning so hard it brings into explicit being, here in the Kilworth, the very Parthenogenesis theme with which I was obsessed when I started the ‘parthenogenetic fiction’ (and ‘late-labelling’) with ’Nemonymous’ (cf: for example, ‘Sexy Beast’ by Tony Mileman in issue 4 (2004)). And the “Zoo” mentioned here echoes Cern Zoo….
This is a brilliant mixed bag of fictions and poems. Tantalisingly unified as well as a variety of styles and subjects. Whether editorially intentional or not to create this effect, I am awestruck. And apologies again to Neil Fulwood. Who knows what his story may have factored into the edgy melting-pot. (1 May 12 – 11.00 am)