NULL IMMORTALIS (Megazanthus Ress 2010)
As part of the self-indulgent rationale explained HERE (a real-time review of CERN ZOO, the previous volume in this series), I am starting on this page another of my noted real-time reviews.
Please see HERE for links to all my many real-time reviews and reviews of those reviews by others.
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
As ever, I’ll be trying to identify the book’s various leitmotifs and drawing out the book’s gestalt. Other than the obvious!
CAVEAT (1): 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 stories, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading them. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
CAVEAT (2): Please note I am editor and publisher of this book. Please treat this review as you would treat a Director’s Commentary on a DVD, i.e. ignore it!
Authors: William Meikle, Daniel Pearlman, D.P. Watt, S.D. Tullis, David M. Fitzpatrick, David V. Griffin, Ursula Pflug, Andrew Hook, Joel Lane, Tim Casson, Tony Lovell, Gary Fry, Derek John, Margaret B. Simon, Mike Chinn, Richard Gavin, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., Reggie Oliver, Rachel Kendall, Roy Gray, Cameron Pierce, Stephen Bacon, Mark Valentine, Steve Rasnic Tem, Bob Lock and Tim Nickels.
Turn Again by William Meikle
“Malagma is Latin, meaning Amalgamation.”
A beautifully written*, myth-rich story dealing out the images (photographs like playing-cards?) – some with letters deliberately missed out – while they represent the sea’s thoughts turning … and the reader, as represented by Patty with sorrow in her past, is invited into that healing ‘sea’ of circle-turning thought (this book?) by an older man (Mr Tullis) who is also turning … or tilting against death as he does against that “forest” of “windmills“? – but have you noticed that a number of turbines lined up along the sight-line create a single sea-tree? Is this story its own “turning-point”?
“…this meat suit I wear. I have been a ghost inside it for too long.” (1 Aug 10)
*all the stories in this book are ‘beautifully written’ as I chose them to be in this book! So I won’t mention this any more as I proceed with this review.
A Giant in the House by Daniel Pearlman
This physical book has a metaphorical elephant in the room. This story has a giant in the house – and it reflects, incidentally, my vandalism above upon the cover: “…meticulously ‘opaquing’ out…”
I’m sorry, I can’t hold back, this story is a genuine personal rite of passage. So utterly poignant, so obliquely clever in its portrayal of a father and his working-class family – and I literally wept tears when I first read this story, as it ‘progressed’ from Superman via a potato to a mite from Thomas Mann’s ‘The Holy Sinner’. There is no way I can review this story without re-reading it and finding more and more in it – again and again. The trials and tribulations of life with semi-Ligottian resonances. And more photographs.
“…and eventually the roof, built with bargain lumber, collapsed.” (1 Aug 10 – seven hours later)
Apotheosis by D.P. Watt
“Let us unite in anonymity and enable the true merit of literature to rise again.”
This is a very clever word-sculpture about the creation of a special form of literature, with letters flying in and out of existence like fireflies. It intrinsically builds a world of ‘magic fiction’ as well as ‘explaining’ the words NULL IMMORTALIS convincingly, fitting in neatly with the ‘mortality’ of the previous two stories. It not only has “an amalgam of parts” but also a ‘hedgehog’ that is (deliberately or accidentally?) the ‘hedgehog-mite’ from (again) Thomas Mann’s ‘The Holy Sinner’. When I first received, then read, this story, I honestly jumped for joy. I thought: this is the story Nemonymous has been patiently waiting for during its ten years of existence.
“Might all language (ul lis) soon be transformed?” (2 Aug 10)
The Return by S.D. Tullis
“An embodiment not of the girl they remembered, but of this diluted, abstracted version, a doll or curiosity made flesh.”
A mother and father; their previously missing daughter returns…
Some stories are memorable or haunting. I call them so when they deserve it. This story is even a stage beyond memorable or haunting: it’s as if it’s injected straight into some sort of permanent reading-vein. The arguable gestalt of the previous stories in the book so far concerns shrinking towards death or null immortalis. This story, for me, is as a form of mutant shrinkage from or towards a past death (the missing period) – or a retrocausal death that impinges on spirit and body, even via the tangible closed doorways that life often fails to open for you. (2 Aug 10 – three hours later)
Lucien’s Menagerie by David M. Fitzpatrick
“CIRCVS MAXIMVS NULLVS IMMORTALIS”
Objectively, this, for me, is a great page-turning story that genuinely horrifies with its suspenseful images. It should continue to be anthologised forever as a remarkably clever and stand-alone example of a Horror Story. It also pleases me – on a more book-specific level – with its Null Immortalis game and its menagerie images reprising the previous Nemonymous (Cern Zoo). Taxidermy will never be the same again. Nor will death itself, in this story’s own light and the light of the previous stories. (2 Aug 10 – another 3 hours later)
Violette Doranges by David V. Griffin
“Around us, patrons chatted over clotted cream and scones as steam rose from circles of teacups: jasmine, cinnamon, rose hips and oolong.”
From death in the previous stories – to dream, a dream sickness or a dream as a next door neighbour of death or simply dream for dream’s sake? I’ll allow the reader to decide, but this is an exquiste Proustian tussle with the optimum dream, a dream pervading life’s high society charities, its scents, its missed opportunities, its person quest amid twins and other misunderstood identities – its utter nemonymous unrequitedness of love, constructive in its dying fall.
It’s strange, but I fell in love with this story as soon as I first saw its title in the in-box.
“There are a great many people in New York. There is no need to know them all.” (2 Aug 10 – another 4 hours later)
Even The Mirror by Ursula Pflug
“Sometimes I liked to pretend I live in a world where such things don’t exist. They make things too easy, and in another way, too hard. They make it too hard to access the other kind of magic. The real kind. They erase it.”
This book and its physical accoutrements are part of that ethos while this story itself is a vision of Venn Dreams (my expression, not the story’s) – the narrator’s dream life where most other people have what they call their ‘love life’, their real life, while discarding dreams as simply, well, dreams…
But dreams that co-exist and trammel: do they represent a sickness or something far more positive? This story uniquely poses that question. It too haunts beyond mere memorability. (3 Aug 10)
Love is the Drug by Andrew Hook
“What has to happen for perfection to no longer be enough?”
And so another question is posed at the start of this intriguing SF story of a marital situation seemingly transposed from a recognition of our current reality but with significant acceptable aberrations between (a question of perfection that seems to make this book itself self-aware of any possible blemishes in a positive light) – and this story’s question is an enlightening corollary to that in the previous story. It is no coincidence – when seen in the light of this comparison – that dream and drug start with the same letters but then drift apart. Meanwhile, cleverly, the narrator’s own self-awareness is relative to the fiction world it transcends…including his own interview by the story itself!
“I wanted to go back to the breakfast room and hold Judy, feel her warmth, her love. But instead I kept looking into the mirror and wondered what life might be like without her.” (3 Aug 10 – two hours later)
The Drowned Market by Joel Lane
“In the 1990s, crime publishers often used ‘distressed text’ on book covers to give the impression of a damaged page.”
And it is also perhaps no coincidence that drown resembles dream and drug and this author’s Nemonymous story in 2002 also had Drowned in the title!
This new story is a fascinating blend of a possibly self-referential plot about indie publishing and of transfigured names as well as printed text almost behaving as if it’s electronic, plus the thorny didactic question of using didacticism in fiction…
An enjoyably provocative story alongside of all that. It is interesting, too, that this fiction has absorbed the blank philosophy as a positive foil to its obverse: commitment. There was a blank story in that 2002 Nemonymous. By so doing, this fiction becomes more than fiction: it becomes a version of rescued truth. The witnesses have returned? (3 Aug 10 – another hour later)
The Scream by Tim Casson
” ‘Null Immortalis: Life is a series of calamities punctuated by rare positive moments which only serve to delude us into thinking it’s worth continuing.’ “
…as written on crumpled paper. This story – having now read it several times and never yet really quite got to the bottom of it – is slowly becoming one of the most disturbing I have ever read. It concerns a cancer on the narrator’s neck, imaginary possibly, the ‘meat of life’ (cf the ‘meat suit’ in this book’s first story), the fluidity of telepathy as well as bodily cancers, doner kebabs, office relationships, letting or estate agency promotion, the gullibility of sects, a personal trainer… and amazingly this story has always held together as an organic whole for me at whatever stage of first reading or subsequent re-readings I happen to be – a bit as if I am involved in vague Venn dreams telepathising each other as part of that organic whole….and even if I always somehow need to look back in the story to discover who Rowan really is when I reach the end of each re-reading. A story that is impressively slippery (like a shed cancer?)… (3 Aug 10 – another 3 hours later)
The Shell by Tony Lovell
For me, this is an important story, a naturally (almost naively) stunning story, and I wonder if the author appreciates quite how stunning. Both visionary and poignant, without being apocalyptic, while sedately, if anxiously, blending dreams (potentially drowning in dreams?) – a durable marital relationship in cross-section and with an implied perfection that is often thrown off kilter by strange dream-like images that, as in real dreams, cannot fully be controlled. The Venn dreams have here reached a mutual tipping-point and I wonder whether the author knew he was working so closely with this book’s synchronicity, a synchronicity that it was impossible for him to know about, for example (and there are many more examples) below:
” ‘I can’t see anything at all there,’ he said, ‘It’s just an ordinary neck.’ “
“…as though she were some sort of telepath…”
“This time, however, the dream was continuing past the sense it was being such a thing. Usually this overlapping was brief…”
“He felt like the most repellent thing, a column of meat to be manoeuvred here and there till one day it died and stopped being a problem…”
“…had shrunk inside her.”
” ‘I’m worried about something and have no idea what it might be. That makes no sense, does it?’ “
“But all his wife did was smile again, at both him and his refelection in turn. ‘You both look nice to me,’ she said.”
And the Shell itself? This vision is worth all the reader’s patience in reaching it. (3 Aug 10 – another 3 hours later)
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.
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.
“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 and his parents’ car breaking 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 substantial classic ghost story, I believe, that both stands alone and 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)
The Man Who Made The Yellow God by Mark Valentine
“Oh well, all part of the oblivion I suppose.”
With the years’ conflation from ‘Oblivion’ and via the two Great German Wars (the second of which begins to well into being in the previous story), a Kiplingesque music hall star faces Troot and Immortality. This is real ‘magic fiction’ in actual fact. Aptly for this review, a real-time recitation-by-narration. A work of pure wit and genius, in my humble opinion. Despite the connections, it hardly touches the sides of this book.
But leads neatly to the next story…
“And as the man in the brown chair declined, becoming less like a man and more like a piece of badly worn furniture…”
A Kafkaesque Metamorphosis: here by by overlapping rather than strict switching; I simply love this story; it makes me laugh and cry in equal measures, perhaps because it seems to relate to me and the time of my life in a revelatory way. But I’m also sure it is a great story in itself without my personal reactions to it. Another great story, you ask? Well, how can I help but call them as they are? There is is also a spooky feeling for me (as some other previous connections related above in this review are also spooky) regarding the amount of interconnections with the leitmotifs identified so far in this book: the ‘shrinking’ as in ‘A Giant in the House’, ‘The Toymaker of Bremen’, ‘You Have Nothing To Fear’ and other stories – the mirror images (so utterly twinned with ‘Even The Mirror’ ), the Venn dreams or dream sickness, the physical lexic oddities (here including a semi-colon that is related to genitalia), even, perhaps, the taxidermic tropes of ‘Lucien’s Menagerie’… (5 Aug 10 – another 3 hours later)
And how could I miss it – ”Turn Again’ including the ‘meat suit’. (5 Aug 10 – another 45 mins later)
Cf. the tongue-man in ‘Broom People’. (6 Aug 10)
Haven’t You Ever Wondered? by Bob Lock
“…standing on the last balcony and then stared up through the drizzly rain at the huge fan-blade which rotated majestically above him.”
Bob Lock once wrote ‘The Cone Zero Ultimatum’, a truly mighty fiction that – in an alternate world more convincing than the so-called reality of own world – has been adapted for the cinema and is playing to packed global audiences.
‘Haven’t You Ever Wondered?’ chimes, like a laptop, with ‘Nemonymous’ generally in its latter years and more specifically with the faults and glories of this book’s cover. It is surely an engaging SF tale, one about an alien creature called The Tullis sent to Earth on a mission to dissuade its Editor from publishing ‘Null Immortalis’. The publisher’s reward? Immortality.
I’ll leave others to decide whether this vision stands alone outside of this book’s context. As for me, I need to ask whether it is in fact me writing this Editor’s Commentary…? I am no longer sure. Is one of the drawbacks of Immortality a complete loss of identity via the ultimate Nemonymity? Meanwhile, you have nothing to fear. (6 Aug 10 – another hour later)
Supermarine by Tim Nickels
“The final letter of the surnames has been patiently filed into invisibility; attempts already made on the penultimate e.”
An irresistibly enticing cast of characters, intrigues and scenes. Mind-blowing. Word hypnotic.
Kay Keating — a stage-named film star visiting a timeless but trootful version of Gibraltar, where Proustian and A.S.-Byattian fol-de-rols sumptuosuly unroll before the reader via the War times and the sea-tree present times in this last and longest story that also is the essence, subtly and/or overtly, of this book-you-are-reading’s very real-time soul (assessed by its editor above) and, sweetly, represents this book’s closing ‘Nemonymous’ valedictory — “observes mankind’s ability to shrink.”
This challenging ‘Supermarine‘ has so many spooky interconnections with the rest of the book’s fiction and physical design (overlapping dream and death), only by reading this story, sticking with it, loving it, shaping it for yourself, entering each word with either a bunny cloth to shine it or a chisel to vandalise it, will reveal what I mean. It is the Collider, it is Null Immortalis – and a Scot called Tullis. However, I shall specify just one interconnection: Gibraltar, its truly memorable ‘genius loci’ here, like a separate part of the Body Europe that is distant from us but is us (or as this author’s own ‘Zencore’ story-title says: England and Nowhere): e.g. the tongue-man as that in ‘Broom People’ or the hedgehog in ‘Apotheosis’ or…?
This story is the Giant in the House.
I hope you enjoyed this book. It gives us Truth but spells it Troot. (6 Aug 10 – three hours later)
Or if you don’t enjoy it, use it as a Tearsheet Doll. (6 Aug 10 – another four hours later)
One day, it will be a Retrocausal Epitaph for Secret Synchronicity (6 Aug 10 – another five hours later)
“I’ve been wanting to put something together to say here about Null Immortalis, but I just can’t find the words. No matter what I was to say about it, it just wouldn’t be enough. I don’t think I have the vocabulary to express the impact these stories have had on me. I’ll say just one thing – this book really MUST win awards. It’s the most amazing anthology I’ve ever read.”
“I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoys an anthology to savour. The subtleties, the synchronicity, the love of language. It cares not for genre, other than the general blanket of weird fiction, and blends imagination with startling humanity. The stories are ordered so that themes sometimes leak from one to the next, but best of all, they credit the reader with intelligence; there is no unecessary explanation of thread or coincidence. Null Immortalis is a respectful equal, not a weary teacher.”
“The stories crafted and laid out by Lewis’ impeccable editorial selection amounts to nothing less than a feast for all the senses, and a gallery of literary iconography for the intellect that cannot help but prompt deep contemplation. ”
“These tales, these books, are nothing less than dreams laboriously rendered into prose. The horrors, the heavens, and the gray voids in between preserved by the editor and his authors are attempts to communicate their visions on a common theme in a dialogue as labyrinthine as any philosophical discourse, and far more entertaining. Null Immortalis’ probing into space, psyche, and time is four-dimensional, and few story collections ever chance at achieving this. For this reason, Nemonymous will be missed, and will one day live on in collectors’ clutches, occasionally crossing vast distances for large sums of money. Null Immortalis is a distinguished epitaph for the series, but it may also drift into the future as relentlessly as the fan blades on its cover, a subversive ark intent on spawning new literary flora when and where they are least expected.”