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.
Bloodchild – Octavia E. Butler
“Thinness is dangerous.”
I used to enjoy much SF – and still do, I guess – Cordwainer Smith, Jack Vance, Philip K Dick, Samuel R Delany &c &c (writers missing from this book??) – but this story is the first one in this book that has defeated me, one I have abandoned because of my own failures of understanding. It just made less and less sense as I progressed. I caught on to a name “Lien” and the ‘cage’ of a motherly (?) body and eggs – and things that touched on Ishiguro’s masterly “Never Let Me Go”(??). I suggest that every gestalt of ‘overdrive’ literature worth its salt must have at least one missed gear (omitted evidence) to make it a true gestalt at all, while outpacing the motorways of the mind. My mind. Sorry. (24/11/11 – another 3 hours later)
In the Hills, the Cities – Clive Barker
“Judd, Mick had decided, was a selfish bastard, and as soon as their honeymoon was over he’d part with the guy.”
A honeymoon in Serbia or thereabouts. I recall reading this genuine masterpiece of weird fiction when it first came out in a Sphere paperback – and perhaps saying to myself, this will be significant one day. And its time has come. Here. Today. In this book. And in this brain. This reader. As a child, I doodled with match-stick men, not Lowry’s, but mine. Ladders of them in pencil from page bottom to page top. It had to be pages. It had to be paper. Nothing else would do. Still nothing else will do. Here we have two competing gestalts. “It was good love they made, good strong love, equal in pleasure for both; there was a precision to their passion, sensing their moment when effortless delight became urgent, when desire became necessity.” Yet, nothing is perfect. Every house of cards when turned into multi–bodied flesh has its potential cancer, a “spreading cancer of chaos“, that ladders the stocking: and perhaps every book has its own ‘Bloodchild’. Or perhaps I’m being unfair just to make a point. But every reader will set gestalt against gestalt, with their own candidate for the loser’s ‘running cancer’? Here we have the passions that erect today’s prize-fighting Tahrir Square versus Homs City: the Arab Spring become the Autumn? (and the incredible powerful ending of this story allows us to teeter, not knowing the outcome, forever upon the outcome of the coming Winter…) (In the contemporary terms of the Barker this was the Balkans, but the reality-metaphor prevails). The Eurozone Debt versus the trillionfold American F*ckbubble. The world’s erections made “elephantine“: two alephantine trunks. “So the cities went up into the hills. By noon they were gathered, the citizens of Popolac and Podujevo, in the secret well of the hills, hidden from civilized eyes, to do ancient and ceremonial battle.” [Two tribes come to war, two towering fictions like that earlier pair of novels fighting for the right-of-plot.] (24/11/11 – another 3 hours later)
[I just posted this with deep sincerity on a discussion forum in answer to someone who had just received the book of ‘The WEIRD’ in his hands and remarked what a big volume: “It is both massive in size and fiction substance. Probably the best book for me ever produced. I’m about two-thirds through with my RTR of it.“] (25/11/11)
Tainaron: Mail from Another City – Leena Krohn
(Letter One to Nine) “And there begins their only summer, for in the autumn they die; but all summer long they celebrate all the more. What a life? Do you understand it?”
Wow! I am only a third of the way through this novella-sized fiction, but already I am relatively sure, on later due reflection, that this will probably become the book’s crowning glory, without any disrespect to the others already read or about to be read. Many of them would be crowning glories in their own right in other books or in various alternate-world contents of this same book. This novella starts as an accreting visionary gestalt of a land called Tainaron (by the ‘letter’-writer) who has a guide called Longhorn – with many echoes of earlier themes and visions and styles I’ve described above as well as its own originations. Too many such features to report upon and all of them so remarkable that it is impossible even to be eclectic in such reporting within a review. Any reviews that attempt to do so would be short-changing the rest of the novella, I guess. I assume it forms a series of letters to me the reader – and I ache to reply to them by my own letters or, far less satisfactorily, by electronic means. Osmosis may be a thought, though. The novella so far is fiction-distilled imagination of the highest fantasy truth; it is uplifting, too – i.e. for me, the ‘lark ascending’ of literature, a fragmentation by a multi-tasking, busily-gestalting Lord Dunsany? A Bernanos writing to me from another Egnaro / Telenapota while possessed, inter alios, by Murakami and Basso and Mark Valentine? But one cannot do justice to this novella by any analogies. As to its being uplifting, the last section of this first third of it reminds me that an onomatopoeiac version of ‘Wow!” in books of the nineteen forties and fifties (mainly children’s books) is often used to convey a baby’s wailing cry (e.g. “Wow! Wow! Wow!”). A todash from birth towards death? (25/11/11 – two hours later)
(Letter Ten to Nineteen) “An endless sequence of wishes, infinitely many yous, and all of the yous are threaded on to the tough thread of memory, and in the end you yourself are no more than that thinnest of thin threads, and it quivers, tensed…”
[So now my own letter]: Dear Leena Krohn, above quote represents the Proustian ley-line, the audit-trail with uncertain auditer? Meanwhile, your authorial name when simply heard and not seen in English has a certain poignant resonance of meaning with my personal preoccupations at the moment. Each of your readers must have different concerns that they bring to your text. I was once obsessed with marbles and your significant mention of marbles seems also to connote this: “the terrible knowledge slid between them and me – that one day my mother would die” in your text. And your description of the old-fashioned radio – for me a ‘wireless’ (significant to the lines or threads) – makes me recall that this ‘contraption’ (you describe so wonderfully) was my childhood todash, like it seems to have been yours. But I am inferring you are the narrator, aren’t I? Well, aren’t you? The Mimic and the Burr are also in these current letters, for us to find. And Bradbury’s Crowd meeting Barker’s ‘standing city’, shown as clear as clear to me. And your letters – for which I thank you – are, by their nature, of course, real-time reviews in themselves, e.g; “But I would like to tell someone that something strange has happened…” Although it is true that “Tainaron before and Tainaron now” are “decisively different” (i.e. between the first nine letters and this second set of ten letters), I will not change what I have already said above about the novella so far in general. The fiction remains something I am building on, am relishing, and completing like a jigsaw of what I have often publicly called ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’. I shall now shortly read the last yet unread letters provided by this novella…. “For you it is autumn, but for us it is still high summer.” Or should that be vice versa? (25/11/11 – another 5 hours later)
(Letter Twenty to Thirty) “It is winter. Although it will be a long time before it reaches us. But when it is here, I pity those who have not already gone to sleep!”
One wears this text like a bag or sack or “cloaked moth” or “pupal cell” or pressed between two pages like a character (akin to this novella’s Rhinoceros Beetle or Queen Bee) from Alice. There is a scene in Thomas Mann’s ‘The Holy Sinner’ about a man shrinking bug-sized while on a raft (that is all I remember) (Cf “He is dry and light and has shrunk so small that he is carried in a bag or sack“) and that book together with the finale of the film ‘Death in Venice’: there it was cholera (and they sprayed white disenfectant (or ‘molten osteoporosis’?) to keep it at bay). Like this potential ‘farewell’ from Tainaron. Meanwhile, I thought I might be the Prince, but I am in fact the man dangling from the balcony. Sure of it. There is no map of Tainaron. It is a mobile developing-gestalt of a character, too. No sat nav or gps or wireless ‘contraptions’ can serve it, I guess. Or Wi Fi. This is one of those texts that stain you through like the liquid stuff they give you to pass via your veins or synaptic vines before you are submitted to the ‘new rays’ to map your body or your brain. I am sending more epistolary letters to the letter-writer in the novella but now they are by osmosis. Intensely private so I hope they have a secure passworded Wi Fi to use. This novella is seriously great literature. A moving feast. A word-textured “event“, in the sense of that word employed by the text itself. My view has not changed since I wrote the first part of this novella review a few hours ago. Please re-read it above. It still stands in real-time. “Upright like them, I remain in this land of sleepers.” But currently awake and critically alert. Dedicated to “umbellifiers“, “revellers” and Reva-Menders alike. Real-Time Menders. (25/11/11 – another 2 hours later)
Further thoughts: I don’t really see Tainaron as a place where insects or even actual chitinous versions of, say, Wilbur Whateley reside: they are essentially human characters, for me, within a visitor’s gradually ‘erected’ epistolary-narrative about implications of them being tele- or psycho-kinetically insectoid (i.e. possibly radiating from the Bixby story, Axolotl, the Salamander, the Complete Gentleman, the erected ‘walking cities’ in Barker, the Town of Cats, the Mimic etc.) rather than actually insectoid as this ‘moving-event’ novella might have been interpreted by means of an alternate context (‘environment’ or ‘habitat’). Fiction is often truer than truth. Tainaronic (metapomorphic) ‘Magic Fiction’ as opposed to run-of-the-mill ‘Magic Realism’. (25/11/11 – another 2 hours later)
metapomorphic (a genuine neologism coined here): i.e. for ‘Tainaronic’ in above sense.
Hogfoot Right and Bird-Hands – Garry Kilworth
“…like a wild bird that is trapped in a closed room.”
A short striking satire on the mechanistic welfare state and an old woman who lives within it? Or a perceptive ‘Modest Proposal’-type fable about old age, solitude and surrogate love from or for pets (yes, another story in this book about pets)? Or the nature of death itself through an absurd metapomorphic filter (cf: the flensing in The Autopsy and the transfigurations in The Complete Gentleman)? Or all three of these? The fact that I have to ask the questions answers one other question: is it a good story? Yes. Provocatively so, especially for me in the foregoing context of a number of stories and my own personal preoccupations (death as a transfiguration into a ‘leaner crone’-type sadness of someone who was once so different): and to tell you about the ‘growing leaner’ process and its connection with the ‘pets’ that stem from that process would be a spoiler. But it puts a new light on the self-induced burdens of love. Excessively poignant for me. Not the story’s fault, but to the story’s credit, even if an unintentional one. Cruelty from pets, rather than to them, in ironically telling counterpoint to this book’s still fattening gestalt. (25/11/11 – another 90 minutes later)
THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW OF ‘THE WEIRD’ IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.
Index for this review of ‘The Weird’: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/df-lewiss-real-time-review-of-the-vandermeers-massive-the-weird/
All my many other real-time reviews are linked from HERE.