‘Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #40’ – Silver Age Books: 29 April 2012.
This is a paperback book I have purchased.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
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. A further ‘caveat‘ relevant to my reviews of TQF material. And there is no guarantee how long any real-time reviews will take to complete, whether it be days or years!
There is much more in TQF#40 (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, Lewis Gesner and Mitchell Edgeworth. As ever, my aim is to identify leitmotifs from all the fiction in any one discrete publication and mould them into a gestalt.
THE DELUSIONS AND TANGENTS OF THORNTON EXCELSIOR by Rhys Hughes
Caveat: I am generally a seasoned fan of Rhys Hughes fiction and in the first ‘comment’ below I show links to my previous real-time reviews of his work, including the earlier series of Thornton Excelsior stories that appeared in TQF#39.
(1) The Burning Ears
“….morality pirates on the high seas.”
When I was a child, my mother often asked me for an ostensibly random letter of the alphabet. After a while, I didn’t need to ask why she needed one, as she had made it clear that, when her ears were burning, she needed such a letter to give her a clue as to who was at that very moment talking about her. So if, say, it was a B I gave her, she then had to decide whether it was my uncle Basil or cousin Betty. As an extrapolation of this old wives’ tale or homely legend (even to the extent of such ‘burning’ leading to physical effects of illuminating a room or ear-wigging for Chinese Whispers of raunchy gossip or auricular blushes of embarrassment etc), this is a hilarious (unbelievably timely!) literary-absurdist treatment of an explicit Rupert-Murdochian-type phone-hacking scandal. It represents, for me, Rhys-Hughesian ‘literal-word dreaming’ and ‘fictionatronics’ in optimum synergy: satirically semi-didactic as well as literally off-the-wall! (3 May 12 – 2.45 pm bst)
(2) The Juice of Days
It’s Friday, a particular Friday I’d describe as indeed “far sweeter than the juices of the previous two days“. A promising start to my own Friday. Actually, the synergy between this Heath Robinson contraptive ‘brainstorming’ and the process into which my own real-time reviewing (leitmotifs-to-gestalt) has developed over the years is, for me, nicely juiceable in itself. Disregarding that, however, this Rhysian fable, taken on its own, is quite brilliant, where one tries to create something “viable by design or chance” (cf: the distillation of the ‘ears’ conceit previously). A (dys)logical ingrowingly retrocausal exploitation of the ‘ad hoc’: the cumulative juicing of days eventually as a capitalist business plan… Also related to the message-or-man–in-the-bottle ethos of ‘Sangria in the Sangraal‘. [Anyone who enjoyed ‘The Juice of Days’ may enjoy its vague synergy with something by me called ‘Mrs Panegyric’s Haunting Melodies‘ first published in 1994.] (4 May 12- 8.45 am bst)
(3) The Reversed Comma
“: the text immediately broke its own laws…”
Can only happen in an ebook rather than a real book like this one I’m reading. But then again… I’m into the study of oxford, spliced and loose commas (I noticed a loose one recently in a paper text I was real-time reviewing (here) and said so in no uncertain terms). This is a lightning short vignette with only one comma (i.e. preceding the word ‘accelerating‘ but I’m not sure if the logic of that is synergistic or counter-productive vis-a-vis the difference between reversed and ordinary commas as ohm-resistors. Me? I love Welsh llufspots! (4 May 12 – 11.10 am bst)
(4) The Gates of Corn and Toffee
“I want to prosecute my dreams for being wrong.”
That essentially sums up this story’s central conceit. The establishing of “integrity” in dreams and courts that deal with them and gates that let them through, with meanings thereof – and difficulties from measuring any sort of integrity in real life. There’s some outrageous or corny wordplay in this story and, on the face of it, it is one of Rhys Hughes’ less successful stabs at creating a satisfying wholemeal of abstractions made concrete – unlike, say, the ears that walls had earlier. Yet this author often has disarming touches of quantatative teasing and this piece is relatively well-sown with them. (4 May 12 – 1.30 pm bst)
(5) Whether the Weatherman
“Karl Mondaugen was his name, if you haven’t guessed.”
I hope this is not taken as me being rude, but often — particularly in this relatively short piece showing the amazing ‘Genesis’ of Thornton Excelsior as another Heath Robinson contraption during his ‘Book of Revelation’ in endgame Biblical terms that have nothing to do with this story itself but more with my own personal reaction — Rhys Hughes’ works build upon the ‘child-like’ (as opposed to the ‘childish’), extrapolating from a mindset that would extend his or her written home address beyond the county or country to the continent, world, universe etc… or constructing a larger-than-life Meccano model that transmutes, at least in the imagination, towards something wondrous and useful beyond its obvious usefulness. The Weather of the Fictionatronic and Pragmatic, used to rain-juice our minds as it does crops, pattern our skies creatively with picture-evolving clouds, rather than the weather just being a pest annoying us with cold winds and the need for umbrellas. (5 May 12 – 7.50 am bst)
(6) The Plug
“But the pile of this carpet was yellow and white sand.”
The above ‘this’ (underlined to represent the text’s emphasis) is not a hyperlink but this ‘this‘ is. [The conversation on the trolley-bus reminds me of a similar, if completely different, bus-board conversation in ‘Nemonymous Night’ which also features a carpet, a beige beach and seas flowing to the Earth’s core?] — Here we have the mind-boggling synergy of a narrative derived from what I infer are authorial ‘waking-dreams’ and the erstwhile extrapolation of the ‘child-like’: involving wild conjurations of that trolley-bus, succubus, a beach rolled up like a scroll, forced-stowaway angels and tapstock with an imaginarium revenue-stream. (After last night, I see Boris Johnson as just another Rhys Hughes character). Here some of the outrageous wordplay has out-raged me in a good way: showing shafts of genius: transcending the outrageous, in fact, with the outrageous, if that feat were possible, which it patently is judging by this story. (5 May 12 – 8.50 am bst)
(7) The Longest Name
Reverse commas have become missing gaps, it seems to me. A new ball-game in accelerated punctuation. Being half-Welsh, as I am, I am half-intrigued by this möbius section narrative where Thornton chases his own tale. See, I can only be half-hearted in my outrageous wordplay. I can’t match that of the Rhys. In quiet reflective moments long after reading them, his stories often stir and waggle their probosces with more meaningful, sometimes darker, thoughts. If you’ve not read the Rhys before, it’s about time you took a reverse course in waking dreams or comma toes or as it says earlier in this wonderful co-adhesive set of stories, “melted robot thumbs“. (5 May 12 – 9.15 am bst)
“…it’s interesting, the way coincidences happen more often than one would expect, stickiness, the way one thing sticks to another, events, phenomena, they are like those magnetized balls, they search for one another, and when they’re close, pam…” from ‘Cosmos’ by Witold Gombrowicz.
The Journey of Toil Ling; a Folkish Tale – by Lewis Gesner
“The senseless made a burning pot as it alone could eat the light and stoke a furnace with the shards, which radiated everywhere into the dark.”
And with such a dead-urn (as opposed to dead-pan) opening sentence of some striking split resonances, I travel from a writer above whom I’ve read much of to one I believe I’ve read nothing of – till now. Yet they both share, for me, a literary soul I admire and envy. Well, perhaps not the same soul, but the co-ordinating ‘synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ within overlapping Venn-diagram souls, absurdist, absurnist…. ‘Toil Ling’ is densely packed prose that flows easily over the reading-tongue: sharing the same ‘fabulous’ tendencies of abstractions made earnestly-hard in well-handled conceit: I’ve already mentioned this above for the Rhysian stories: and here: “hoping to find the mirage that turned to concrete“, Toil Ling is on a quest – with his House Eggs – and those eggs are not like my ‘yester-eggs’ nor is his effective reward to one of the folk he met on his travels to enter the Earth itself exactly like my own vision of ‘hawling’ – but both relativities were sufficiently in tune with my preoccupations to excite me. The story is also a profound treatment of middle-aged dissatisfaction and recognition-yearning and how even such sledgehammers-to-crack-a-nut like House Eggs can be used in moderation to gain even better results of happiness and fulfilment than using them to their fullest power. A wonderful work and a writer I shall seek out. Thanks to TQF for this introduction. (5 May 12 – 12.45 pm bst)
Homecoming – by Mitchell Edgeworth
“I can follow orders.”
I noticed at the beginning of this book that its publisher writes in his CV that his reviewing work has appeared in “respectable publications like ‘Interzone’…” and other publications he also lists: implying that TQF isn’t respectable like them? Well, I can assure anyone that this excellent SF story itself is undeniably worthy of ‘Interzone‘, based on my reading of that magazine but, for me, the story is given a very respectable-looking berth within this attractive publication called TQF. As to gathering more leitmotifs for the book’s fiction gestalt, I more or less gave up, as this story is so different from the work of the previous two authors. There is a craft called ‘Idiot Wind’ that seems to fit in with the Rhysian view of weather anthropomorphism: and there is a picaresque excitement and adventure and earnestly semi-heroic soldierliness in the protagonist’s ‘roaming’ through a ‘future’ or ‘alternate’ or “cloned” Mars with Canals named after our Earthly continents: and a ‘genius loci’ that is splendidly painted of cities, airships etc and intervening SF-scenic seas and lands: alternately cross-sectioned by the protagonist’s past and present in wars that remind me of wars, even 9/11 type attacks, in our current world: as if he is laying Gesner’s House Eggs for each tranche of his life’s plot to fulfil his roaming rather than his false-disguise persona or status-quo AGASSIZ ‘house’: cross-sectioned, too, by GPS-orientated inter-narratives of a longer encapsulating work of similarly cloned fiction: a novel? – something that controls this world by showing us a substantive cutting from it which in turn helps, via retrocausality, the novel to come into being in the first place. This is a tantalising real-unreal world and roamer’s lifestyle for me as I suspend disbelief inasmuch as that I originally watched, say, ‘Space 1999’ in the 1970s on TV, believing that *my* future 1999 would be just like that but of course it wasn’t like that at all: we never became real people but remained as puppets for a start: and in like manner I now imagine the late 21st century of this story will be just like what this story says it will be (with spaceships and worlds on and around Mars); it will turn up in my real life, I vow, if I am sufficiently immortalised (cf the recognition-yearning in the Gesner story) to reach that cross-section of time beyond my body’s capacity to do so. And what is “the wire epidemic“: does this echo something else I’ve read in this book? And is Captain Berwald the composer Berwald now immortalised by becoming involved in the story of a prototype protagonist riding — upon a lighter-than-air aircraft or blimp-dirigible of truth and fiction — this blade-running adventure from temp job to job … and taking orders is the only way I can submit to this story. The only way I can sell myself to it as a worthy reader. Semantics as a command process. Finally, another question that resonates from the Hughes and the Gesner stories: the question regarding the mutual exclusivity of one’s “interests” and “friends” thrown up by the Edgeworth story. The fight for survival between us all amid the serial recriminations and counter-recriminations. All cut through by the immortalised “aviator as cult figure” in a comic strip as well as as part of the quest to find one’s own “AGASSIZ” or House Egg (hence the story’s title!): that earlier status quo I mentioned now rooted within the words themselves that give us the cartoon pictures and story-lines we all crave to ‘fix’ us in the future. Another “island continent” like Priest’s. And much more. A “Jovian system” that threads all three authors here. The Idiot Wind that blows us humans off course as well as on. Blimp-dirigibles et al. “There was a goddamn bear living in the engine room.” Or an elephant in the room? Or is it just my ears burning? (5 May 12 – 3.00 pm bst)