I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.
And it is of a hardback book entitled the BFS Journal (Winter 2010) published by the British Fantasy Society. I shall only be real-time reviewing, in the order they are printed, the book’s stories and poems (although there are also contained within the book many reviews, articles, interviews etc).
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 real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
The stories and poems are in two sections: NEW HORIZONS Issue 6 (edited by Andrew Hook): here stories written by Adrian Faulkner, Erik T Johnson, Lori Barrett, Ian Sales, Joel Lane, Marc-Anthony Taylor, Visha N Sukdeo, John Tait, Travis Heerman, Robin Tompkins plus DARK HORIZONS Issue 57 (Editor: Sam Stone; Poetry Editor: Ian Hunter): here stories and poems written by Charles Christian, Robert Mammone, Len Saculla, Ed Shacklee, Carl Barker, Gary Kuyper, Sarah Dalton, Thomas Williams, Nadia Mook, ‘Mighty’ Joe Young.
Jetsam by Adrian Faulkner
“There was no time for any final words.”
An effectively written and poignant variation on the theme of dying as paralleled by a visit of a family to the seaside. Its skill is such that it positively affected me today as my wife and I are currently involved with periodically visiting an elderly relative in her last days or weeks…. Thanks. (21 Jan 11)
Water Buried by Erik T Johnson
“From those windows he could catch the first raindrop of a storm in a spoon, and snowflakes with almost anything.”
A perfect story, in my eyes. Continuing tellingly the variation on death theme of ‘Jetsam‘, here we have the flotsam from an initial intense claustrophobic vision radiating outwards to woods and clock-tower … a vision that one needs to piece together – and the prose begs out for several readings – each time harvesting more upon its tides of attic smells and the autonomous feedback of the text’s own props and a genuine sense of nothingness as somethingness (and vice versa). “boxes of not sure what that is” – “bottles of traces of nothing” – “sandalwood scent of not-the-attic.” Poignant and haunting. A privilege to read. (21 Jan 11 – another two hours later)
The Smell of Milk in the Morning by Lori Barrett
“The smell once again reminded her of the strange dream.”
I sense her name is an author to watch. I really do. This is very creepy. Very feminine horror, if that’s not a sexist thing to say. Picking up on the redolent smells and scents of the previous story, a wife who moves with her husband’s job, meticulously met by a ghost-real thing in the bath, is accosted by a story-ending here that is both shocking and surprising. I hope that is not a spoiler in itself to reveal that the ending is shocking and surprising. Or that ordinary things like supermarkets disguise the next set of initial letters we need to spin out time.
“‘I don’t think they use the the,’ she said.” (21 Jan 11 – another 3 hours later)
Barker by Ian Sales
“He’s good at not thinking,”
A change in gear – a speculative SF story taking place in, I guess, the new horizons of 1960s USA. Another variation on the dying process. A boxer is chosen to be launched into space as part of the race to beat the Russians for cosmic power…. A claustrophobic vision, this time in a punch-drunk comic-strip rocket. Real history and real names in retrocausality. To my hindsight surprise, I enjoyed it thoroughly as a lighter part of these movements in a dark symphony.
“Time’s been elastic…” (21 Jan 11 – another 2 hours later)
Incry by Joel Lane
“But echoes of the toilet box death kept recurring for me.”
In only 4 pages, this genuine Lane-like gem helps me piece together the book’s gestalt (in a similar way as I earlier pieced together ‘Water Buried’). The dark “atonal” symphony with pent-up screams released as a chorus. Boxes (even an earlier character called Box and, elsewhere, even a Boxer!). Attic or celllar or rocket or within-own-body claustrophobia. Things being “trapped“, waiting for release. So perfect genius to say ‘incry’ not ‘outcry’… We don’t want this book to create an outcry, so much as a thoughtful Horror vision that really stings us into some sort of consciousness of the trapped self, perhaps? A sadness that prepares us for happy release? Or any other expression one can think of to describe these elements in one’s own personality. However, this story may only be a way-station for a different gestalt to emerge when I read on in this book. I do not know as yet. (22 Jan 11)
Boxed In by Marc-Anthony Taylor
“It was another boy about the same age as me, I felt him settle into the back of my head.”
In this well-written, -characterised, -conceived and substantial SFtopia, we have a pimping trade in empathy-provision (my expression, not the story’s). A provision by bodily-occupation or mind-sharing, plus all the subtle synergies between. Empathy by ‘boxing’ that also, serendipitously, synergises with the previous ‘incry’ boxing described above. Giving a thrill for OCD dwellers as a rollercoaster in a non-OCD world. And it’s far more than that. Bravo! for this story. And Bravo! for the editorial gestalting so far (whether intentional or not) in the NEW HORIZONS section of this book.
[As an aside, and as some of you may know, I keep seeking a gestalt within all my real-time reviews. And HERE is a story I wrote many years ago entitled Gestalt - one that I hope is relevant in this context of Marc's wonderful story. It was once published in a small press mag (perhaps with a different title) in the 90s, but I've lost trace of it. Anyone help?] (22 Jan 11 – seven hours later)
[My use of the expression above, SFtopia, about Marc' s story seems to be a neologistic one. It seems to cover what I understand this story to be. .... Today, I think of the ghost-real visitor in Lori Barrett's story as a form of Marc's empathy-sharer - as I do thinking of the millions on Earth waiting for their voicemail representative from space who subsequently sizzles to death within their rocket-brains? - and the NEW HORIZONS Editor's own story 'Love is the Drug' published elsewhere ("What has to happen for perfection to no longer be enough?") in relation to Marc's 'safe' non-OCD rollercoaster ride for those bored with being OCDs?] (23 Jan 11)
The Last Resort by Visha N. Sukdeo
“The world was suffocatingly close yet too far away to touch. It was like living under a plastic wrap.”
A well-crafted suspenseful story as the female protagonist revisits the wild volcanic scene where her loved ones were once lost. This fits so neatly into the rest of the book so far, I am taken aback, but, equally, like the other stories, it stands on its own. Here the boxed or trapped ‘incry’ is within a ‘box’ about which I will not divulge the nature for fear of spoilers. And its sense of a rollercoaster ride away from boring ‘safeness’ as both a mixed pleasure and a grim regression towards pain as well as towards a similar sort of fulfilment presented in ‘Jetsam’. (23 Jan 11 – two hours later)
THE BRAVE MOLE and the Snake by John Tait
My interpolation from Mike Sarne: Come outside, come outside / There’s a lovely moon out there / Come outside, come outside /While we got time to spare / [...] / Come outside,(lay off) come outside (shove it) / There’s a lovely moon out there (you are a one) …
This is a two page Aesop-like fable with an oblique moral I’m still fathoming – the ultimate boxing – by oneself? It does contribute to the gestalt, I feel – see here (Wikipedic link) but don’t if you don’t want a spoiler! (23 Jan 11 – another 2 hours later)
BBC News Item: (24 January 2011 – last updated 1.02): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12253228 (24 Jan 11)
The Song by Travis Heermann – BFS Short Story Competition 2010 Runner-Up
“It went beyond despair to something else, somewhere else, where despair no longer mattered…”
An ostensibly straightforward story effectively conveying and culturally contextualising the rumbustious heroism and cut-throat wildness of samurai warfare – suddenly … cut-through – by a woman’s song, exquisitely threaded with her past – and the consequent softening of a samurai captain by such song’s hearing…. paralleling the rite-of-passage in “Jetsam“, the femininity of “The Smell of Milk in the Morning” as perceived via a man’s pent-up or trapped cruelty, enabling release? You will need to see.
The woman’s interpretable ‘box’ sent through space, as it were, like an ineffable human-projectile, towards “the arms of the gods and Buddhas.” The song was the essence of how I see the human ‘incry’, as tutored so far by the fiction in this book. And, thus, this story is potentially not straightforward at all, but supplied with depths that any depth-charged reader may fall into without warning. But also an enjoyably compulsive read, too, for those who keep themselves safe upon its surface. (24 Jan 11 – two hours later)
Omar, The Teller of Tales by Robin Tompkins – BFS Short Story Competition 2010 Winner
“She sang a wonderful song in the language of the birds.”
A beautiful Arabian Nights vision, stories within stories, even within a magic/fiction-proof iron cage tantamount to a ‘box’ … concupiscent, cannibalistic, potentially as well as actually cruel, hubris-nemesis of the Devs, and turning, as an audit trail of exquisite story-into-story events, towards the type of conceptual snake-image pre-figured in John Tait’s fable which in turn, almost as an earlier thematic pivot, now underpins the discovered gestalt of this NEW HORIZONS section, remaining to be seen whether it blends or competes with the DARK HORIZONS section’s gestalt yet to be read within what I anticipate becoming this book’s overall dark symphony of fictional and poetic movements. Meanwhile, this telling tale of Omar resonates in my mind with phrases such as “Free we are infinite, bound in glass we are time” and “the silence between words, more power than the words themselves.” (24 Jan 11 – another 5 hours later)
The Thirteen Days of Christmas - a poem by Charles Christian
I suspect I was meant to read this at Christmas, since the BFS Journal book, I believe, was intended for distribution at that time. This makes a real-time review more dangerous when it is reviewing what seems to be a real-time book! It is a mildly provocative skit upon the tradition of the 12 Days of Christmas with Horror images instead of a partridge etc. Fitting for the start of the DARK HORIZONS section with the Christmas star still invisibly hanging above such horizons everywhere in the firmament, perhaps, but now with a forgotten joy for the scratchers-at-the-edges-of-life that January brings into our souls. I keep my powder dry, in case this poem fits into some pattern or gestalt. At the moment, all I can imagine is the boxer in Ian Sales’ rocket attempting to sing Christmas Carols from a space that Einsteinian relativity bends out of kilter. (24 Jan 11 – another 4 hours later)
The Well by Robert Mammone
Depth of our Winter but hot because we’re here in Australia. Despite, for me, some clumsy expressions of language and some horror cliches and one or two typos, this enjoyable enough Pan Horror-type plot supplies a provocative ending where the well of nightmarish guilt and crime that I also recall from Stephen King’s ‘1922’ has its Australian waters muddied by a disturbing ending that still resonates in my mind and tantalises my understanding of it. Plus a fox in a hole. (24 Jan 11 – another 2 hours later)
Do You Believe a poem by Len Saculla
“Great Old Ones with pickled egg eyes,”
That’s just one line from this entrancing poem with that refrain expressed in its title – with, for me, its narrator-protagonist’s identity in the poem’s overall audit-trail deriving from that conceptual snake-image in ‘New Horizons’. A satisfying ending and generally a good egg, I’d say. As a wild aside, there was a mobile phone in Robert Mammone’s story and do you believe I’m listening to this poetic voice upon one, having woken me up with its trilling. (25 Jan 11)
Prey of the Lamia a poem by Ed Shacklee
“the Lamia, partly goddess, partly snake,”
The physical enjambement of this poem is like a snake, too! Its sssssemantics, too. And it echoes the ouroboros shape of the Saculla (plus poet as ‘you’ as potential victim)… Love it. (25 Jan 11 – an hour later)
Unexploded Girlfriends by Carl Barker
“…with my hands and legs shackled to the woodwork…”
This is a remarkable and substantial story. Well-written, sometimes in an accomplished, but pedestrian, prose (in a good way when describing unpedestrian events), sometimes melodramatic, sometimes absurd - neatly absurd particularly in its very satisfying ending. A story of torture, madness, Poe-like devices, a pier, and coming back ouroboros-like to where you began, via a version of King’s Misery. If you don’t like torture, you won’t like this. But, again, when you’ve read it all, I’m sure you will like it. A Fable with a Moral, like John Tait’s Mole and Snake: “I feel like a hapless mouse tied to the bottom of a grandfather clock, lured by the luxurious promise of cheese.” And it all takes place in Black-pool. And what is Mammone’s Well? Well, I leave you to read this remarkable, yet strangely pedestrian, strangely absurd, work. And God is there somewhere, too, and Satan… (25 Jan 11 – another 2 hours later)
Plight of Ray a poem by Gary Kuyper
“Terror forming terra forming“
A thoughtful, Bradburyesque SFpome – paralleling the catharsis in ‘Unexploded Girlfriends’ from “unspeakable acts” … up to a point. (25 Jan 11 – another 30 minutes later)
The Reluctant Dragon-Slayer by Sarah Dalton
An engaging story in itself – humorous, poignant, yet serious about human nature and the Beauty-and-the-Beast theme. Incredibly, for me, this serendipitously fits a current personal gestalt of mine more than the book’s. As if it were placed here just for me! I am still real-time reviewing at the moment ‘War With The Newts’ a SFtopia novel from 1936 by Karel Capek, one that also touches on the King Kong theme and a giant lizard… The accidental resonance is amazing. Thanks. (25 Jan 11 – another 2 hours later)
A Darkened Shade of Moonlight a poem by Thomas Williams
“Shadows writhe like coiled snakes”
I relished this antiquity-like verse, one including “gleaming scales” – incredibly tantamount to another Beauty and the Beast. Yet one more poem addressed to ‘you’ (here as ‘my child’) as the potential victim… (25 Jan 11 – another 30 minutes later)
Alone with the Dead a poem by Nadia Mook
A poem of despair, yet a subtle satisfaction (for me) that screaming is a necessary role in life to fulfil: neutralising death in some way. Or scaring death’s denizens away. Seems to fit in with various themes of the fiction and other poems in this book. Just a small cameo in its dark (sometimes light-filtered) symphony of words and images and narratives. (25 Jan 11 – another 20 minutes later)
An Interview with Rondoli by ‘Mighty’ Joe Young
“Days can sometimes snake in on you. All seems quiet at first, just like any other day until the coiling hissing son of a bitch wraps around you, crushing until the life is squeezed out of you…”
And that seems to contain more wisdom than a shelf-ful of philosophy books. A story of a serial-killer clown named Boingo – with absurd elements of Welsh placenames – and I suspect that the ‘you’ being addressed is another potential victim case that darkens each horizon of ‘you’….
I have a sort of evil clown in my novella ‘Weirdtongue'; I think it is the same one by another name. Sssssseriously, this entertaining story is yet one more standalone piece in a jigsaw, one that rounds off this book’s arresting fiction and poems in suitable style. Boingo – Box-in-you-go! Life as a snake. And circuses no doubt have iron cages… (25 Jan 11 – another hour later)