I’m due shortly to start below on this page another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.
And it is of the fiction stories in ‘Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #37’ – Silver Age Books: July 2011. This is a book I have purchased.
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years. Indeed, this is said with the knowledge that a busy Season is afoot and many people have calls upon my time. So I do not wish any of you interested in this review to keep returning to this page and finding nothing added. However, I do not know how to resolve this problem ….
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/
There is much more in this book (i.e. book reviews etc.) but, as has always been my custom with real-time reviewing (e.g. of various issues of ‘Black Static’ etc.), I shall only be dealing with the fiction. The authors of the stories are: Douglas Thompson, Mike Sweeney, Rafe McGregor, Ben Kendall-Carpenter, Alex Smith, Skadi meic Beorh, David Tallerman, Chris Roper.
Apoidroids – by Douglas Thompson
“Suddenly the occasional cactus started to look like the soft option.”
A story that appeals to my interest in the hive- or swarm-consciousness – intriguingly less a version of Jungianism to which insects and other bugs might be subject than a “conferring by WiFi” – interlacing the virtuous-circular eco-sustainability of our planet, robotics, cut-throat business, satire (Steve Dobs and Bill Yates!), politics, and, for me, an implicit view of economics not irrelevant to today’s ‘default’ debates in USA and the Eurozone. It is SF-crisply written as well as with a satisfyingly textured prose – including stream-of-consciousness (aptly!) as well as direct narration. I enjoyed the ending – an ingenious comparison of insects as thoughts – but the final pay-off I will not spoil here. (26 Jul 11)
Make It Sacred – by Mike Sweeney
“The old man placed his head in his hands. Tears weren’t far away. / ‘I know, I know,’ he whispered. ‘It’s time for me to go.'”
This story is one with traction, with difficulty (in a positive sense), a gradually emerging meaning, an invitation to re-read. Yet, I sense I have it already somewhere inside. Vonda McIntyre, Kazuo Ishiguro? Fruit-stoners like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich man, Poor man, Beggar man, Thief – here Physician, Judge, Armourer, Artist, Facilitator, Writer &c. – telling of young mother Shimako’s work in the Bunker of a sexual or role-playing nature, and a most amazing concept of ventilation-shafts or slits that have varying degrees of darkness, some serpentine: which bring us to the last three devastating sentences of the whole story … a story that is its own Platonic Cave. Something that, with recent events in the news, we all need to read, I guess. Or re-read? To make things sacred again. If one can see through all the mixed intentions and complexities of life that we all have to negotiate as if in “the reptile house at the zoo.” — “can you be of the thing and not be the thing itself?” — “…wiped an imaginary something from his eyes.” — “…that would make a Microsoft executive blush.” — “Peace that’s where the real money is. That’s when everyone buys their weapons. We need peace.” (26 Jul 11 – three hours later)
The Last Testament – by Rafe McGregor
“…a cloud of flies and other insects milling around the rotting flesh and fur.”
But not only this book’s erstwhile swarm- or hive-consciousness – this “Boy’s Own” yarn (amid a military campaign in 1874 in Assam, Lucknow? I’m not a history-detail expert!) is from the point of view of one of the soldiers and is, for me, an enjoyable Lovecraftian skirmish among tribes and with the Crawling Chaos hive-consciousness here in well-described physical form – ‘experienced’ within another form of the Platonic Cave or Bunker or Snakepit? – and the story’s closure will remain unknown as far as this review is concerned “Because I have a sacred trust.” (27 Jul 11)
Curios – by Ben Kendall-Carpenter
“…where each reading sees new and sometimes distinctly inappropriate rhymes -“
A perfect gem of a vignette, listing an enticing collection of curios with (just up my street) a hilarious take upon the nature of identity itself. It even has a homing miasma! (Cf: the swarm-consciousness). (27 Jul 11 – thirty minutes later)
The Model of a Boy – by Alex Smith
“I was only myself as I looked and behaved from moment to moment, and I was allowed to be whoever that was.”
And the ending of the previous story resonates with the beginning of this one – and of its end – by dint of this skirmish with ‘identity’ and its collections of curios (a spurious number of them) – a collection-with-a-personal-history kept in moist-aired Hotel Reynolds beside a lake. One such curio is a model of Huckleberry Finn whose life, I recall, intriguingly parallels the father-and-son mis-synergy here, including, at the end, the lake as if it were a mighty river of escape. For me, this is a very atmospheric, Aickman-like fiction – and I can give it no greater compliment. There is a lot of mature thoughtfulness to this story that I cannot cover here and many a frisson of both character and incident. Meanwhile, it’s infested (almost unnoticeably) with “insects”, “mosquitoes“, “bugs” and one “night moth“. But no “gnats“, albeit they are mentioned. (27 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)
Harrowing of the Barrow – by Skadi meic Beorh
“…for an intrepid gloom moved with a personality of its own…”
This is an inspiring mythic Druidic story, one that is as if the father-son relationship in the previous story is interpreted by an Irish Robert E. Howard. It is tractable music rather than fiction, echoing itself as well as the foregoing context in this book: “Here, sir, is where you are.” — “See how the earth beneath us rolls ever so cunningly, as if it were ocean waves?” Tides swarm as well as ebb and flow? — “creeping silence” — “self-wrought fools” — “He slid into the gore beneath him…” — “Hear, then, the yarn of a lost man.” Another last testament or statement of proffered truth? — “skirmishes were a rare thing, indeed…” –“the return of the White Serpent King…” “I was deep inside a warm cave…” — This is a haunting story, too, of the ‘Androcles and the Lion’ legend, echoing the “crucified tiger” earlier in this book.
“Small thorns cause great pus”. (27 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)
Devilry at the Hanging Tree Inn – by David Tallerman
“The inn grew more dilapidated with each passing year, and featured on only the most pedantically drawn maps.”
I laughed out loud when reading that sentence. This is an engaging fairy story of pent-up monstrousness with the air of a fable-and-a-moral – and, if the previous story was a variant of the classic Jack and the Giant, this is Jack and the Devil, the latter out of the fire into the shape of Jack’s back-clinging ‘Old Man of the Sea’, via cockerel fat. Well, you’ll see what I mean when you read it! I enjoyed it. [If there is a running theme in this book’s fiction so far, it’s of the often misinterpreted interface of age with youth, wisdom with quick instinct. Life’s quick instinct or considered wisdom are not however the sole possession of any one age or any one temperament since they are carried by many items-of-osmosis around and through us all; they don’t necessarily lie within us; they need absorbing, processing, then releasing and given due consensual dissemination when sunk within the cavernous labyrinth of the Collective Unconscious. Consensual dissemination or “…casting blows like rice strewn at a wedding.” No easy process.] (27 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)
The Watchman – by Chris Roper
“The man stared for a long time at the seascape, trying hard to get a feel for its motion, understand its idiosyncracies. They’d trained him to study the water, to build a rapport with the pattern of the waves.”
Bravo! That sort of sums things up for me. This is a powerfully written story of a lone gunman (or believes himself to be alone despite helpers in various Beacons controlling from a distance and also firing guns) trained to be Watchman for monstrous things that come out of the sea. And you must read this story – as I will not give you even a hint of what these things are like and how one of them carries its young etc. He is underpinned by a reported situation with his father in the past. You see how everything potentially fits? You may disagree when you come to read this incredible set of stories. Each separately satisfying, yet as a gestalt: extremely powerful. [This book’s copyright page indicates it was published on 4 July 2011. I am reviewing it today: 27 July 2011. Much has happened in the world in the interim. This designated Watchman – what did he see? What did he imagine threatening him and the world? “The man watched with casual indifference as the waves gently eddied around their limp, lifeless forms.”] One of those monstrous things had a mothering-lair or ‘cave’ or Bunker (my expressions, not the story’s) in a dune: “The hissing of the grains grew louder as the sand spilled…” You see it all fits. Between each “caffeine buzz”. (27 Jul 11 – another two hours later)