‘Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #39’ – Silver Age Books: 31 December 2011. This is a book I have purchased.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
My previous review of a TQF publication: Real-Time Review of TQF #37
There is much more in this book (i.e. book reviews etc.) but, as has always been my custom with real-time reviewing, I shall only be dealing with the fiction. The authors of the stories are: Rhys Hughes, Mike Sauve and Douglas Thompson.
The Dooms and Dimensions of Thornton Excelsior – Rhys Hughes
(1) His Yeasty Rise and Half-Baked Fall
“Songs aren’t lies. They can’t be.”
On the point of finishing (1) and yet to start (2), this appears to be a series of, I anticipate, delightfully fanciful and philosophical fables about the Rhys-Hughesian character, Thornton Excelsior, who has appeared at least once before recently (in ‘Tears of the Mutant Jesters’ in ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’). This first one here cleverly uses Rhys’ characteristic wordplay for ‘literal-meaning dreaming’ (a phrase used by me about Rhys’ fiction here first?) – a part of which phenomenon I have called before ‘fictionatronics’. This, for me, encompasses an authorially well-seasoned spine of philosophical knowledge within conceits made tantalisingly frothy or capriciously mind-markable and threaded through with implicit bonhomie between us and some of the characters. Here concerned with loaves and windmills. Meanwhile, I wonder if the “masters of spin” was a cricket reference, or not? (6 Jan 12)
(2) Stand and Deliver
“The jesters continued to caper and play.”
…as the author does! No sooner did I impute a spine of philosophy underpinning Hughes than he snatches it away – and all I can do is “eat spoons” as a mad reader, or a reader made mad. Thornton exhumes himself from the ashes of the Flash Gordon-type cliffhanger at the end of (1) and becomes at the beginning of (2) a postman in the Duchy of Klipklop, “a far cry” from Porthcawl? Rather, I say, a distant wail – or wails? Don’t ask! (6 Jan 12 – 30 minutes later)
(3) The Grave Demeanour
“The friends of the bear wailed and wept for an entire week…”
An eventually gruesome outcome to a genuine Rhys-Hughesian masterpiece of variations based on themes of “There was an old woman who swallowed a fly”, protocols concerning signs of eschatological respect, the Zeno of Elea Paradox (the spine is back!) and Tom Waits: “But no one puts flowers / On a flower’s grave”. This fable is the sort of thing that ought to be published again and again. It’s that good. But Thornton Excelsior is dead again! I hope that is not a despoiler. (6 Jan 12 – another 45 minutes later)
(4) Arms Against a Sea
“This arm had been eroded until all its stony flesh had fallen off, all its mineral nerves and veins had unravelled,…”
This is surely perfect Rhys Hughes. Or is it because I am a sucker for prehensile statue / sculpture stories (especially after my immediately previous real-time review finished here) – a story of inspiring beauty and equally inspiring ugliness, as a fable of Fine Art Aesthetics, Spiritual Growth, Amputation, Evolution (cf: the recent massive VanderMeers’ ‘The WEIRD’ book) – and I can imagine the author (to the sound of a “Zen applauder“) yearning “to embrace the entire planet” beach to beach. And Thornton’s alive again because he’s me! “Not all equivalences are exact, not all reciprocals symmetrical“. Something me and the publisher should learn, I guess?
(6 Jan 12 – another hour later)
(5) The Censor
“A policeman with only one leg and one arm blocked his path.”
I expected another brilliant fable “but it just didn’t come“. This seems to flail about in wordplay about cuts (today’s austerity?) and censorships and critics getting their heads up their own arses and out their own mouths. It didn’t work for me. My failing, not the story’s. (6 Jan 12 – another 3 hours later)
(6) Thornton is God
“I don’t want to be God! I’d rather be a windmill!”
And so we come full circle. But not really. I suggest that if this series had ended with (4) it would have been a supreme fiction-whole. Here in (6), the wordplay and the disarming narration does not seem to work at all. Not even close. Adam and the Ants, a bag of fruit as the Solar system, and “a guardian angle” of 69 degrees, &c. &c.? Just me? I hope so. Otherwise, a genuinely perfect gestalt has been blown sky high — like The Who climactically destroying their guitars — with the last two parts of this series. I’d be interested in the views of others here. (6 Jan 12 – another hour later)
My New Gang – Mike Sauve
“…most of my ego was tied up in being a reader/writer. I’ll spare the many references I sat there stone faced for,…”
Wow! This is a relatively brief piece but it certainly packs a punch. The prose style seems honed pitch-perfect as well as being trippingly textured in a very constructive as well as devil-may-care way. A gang culture (reminding me in a very good and original way of the fashion-gangs of a futuristic SF/present day paralleling in Here Comes The Nice – Jeremy Reed that I real-time reviewed just a week ago) – coupled with a Father-Son situation (related to McCarthy’s ‘The Road’?) and cultural sophistry and stock-token-‘prostitutes’ one of whom earns Thornton Excelsior’s “cuts” and C.S. Lewis (rhymes with D.F. Lewis!) and “I inadvertently insulted one of the poobahs from this gang”. Major stuff. (7 Jan 12)
Escaladore – Douglas Thompson
“Escaladore it is then, duly christened…–Jeffries whispered, as she proceeded behind him through the hallowed dark,”
An intensely poignant story: a telling interchange between humans and aliens on alien ground (even more poignant today, as you may, in subtle terms, see for yourself if you had, like me, read this story today, after just hearing of a hot-air balloon accident in New Zealand where several died; I use the term ‘died’ advisedly, rather than ‘were killed’, purely in the light of this incredible story). In its light, or in its “language of light“? For me, this story is reminiscent of James Tiptree Jr. From Lord Tennyson, to transformative creatures (a tad robotic-tending (cf: earlier robot references in the previous stories – and/or mineral-melding)). A City of Stairs without the philosophical possibility of a human “breach of protocol”; hallowed in death, halloed out with welcome, haloed by fog. Noises both “passive” and “aggressive“. A meaningful, mind-stretching experience that also benefits from Hughes’ ‘literal-meaning dreaming’ – in the form of a comparison to the the same strength of fantasizing, but a different ‘quality’ to that strength – as well as making Hughes’ final two sections stronger in hindsight … also benefits from and back towards Sauve’s “dialectic of kindness and arrogant cruelty”.
A sweet gestalt, this book’s fiction.
END (7 Jan 12 – three hours later)