NULL IMMORTALIS: Editor’s commentary (real-time review) continued from HERE
Strings Attached by Gary Fry
“Something about the way they’d just been observing one another, as if something mysterious and not altogether honest had just leapt between their communicating gazes…”
…a quotation reminiscent – during some property negotiation in this story – of the estate agent’s telepathy in ‘The Scream’ but here a prelude – amid didactic local government corruption in an evocatively described seaside resort – to the middle-aged protagonist’s slowly emerging dark regression to being abused as a child … with Ligottian clowns and puppets – and Ramsey-Campbellian ambience of shapes and shadows – and not just hanging like a puppet, but also hanging like a suicide…
This is meticulously honed prose in effective contrast to the previous story’s constructive naivety of style…
Here we have memory disguised as dream and vice versa, the soul’s most angst-ridden Venn Diagram of them all. (3 Aug 10 – another 3 hours later)
I am rarely disappointed by a Gary Fry story – one of my staple favourites in Weird Literature. Meanwhile, it is with great pleasure I next publish a story by someone I understand to be a new writer – surely a name to watch judging by this cracking fiction:-
Oblivion by Derek John
From the strung-up puppets we just read about we have here at the beginning of this story the most striking ‘hanging’ scene I think I have ever read, including: “And now here I am, trapped six feet off the ground like an abandoned marionette…”
This story will be loved by all MR James fans – with a tinge of Algernon Blackwood mysticism – giving a new slant on Immortality and the meaning of the phrase ‘Null Immortalis’ together with an ingenious (historically real?) conflation of ages and dates on gravestone inscriptions. Just an aside: I wonder if the climax was due to the Asbos he earlier irritated…? (4 Aug 10)
Troot by Margaret B. Simon
“I lie down inside of the swastika.”
I shout out my equivalent to ‘Wow!’ every time I re-read this short exquisite gem. But louder on each reading. No amount of real-time reviewing can give sufficient time to it or to its sense as the central Troot of the book in which you are reading it.
Just a couple of comparison asides among many potential such asides: compare Munch’s ‘The Scream’ in ‘The Scream’ and “spread herself out making a faint angel with her arms and legs […] lying still and despondent inside the wings of her angel” from ‘The Shell’.
But the Troot remains here, beyond Oblivion, at the physical centre of the book. Albeit Escherine. (4 Aug 10 – an hour later)
A Matter of Degree by Mike Chinn
“Whichever it was, Scott Tullis knew it had finally arrived: his time in the spotlight, his moment to strut and sweat on the world’s stage. The defining seconds that ensured he would live forever. Immortality, of a sort.”
A compulsive read: a story of one of those dare-devils for personal adrenaline and/or fame that jump from buildings or climb dangerous structures or ride on the top of tube trains … and it is a clever suspenseful Venn Dream or Diagram whereby immortality and fame are placed like transparent maps on top of each other (giving us at last Null Immortalis itself?). The protagonist’s climb also plays well with being spreadeagled upon a swastika or an angel… and the Strings Attached of “someone in the council was taking juicy backhanders from the builders.” A story that originally just seemed right for this book at the time without realising exactly why. On later re-reads, I am much clearer as to why I included it, not least of which is that it grows on you as a stand-alone story as well as being an intrinsic part of the tapestry of fiction that surrounds it. (4 Aug 10 – another 3 hours later).
Only Enuma Elish by Richard Gavin
” ‘You can never have too many things to read,’ was her retort. ‘One day I’ll find time to read them, but I always find myself drawn to the same books over and over again.’ “
Just before re-reading this story for this commentary, I found it the optimum moment to mow my scrubby lawn of the spikier weeds in this dry summer here on the Tendring Peninsula. That I have done and re-read the story and been reminded of it with some surprising synchronous joy! It is a story of ‘routine’ people – people who are quite opposite to the dare-devil protagonist in the previous story – but a story with consequences of an immortality/fame Venn that is cosmically beyond the normal scope of we mere mortals. I won’t create a spoiler by telling you why. But also don’t forget the twins in ‘Violette Doranges’ and give yourself some mystical / religious arousals not dissimilar to that in ‘Oblivion‘ but on a much larger scale. Much! A very thought-provoking tale is this Gavinostic gem. (4 Aug 10 – another 3.5 hours later)
Icarus Above… by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
“Megazanthus’ book. Verses of flame. Doors and victories, the language of the birds. Steal the power of the hungry wind.”
This, for me, is a prose poem of power, one that draws even more power from the forces let loose at the end of the previous story. And by simply being in this book returns that power retrocausally to that story: a symbiosis or synergy that simply has to be read to be believed. It is also a prose poem that durably stands alone (at times staccato, at others flowing sweetly – like Icarus himself?) but also gives at least an oblique rationale for the vandalism that Megazanthus perpetrated on its own commissioned cover. It is also remarkably poignant regarding a father-and-son’s ‘Only Connect’ relationship. Venn as palimpsest: see-through laminations of soul (my expressions, not the prose poem’s).
“The null in his father’s eyes.” (4 Aug 10 – another hour later)
You Have Nothing To Fear by Reggie Oliver
The title is the essence of Ligottianism. This story is a substantial story – like Lucien’s Menagerie – and may be considered as a lost leader. But, no, it is the essence of Nemonymity and Null Immortalis; it needs to be read deeply as well as shallowly. It conveys much with great character studies, the slippage of personality through folly, the uncanny infiltration by celebrity, a satire as well as a horror about solitary existence in attempts to rescue any relationships from a Jungian nightmare that is us. A Warholian wellhole. English Society in an angst of autumn leaves plastered against the wind-screen. Bloody Ada.
“Did you notice how her face suddenly comes alive when she’s frightened?” (4 Aug 10 – another 3 hours later)
Holesale by Rachel Kendall
“Also it gave him an audience, something he thrived on.”
Wholesale lost its W. No worries.
I fully recognise this brilliantly conveyed Market Day atmosphere (meat suits or not) – it seems like Essex where I live (although the story says it’s Manchester). And a wide boy selling portable black holes as rubbish bins. This story is worth more than just recounting its … plop! (4 Aug 10 – another 2 hours later)
“Fire” by Roy Gray
“…but that reprieve didn’t last.”
This is overlapping in instantaneous retrocausality.
Actually, it’s a very clever vignette Venn.
I winced at various points, and the wincing gets worse the more you read it. No mean feat. I don’t say this lightly, but it’s probably the most frightening thing I’ve ever read, when I think about it…
[Re-reading the ending of this story, I’m surprised that nobody has yet entered the free prize competition at the seventh comment HERE]. (4 Aug 10 – another hour later)
Broom People by Cameron Pierce
“Fire! Fire! Fire!”
This is a bizarrely horrific story you won’t forget. Well, at least, I hope it is bizarre. Because it being bizarre excludes the possibility of belief. Or is it bizarre to think that you can protect yourself in this way against fearful belief? A story that combines the ‘shrunkenness’ of earlier stories with the overlapping (by mirror or dream sickness) of the self – here a separated part of the male protagonist’s body becoming him in simultaneous existence with his ‘real’ self still within the remainder of his body as the same him. The cry of ‘Fire!’ being that retrocausal overlapping set up by the previous story. I think this book is now going crazy. Or this book is becoming less crazy while masquerading as another part of me that recognises its craziness as something separate from ‘me’?
” ‘Better make it infinity. Now lie down on the floor and cross your arms like a dead person.’ “ (5 Aug 10)
[The wind needed for the windfarm still sweeps in from Enuma Elish and Icarus across the North Sea bringing rain towards Germany…].
The Toymaker of Bremen by Stephen Bacon
“He watched himself in the mirror as he dressed.”
I don’t say this lightly – nor do I intimate imitation, because this story is intrinsically its own story through and through – but ‘The Toymaker of Bremen’ would be a worthy addition to the Aickman canon of stories if it had been written by Aickman. I once said (HERE) that Ligotti fiction = Humanity becoming various Metaphors – while Aickman fiction = Various Metaphors becoming Humanity. And this tale of an English family in Germany (in 1938, with all the story’s growing ‘troot’ in the context of that era), the boy Scot Tullis (the ‘t’ in his name erased?) being lost during a rainstorm after his parents’ car broke down and them vanishing – and him finding himself in the Toymaker’s house with the Toymaker’s children (seven or eight children, I’m still not entirely sure – one of them already erased?)… Well, read it. It is a classic ghost story, I believe, one that not only stands alone but also benefits from the fiction context of the rest of the book. No, that’s wrong. This story benefits the rest of the book more that the book benefits this story. (5 Aug 10 – three hours later)
THIS REVIEW NOW CONTINUES HERE