Real-Time Review continued from HERE.
The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories
Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
First published in Great Britain 2011 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd.
My Mother– Jamaica Kincaid
“Eventually, I wore myself out and sank into a deep, deep sleep, the only dreamless sleep I have ever had.”
That is – on at least two counts i.e. of Proustian time and the ability of the ‘weird’ to change reality for real – practically impossible to know, I say. But, yet, nothing is impossible to know, when this mother-and-daughter “evolution” ebbs and flows, grows and diminishes physically as well as mentally, is weird and is not weird, has unsynchronised and sometimes overlapping moments of ultimate truth and self-deception. A three page tale to savour overnight (this is the last story in this book I’m reading today). I shall take with me into my own sleep the boat-in-a-bottle (cf. the earlier man-in-a-bottle). And echoes of earlier ponds, symbioses, synergies, salamanders, axolotls, the well-oiled transfigurations earlier set into my thought by a ‘complete gentleman’ – and the house with significant cracks in the floor – a hungry house or one that is about to give us food? I shall tell of any ensuing dreams the next time I’m here. Meantime, I’m glad I’ve read this touching story as the coda of my day. A calming easement following the Basso and Tiptree. (20/11/11 – another hour later)
[I did not have a dreamless sleep. But my dream did not fit in neatly with anything above as far as I can see. As many of my friends know, I am obsessed with absorbing all forms of Classical Music, but I have no technical proficiency in music at all. My dream last night was me playing an instrument in a Trad Jazz band (saxophone? trombone?). I actually felt myself blowing into it and Trad Jazz coming out as sound!! I can’t recall a dream like that before.] (21/11/11)
Sandkings – George R. R. Martin
“They seem to limit their growth to fit available space. If I moved these to a larger tank, they’d start growing again.”
And, I’m sure, that is exactly what happened to the book that contains all these stories, including this one! At first, it is what I would personally call an old-fashioned SF story, yet within this ‘tank’ of a tome, it takes on scary proportions with many implications. Its initial connection with the fog/mist trope of the Basso and its “feed him a litter of unwanted kittens” echoing the cruelty to pets in Aickman and Tiptree; this particular ‘zoo’ or gestalt-experiment turns out to be a war-game insectoid hive-mind that grows completely and utterly out of proportion (like my own gestalt-experiment with real-time reviewing this book?) – with didactic but creatively manipulative self-aware self-God ‘religious philosophy’ and God’s own induced iconoclasm implications (wasn’t another George Martin the ‘God’ behind the Beatles as a more benign form of the same phenomenon?) leading to a Du Maurier / Hitchcock birdlike-siege preventing the protagonist’s escape. “A cruel idiot god” a la Azathoth. And another ‘spiderous symbiosis’, at one point, as a guest brings a spider to test out the integrity of the protagonist’s Sandking edifice of castles, maws, mobiles, colours – and, eventually, a hungry house, again, literally! A major read for me. “…she had not mentioned the prank to anyone.” (21/11/11 – three hours later)
Window – Bob Leman
“Magic words. Don’t look disgusted yet. It makes sense, in a way. We were funded to look into telekinesis -“ (Cf. the Bixby story, an important comparison, I feel.)
Words/Windows/Willows. ‘Window’ follows the same imaginative/emotional rhythm or template as ‘Sandkings’ – at first an engaging tableau-zoo experiment (here arising more by accident than design, a Whovian pasture of nostalgic time travel) – gradually taking up a pace of darkness – and, here, eventually arriving at the transfiguration (cf Monty Python’s ‘Anyone for Tennis?’ sketch). The concept of the ice cubes, via a contraption described in similar detail as Kafka’s Harrow, being used from the present to penetrate the new idyllic time zone of yearned-for pastness so that they would melt and not taint it – is a concept with which to conjure! And the <glass (King-like?) dome or cube of a Harrow>, though, produces within it a book cover-disguised as a Bible with “thin, tough paper” – another reference to the book you hold. Over there, they already knew the story, “mouthing the words”. The ultimate symbiosis of author and reader. But which the ‘spider’? (21/11/11 – another 2 hours later)
The Brood – Ramsey Campbell
“It was autumn. Night had begun to cramp the days.”
This re-reading of mine – after too many years to countenance, I guess – deserves one of my formal ‘Wows!’ of literary criticism I mentioned earlier. It came up completely fresh like an old friend I had forgotten but knew always at the back of my mind I had unconsciously missed. Fresh, yes, an old friend, yes, but startlingly simile-texturedly steeped in a truly tangible gloom and foreboding of words and meaning, yet aesthetically constructive, if gloom and debris and dereliction can be constructive. Now enhanced even further in the preceding context of Maybury’s cat encounter in ‘The Hospice’, Tiptree’s animal experiments, Basso’s ‘sweep-shot’ doctor (and cat!), Martin’s Sandking-‘pets’ tortured so that they could torture the face of their ‘God’, plus this book’s general discrete loose-skull ‘pets’ – and, so, now, to Campbell’s Liverpudlian Vet and his own ‘sweep-shot’ Neighbourhood-Watch of his darkly disshevelled environs and the processions of customers and their ‘pets’. He is the antidote to appease this book’s previous sufferings – and he even jokes about a toothless woman who may be a vampire – and there is a guest appearance, I guess, unintentionally or intentionally, by Fritz Leiber’s roof shape, too … and a ‘hungry house’, I infer, towards which our protagonist Vet’s pitifully well-meaning mission is sucked gumlessly (and from which sort of place he can tellingly see his own kitchen window glowing across the way) — all conveying a miraculous nocturne – miraculous, that the reader can come out the other end intact. But you won’t know whether you can unless you try. “Night thickened like soot on the buildings“, and this book has already taught us what soot can incubate… Perhaps not “…spiderwebs, gleaming like gold wire.” (21/11/11 – another 2 hours later)
[I feel like the hawler-beetle that hasn’t been able to get inside the sandking-edfice but is doing its best to clamber all over it.] (22/11/11)
The Autopsy – Michael Shea
“He said to his cancer: ‘What about it, dear colleague?…'”
[When I wrote that ‘hawler-beetle’ snippet 4 hours ago above, I didn’t realise how at least its resonance would relate to this story, a story I’ve just read for the first time in my life.] The story itself is yet another example of an imaginative tour-de-force in ‘The WEIRD, ‘imaginative’ yet so real in the context of the edifice of ‘weird’ as ‘zoo-experiment’: here strongly echoing the ‘viscerally emotional’ of the earlier substantial Bernanos. And sitting squarely upon the tentatively-assessed central template of Ewers’ ‘spiderous symbiosis’ and extending it symphonically. This is about an autopsy doctor (cf Basso’s doctor and Campbell’s vet) who knowingly carries his own developing cancer illness within himself. It tells of an incredible audit-trail of scraping away clues to reveal once invisible ley-lines in not only the plot itself but also the plot’s dead bodies from a mining accident. Each body its own synaptic, vinery-veined map, and all the bodies together potentially their own Tiptree ‘rat-king’ gestalt. So utterly powerful and knowledgeably/ meticulously sewn together then apart with anatomical textual ‘relish’: “scissors undressed Pollock in greedy bites.” Beehive body remains in crutch of a tree. Skilful characterisation of the doctor making everything believable. The mine cage-lift. The hybrid todash of river and mine generator. “…at length the doctor, with needle and suture, closed up the text again.” The earth as “million-ton coffin“. Etchison’s “hot loaf tires” now “blood-fat loaves” of lungs. The doctor’s own ‘hungry house’ self as “ghost in the glass“. Musical allusions to the act of autopsy. And the intrinsic ‘spider’ here (an SF alien) actually makes tantamount to long Shakespearean speeches (e.g. “…this craving for an intimacy that years will not stale.”) about its own rite-of-passage from flensed body to flensed body, its own audit trail (across “plank bridges” et al (made from another colonised glass Harrow and a bomb-sphere of something like (but is not either) metal of glass?)). A story of “genetic self-sculpting“, of parasite and puppet. Utterly brilliant separate. Even more brilliant as a guest ‘parasite’ in this book’s sandking-edifice. The ultimate srednidipitous revanche of a tale. I’m only left with a query: why are two of the bodies named Jackson and Pollock? (I coincidentally watched a programme about American Art last night on BBC4). (22/11/11 – four hours later)
The Belonging Kind – William Gibson and John Shirley
“Coretti hesitated in the middle of the empty carpet. Light-years of that carpet seemed to separate him from the others, but something called to him across the distance, promising rest and peace and belonging.”
So entirely meaningful to me. From one’s own bodily cancer as the ultimate ‘burr’ in the previous story, here we have a gauche protagonist called Coretti who is drawn towards an attractive pick-up, following, even stalking, her as she becomes more of this book’s ‘experimentally’ mobile mimics or chameleons, in this case the bars, jazz clubs and hotels she inhabits in the audit-trails of a city’s shifts of night-life. For me, a clever story of night-life’s nemonymous quick-change artists, or “anemones“. Once undapper and socially ill at ease, Corretti perhaps learns a lesson that enables him to travel through each of this book’s stories as if he belongs in them. Now I’m warned, I shall be able to keep watch for his various appearances from amid the camouflage of each story’s accoutrements. And Antoinette, too. (22/11/11 – another hour later)
Egnaro – M. John Harrison
“…but is it possible that the real pattern of life is not in the least apparent, but rather lurks beneath the surface of things, half hidden and only apparent in certain rare lights, and then only to the prepared eye?”
Egnaro or Aleph (or gestalt)? This story would surely be an all-time classic story in whichever book of genre it is couched. From “Corrie” to “Crossroads”, from this book’s Peake to Merritt, herein mentioned, as is (now) the all-consuming Cowper Powys – and the “dead miners” from the Shea story – we have here the Mancunian Man – a pervasive rubbing-along philosophy of flock-wallpapered Chinese restaurants and rust-edged SF books and frontier-cultures in behind-the-counter books in bookshops that fight with and alongside the Accountant Narrator’s version of ‘quantitative easing’. But Egnaro, the elongated ‘gnole’ giving a clue as to its nature (wasn’t one of this colour earlier in the Sandkings-edifice?). A world that Leman set up earlier in this book as the Whovian nostalgia-tableau or un-sat-navved, non-GPS-ed country. But it is the Bradbury ‘crowd’ that turns up when the future finally reaches its accident with the past, its interface with nostalgia as a Proustian Egnaro. A “transparent membrane” that is not the Hell Screen but the wrapping from this book’s Francis Stevens story. But the durable soul always remains the durable soul (and I count myself as one of those), even if it’s just ‘fast food’ or forgotten fiction as mine is. A desperately sad, yet uplifting, masterpiece. “He’s spent his life exploiting their fantasies to subsidize his own.” (22/11/11 – another 3 hours later)
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW OF ‘THE WEIRD’ IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.
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