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.
30/11/11 – another ninety minutes later
Details – China Miéville
I usually give key-note quotes from the stories that I real-time review or scry or anatomise or join its leitmotifs into a gestalt – here, though, I’d be quoting most of the story! Each sentence is an enlightenment for my processes in reviewing as well as for many other stories in this book and for the running themes in the sort of other literature I read (and try to write). This story is amazing material that I find is another tuning-fork for the whole of this book. The previous one wasn’t obviously so (and I’m still working on it having already re-read it once), but this one is the Occam’s Razor of complex scrying, if that is not a contradiction in terms. This is the directly contiguous story to the previous Chabon story and its ‘God of small things’ considerations regarding Occam’s Razor. The detail is in the devil. It tells of a child who visits a woman beyond a door into hallway, a woman who stays beyond another door, ie visiting her as a good deed for and from the child’s Mum. Dark Tower-type ‘doors’ (a la Stephen King), among much else, hinted at by the woman’s oblique philosophising about life to the child through the door. This is like a sort of almost avant-garde kitchen sink theatre of the 1950s – with other characters laying siege to that same door, all trying, for whatever reason, to communicate with the woman behind the door. The child learns about this book’s inevitable stalking ‘burr’ or lurker that one cannot avoid seeing like a parasite/host symbiosis-pattern in cracks or leaves or anything else relatively complex that is scryable. It is honestly very horrific. The clouds in the sky forming faces, like the header I’ve used sometimes for this review. The need for the Ice Man’s coming as the erstwhile snow pavilion’s ‘white’ to absolve this ever sticking burr in ‘scribbled’ non-white. Maps and ley-lines that shape the monsters that we may see when we squeeze our eyes? And this story itself is on paper that has white spaces between the words (that whiteness needed to quench or staunch the pursuant patterns) but that whiteness still makes shapes on the page for me because of its lying between and around the words even when you ignore the words’ meaning. The story’s ending (that I won’t divulge for fear of a spoiler) is obvious, too; but there was never to be a spoiler, in fact, that could be spoilt, (was there?) amid the nicks and twists of the pattern that the text palimpsests on the paper (if not on any future ebook version of this book!) but it needed to be predictable, for once, where a story’s art needed a twist as well as a predictability. It sort of fits the pattern. There is one longish sentence in this story that I literally ache to quote in full, but I shall resist. I’ve written this story’s critique in haste and excitement.
The Genius of Assassins: Three Dreams of Murder in the First Person – Michael Cisco
“- here come branches, bare and sooty, up around me, and the chiming of tiny bells -“
I am afraid this is another rare story in this book I have had to abandon. It has defeated me completely. This is my failure, not the story’s. I shall return to it, I hope. It seems to be about a dare for committing serial gratuitous murders – all I got from the first few pages, much else going over my head. The prose language, meanwhile, is scintillating, flowing like an unstoppable river of Ginsbergians. Poetry that may arrive in some sump of my being…. [To show I have, in the very recent past, appreciated this author here is my real-time review of one of his novels.] (30/11/11 – another 2 hours later)
Feeders and Eaters – Neil Gaiman
“And there was a cat.”
first person singular maybury’s lost in a random city and meets someone (now reduced in circumstancess) whom i used to know on a manual labour job i once did who tells me – via small talk in a british version of a cafe in an edward hopper painting – about an old lady neighbour of his with a penchant for raw meat and a pet cat to which, at sight of its sudden flayed and flensed appearance more chicken than cat, he gave a vicious fatal lisa-tuttle. unknown to both of us, judging by my last paragraph, the city (or the whole world) is on far stranger overdrive of weird gears than merely that! [a fine extended vignette, but a prime weird fiction to be showcased here? perhaps.] (30/11/11 – another 2 hours later)
There will now be a delay in resuming this review. (30/11/11 – the last day of Autumn)
The Cage – Jeff VanderMeer
I’ve nearly finished reading this story. I couldn’t wait, however, before making a surface observation un-intrinsic to my final critique of the whole thing soon hopefully to follow below. Staying in tune with my ‘Details’ reference above to the patterns and monsters scried from the white spaces around the items of text on the actual pages of the book in that story, here, in ‘The Cage’, I realise that the double-columns were used in this book generally for specifically reading text from the actual paper used for ‘The Cage’ and its bars are surely intended to symbolise the cage itself, here with two of its bars discretely on each double-page but joined by the top or bottom margins (or five bars if you count the bars on each edge and the vertically creased bar in the middle) . And it is no coincidence that ‘cage’ and ‘page’ are so close… (1 Dec 11)
“Beyond them lay the balcony, long lost to fungi and locked up as a result.”
[Having written above about this book’s ‘bars’ a few hours ago, ironically I then immediately found out from a forum that the ebook version of ‘The WEIRD’ is today walking ethereally out and about – and being read on kindles.] “The Cage” is a story by one of the Reva-Menders. I am always wary when editors include stories of their own in anthologies. Two important points, here, though. There are two independently minded Reva-Menders who have laid a loyal ley-line between their Earth existences that does not threaten, I instinctively feel, either of these Earth creatures as integral beings. And this story is simply a great masterpiece and it would have been a travesty to exclude it. Concerning an exporter / importer protagonist in a well-conjured fantasy-as-truth ‘imaginary’ world, a world here threatened – as Kubin’s was by virus of sleep-sickness – by a to-be-read-about complex effect of mushrooms as entities etc., both stories seemingly excerpts from their respective worlds, but, unlike the Kubin, the characters’ protagonisms in the VanderMeer are more insulated within the text, and thus for the reader of this book, more satisfactory than the Kubin. The VanderMeer has references to earlier cages, the story ‘The Ghoulbird’, and the ‘Screaming Skull’ comparisons with WF Harvey etc., and to the current great Financial F*ckbubble (“Trillian the Great Banker“), “zoologists“, “white tendrils“, travel-as-chore (“She became bored otherwise. ‘I want an unexplored country. I want a hint of the unknown,'”), the Harrow etc. (“A watermark of the city appeared on the glass:”), the cage potentially holding this book’s pervasive creatures, eg the lizard … a plague of ‘Silence’ without – tellingly in the context of this whole book so far – even a hint of a Todash, “Rumors of debaucheries”, symbiosis between cage and room, cage and page, cage and contents, cage as burr, deep empathy, skilful pathos, eg. a Marie Celeste hinterland of the protagonist’s Oates-ian family, a revanche or srednibution in host/parasite-ish relationship between rivals (eg Ungdom), and someone simply had to say: “we couldn’t keep pets”. Hence no pets here! Just a Ghoulbird museum of Fowles-ian creatures, dead or alive or pseudo-imaginary (or all three!). Compelling, page-turning, ‘cagebar’-strobing suspense, too, regarding the contents of the cage as we head towards the story’s end: a marvellously conveyed emotional finale with what, personally, I see here (and have seen elsewhere) as the ‘Last Balcony’ syndrome. And much much more. Bravo and Wow! [JV appeared in Nemonymous One (2001) after first submitting his story to me anonymously and I accepted it (as was my wont then) before I knew who wrote it. While talking about Nemonymous, a story in Nemonymous Two (2002) has remained anonymous and remains anonymous to this day: i.e. The Vanishing Life and Films of Emmanuel Escobada. I merely suggest this should have been chosen for ‘The WEIRD’. But the cage is not ever illimitable, I know – unless it’s only an ebook?] And please don’t forget the ‘oliphaunt’ in ‘The Cage’ is, for me, the barrage-balloon egg of an “aleph-ant”! This critique written in haste, awe and excitement. (1 Dec 11 – two hours later)
The Beautiful Gelreesh – Jeffrey Ford
“…forever trapped in autumn…”
I am afraid – with this by-line’s second bite at this book’s cherry – that I could not link with this story at all. Certainly not at my first read of it. My failure, not the story’s.
[As a separate point, I am dutibound to report that I am somewhat dismayed that ‘The WEIRD’ has scarcely any representation from what I consider to be a major vehicle of Weird Fiction in recent years. My real-time reviews of Ex Occidente Press books: HERE.] (1 Dec 11 – another 90 minutes later)
Continued as The WEIRD (34) page HERE.
Index of this whole real-time review HERE.