‘Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #41’ – Silver Age Books: 29 July 2012.
This is a paperback book I have purchased.
That cover – truly stunning in the real-time life of the book I hold in my hand – is by Howard Watts (who once mentioned ‘Marmite’ to me).
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. 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#41 (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: Ross Gresham, Charles Wilkinson and Douglas Thompson. As ever, my aim is to identify leitmotifs from all the fiction in any one discrete publication and mould them into a gestalt.
Milo Don’t Count Coup – Ross Gresham
Pages 7 – 13
“I mean, what price can you put on peace? All part of whole-universe reconciliation, and our role, Marmite’s and mine,…”
This seeming novella, at this early stage, seems to have a style to which a reader may need to acclimatise before fully enjoying and/or understanding it. But I’m sure I’m already at least halfway there on both counts, it being a lively, prose-buzzing viewpoint from the year 4068 regarding a Universal War peace conference of Burpers, Tonies and others: mixed with ordnance (probably not ‘ordinance’ as the text has it?), officers of armies and their names (some female), tentative breakings out of non-peace with melted weapons, side-stories as opposed to backstories and a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” ethos of futuristic vision of Weird Wars and even Weirder Peaces, or so I infer so far. Milo (the narrator) and Marmite seem to be chums who are just one slant upon the angles slanting back at them of this strange conference (as well as digging a pit toilet). Very promising. Most acclimatisable. Can’t cover all its text-crisp details: and my future reviews of this novella will probably be shorter if not sweeter. (7 Aug 12 – 11.15 am bst)
Pages 14 – 20
“Nothing in their wiring allows them to conceive of defeat.”
…which is not promising for a peace conference, I guess – even if the eventual treaty is in wonderful verse? Meanwhile, we are given glimpses of a past battle, Marmite and I, as Burpers, against Tonies, Capos, Frogs, each force against the others… With the enticing conceit of alliances, side-alliances, friendly fire etc. rather than an all out battle that merely two forces of enmity normally conduct? Wonderfully conjured-up crazy-ordnance, robots, ‘carpet’ of suicide spiders et al – and they even remember Custer’s last stand in the 41st Century – a comforting thought for issue 41. And a topical Olympic reference to ‘synchronised swimming’ – indeed I wonder if the peace conference itself will eventually have retrocausal effect on past battles? A beautiful image of a robot with a neck like a “swan leaning in to sip out your liver.” (7 Aug 12 – 12.45 pm bst)
Pages 20 – 31
“I didn’t hear the specific human demands — ‘Earthling’ demands — sparkling versus spring water, you know. I guess we walked out a few times over the placement of the candy dish.”
The so-called peace conference is really taking off within my reader-imaginarium: what with Marmite and I having our own alliances and enmities concerning life as well as war, music and sex, with sexually-demanding women at the conference, then who subject to whom as Burper friend or gunner or driver or member of the same music band: as moving parts in this multifaceted cyborg conference that seems, with its various wild constituents, to spin round a sort of madcap Olympic velodrome (my conceit, not the story’s, but true nevertheless) with all manner of weapon ‘ordnance’ with the ‘I’ of me and us and you and them embedded, yes, embedded cyborg-like amid the word to make ‘ordinance’? Wonderful stuff. Meanwhile, I sense my own backstory with a “fiancé on another world, sending confusing signals…” like whether the word should be ‘fiancée’? “Of course I was just making this shit up.” (7 Aug 12 – 2.35 pm bst)
Page 31 – 44
“…WD-40 killed it off, just little squirts.”
I had thought I was reader-enough to cope with this story. Thank goodness for the WD-40: just a squirt – and it all dawned on me… But, then again, was the peace conference just a counter in some sort of futuristic chess game where checkmate is just another coup, where honour passes not with a physical struggle (“A lot of this story, really, is the misconceptions that arise from the human form.”) but with a symbolic touch on the shoulder or the hostile pirating of music or sexual politics merging mind-and-flesh-and-metal or the winning of a pointless argument really being the act of losing it? (“‘Where’s Marmite?’ I asked. ‘My gunner.‘”) — My mind’s still frazzled but satisfied. Concepts of “living metal“, fiction-on-fiction bribes to win out as a victorious reality, more war than peace misperceived as a beneficial force, war extrapolated into a form of music or a symbolic touch on the shoulder with a conductor’s stick during an atonal symphony concert (my conceit, not the story’s, but true nevertheless). A story with an arguable moral. But also quite amoral and mad. A reading experience I shall hardly forget, not being naturally attuned to such ‘friendly fire’ fiction, of which new genre (first named by me here?) this story, I suggest, is a prime effective exponent: a suggestion from between the word-frazzlings my mind is currently ‘suffering’ as result of this story that has enabled me to think I have nailed it down — but only after it nailed me down first? (7 Aug 12 – 3.50 pm bst)
Oh you sweet thing
Do I what
Will I what
Oh baby you know what I like
[Marmite and I. Or Milo and I? NB: The novel ‘Milo and I’ by Antony Mann.]
Notes on the Bone – Charles Wilkinson
“It was, he thought, the season when every colour had an undercoat of grey,…”
I was thinking, if I had not got into the habit of reading and reviewing TQF issues, I would surely have missed this substantive, high-quality story that would greatly appeal, should they happen to read it, to many lovers of Weird Literature and Horror Fiction: blending together, with a stylish prose worthy of such a blend, many of my favourite elements in such fiction: Aickman-like characters and scenes, the ‘knivish’ prose of Gary Fry, a blend of Corporate Ligotti (that early undercoat later becoming paint beside a decorator’s ladder and rain that rains ‘industrially’ and graveyards with ‘official’ stone tag-graffiti, or so I infer from the context), the backstreet bed-sits and house-shares, the shadowy menace of shapes and figures, the colleges and museums of jewellery-making that echo the cyborg quality of this TQF issue’s first story: causing me to think of the central figure of the boy-man character, as seen by the main protagonist, to be a sort of walking statue or spider-robot or knife-sharpener… leading, in turn, toward a conceptual usage of human bones for which I would have simply died just to get it for my recent-published book anthology containing multi-authored ‘Classical Music’ Horror Stories. This Wilkinson story seems so honed from textured mineral on the page, it is sure to ‘outlast’ me or any other reader. In interesting contrast to the far-future Weird Wars of the first story, yet strangely dovetailed with it in a way I can’t yet explain other than by means of that cyborg connection… and, yes, the ‘outlasting’ into such a future – as a sort of fiction-alchemised cryology? (8 Aug 12 – 2.50 pm bst)
DogBot™ – Douglas Thompson
“But of course it could also talk to its friends in the sky, the drone planes. It had many friends it seemed,…”
A neat bracketing of another exciting robot chase, here around the velodrome of Messiahship and/or Holy Terrorism with the mixed motives, the mixed ends and/or means of two opposing states of eternal grace beyond suicide or friendly fire by machine and/or flesh (now both ‘both/and’ and ‘either/or’), and it takes from Wilkinson’s earlier mention of Damien Hirst a new dimension of preserved dead-animal art (with or without golden horns) and spin-painting.
An intense gestalt experience: the three stories presented in this issue of TQF. And, as an aside, I am fast becoming a Douglas Thompson fan. Only in the last few days, I real-timed, on the second page of this review here, another quite different story by him. The inspiring disparateness of Douglas Thompson as well as of each dose of TQF fiction: culminating in some worthwhile revelation from fiction’s ever onward, sometimes frenzied robotic, sometimes human fine-artistic, attempts at cohering…with or without a squirt of WD-40. (8 Aug 12 – 6.45 pm bst)