THE BIG BOOK OF MODERN FANTASY
edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
PART FIVE OF MY GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEW CONTINUED FROM HERE: https://nemonymousnight.wordpress.com/807-2/
When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
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The Big Book of Modern Fantasy
The five parts of my review:
FIVE: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/24210-2/ (this one)
END OF THE LINE
by Aimee Bender
“…all night long, tossing and turning, retching small pink piles into the corners of the cage.”
And a book of ‘Cinderella’ in Spanish, too.
An amusingly disturbing and vulgar Swiftian fable, an immodest proposal from a big crude man to a civilised tiny man (even tinier than you might imagine) whom the big man has locked down in a cage. We are our own disease, we do not know who we crush beneath our feet in attempts to make our disease jump between bodies with bodyparts of ours. At the end of the line, each death of us to be an escape beyond escapism rather than a mere blip … or is there something else in the wings, as part of the human gestalt, leapfrogging the respective scales of tiny and big — something outsizing us, perhaps uglier, too, like God, in our otherwise imagined likeness, as pitiless scapegoat?
I LEFT MY HEART IN SKAFTAFELL
by Victor LaValle
“I didn’t come to Iceland for anything. Iceland came to me in a dream.
And not one of my paranoid racism dreams, me being black,…”
This story, in itself, is an engaging and crepitating account of a backstoried black American man on his vacation in Iceland among the old couples in old-couple season, but there is another holiday-loner wandering about whom our black friend calls a ‘troll”, a troll who seems to dog the black man’s footsteps, and, sometimes, trolls, like the Icelandic land-masses, are taller than you would imagine. A quirky and amusing, and eventuality gladiatorial scenario of a story.
Yet, on another level, it has a truly (chance) remarkable ironic mutual-synergy with the earlier Stepan Chapman story above, a story with similar racial innuendo, and here another co-vivid dream, this time for the black man, a dream of his Icelandic quest for honey, also here we see another moving glacier, and eventually that the troll is ‘with small hands’, his hair like straw peeled off on his scalp, a troll suddenly seeming like “an old man”, and we all now know what meaning the word ‘troll’ also conveys these days!
Meanwhile, the black man himself entices us with finer deeper meanings at the end.
THE GRASSDREAMING TREE
by Sheree Renée Thomas
This, for me, needs to be read in a hop, skip, and jump, a sudden but fulsome absorption of its text in several gulps of phonemes, morphmemas, sememes, syntices, word-visual configurations, in the context of this Big Book, and of the previous Big Book of Classic Fantasy, a truly seminal work by Sheree Thomas, full of dense textured poetic prose, echoing the previous story’s racial innuendo, and that of the Stepan Chapman work whence I imagine earth people escaping climate change for the twin suns of this terrain. The white grasshopper grasswoman in her well’s lockdown or stone tree’s Okri seen through the eyes of one of the black people’s young girls called Mema. Hoppers and harpers. And hopers, like us. The okro tree as the tall troll structure in the previous story…drumskulling.
“, they came dancing, skip hop jump, through the glass door into the stone wood, waves of hoppers at their heels, their blue-green backs arched close to the ground as they hopped from stone to hot stone, drumming as they went,…”
I previously reviewed the next story here https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/06/12/to-charles-fort-with-love-caitlin-r-kiernan/#comment-12953, as follows:
LA PEAU VERTE
by Caitlín R. Kiernan
“‘Me, I was always rooting for the wolf,’ Peter says, ‘or the wicked witch or the three bears or whatever. I never much saw the point in rooting for silly girls too thick not to go wandering about alone in the woods.’”
I, too, study this story closely. And put myself in the shoes of the woman being dressed as the absinthe green fairy as a paid model for a private party. And, despite myself, am captivated, too. A collage of agonising, e.g. the death of her sister as a child, and her possible part in it, her father’s well, her older chess playing mentor, her shrink, mouse or fairy, stones with words etched, the names of various famous painters including Perrault, and Maignan’s Green Muse that I just took a look at, a mention of Charles Fort, a convergence of music, the history of absinthe, fireflies, Verlaine, Rimbaud … all couched in some transcendent language to die for — towards a growing gestalt and a stag before whom she self-revealingly bows under absinthe’s gaze? “The one, and the other.” Follow or fall, I think it answers my question above about the Sargent painting, unless even mentors are as fallible as those they mentor? Or words scratched on stone just as a reminder of some intrinsic truth? We are all perhaps “a race of tiny beings.”
My reviews of Caitlín R. Kiernan: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/caitlin-r-kiernan/
The “race of tiny beings” from the Bender?
A HARD TRUTH ABOUT WASTE MANAGEMENT
by Sumanth Prabhaker
“Her face was flushed.
I’ve done a terrible thing, she wrote. I flushed Bleachy back down.
‘Well, he was very codependent,’ the son said.”
A rather skittish, delightfully and non-didactically gratuitous, exposition from 2006 of a family flushing all household waste down their toilet. A place they eventually had to lock down, because of the repercussions, then even having to put their shit in the garden. And it also says somewhere that you can’t un-paper a paper. Nor unduly worry about it when cooked into your food, with the words still intact on the paper.
All involving a domineering creature they called Bleachy who was one of those repercussions, a cross between the creature on the front cover of this book and a crocodile.
“Bleachy asked: ‘How would you like it if I took you away and made you cough in my toilet?’”
And neatly on to…
by Erik Amundsen
“My children and I hopped off to the bog and acted.”
Bufo, a toad (aka Kroaten, a word that, if I visualised it purely by its sound, would have looked like the next pandemic virus) — a creature, here, with a hallucinatorily meaningful four line prose refrain, and a legendary gem carbuncle as a brain. The food cycle of mankind and such creatures — and the world’s widow burning evils — evolve into a telling moral to this fabulous fable. I deem it a ‘Brekekex co-ax co-ax’ kakistocracy. Our only hope would have been Bufo, “I leaped” to conclude.
The next but one hope ahead.
“…one hop ahead of the ever changing idiocy of God’s chosen.”
THE ARREST OF THE GREAT MIMILLE
by Manuela Draeger (translated by Valerie Mariana and Brian Evenson)
“…help you remember your dreams or walk inside your dreams as if in broad daylight.”
“They want the Great Mimille to reestablish order in the town and lay sheriff eggs in every corner.”
This is a major discovery for me and possibly for most English-reading readers, and, even beyond my previous superlatives about works concocting real co-vivid dreams, this novelette seems to be the most convincing stream of them you ever will encounter in any imaginative work that was written (and translated) before such terminology ever came to mind. Here, at the start there are fish coming out the walls of ‘my’ room, creating blue cubic bubbles that float to the ceiling : it is apt that they are cubic, I guess, and bubbles, too, with present circumscriptions from squared-off events. I love, too, that one of these fish is explicitly a tench! These fish turn out to be creating for the city’s ‘empty sidewalks’ a renewed sheriff or police presence not disconnected with the name in the title. A series of characters become involved with me, many called Lili, (one Lili with snuggly wings for me to cuddle up to for warmth) in this quest to divert certain repercussions, involving a missing moon, too. Tiger-striped cats in the stairways, anthills with human faces, she-wolves, bats, a woolly crab, music in various keys played on strangely named instruments, a shop with mops and red flags to sell, and a gradual morphing of my own words of speech into ‘grotesque nonsense’ “as if through a felt baffle”, speech bubbles through baffles, I guess. This is essential reading to exploit as well as obviate today’s imposed slants of thought.
“When I thought about it, I felt incapable of saying if I was awake or in the middle of dreaming.”
“You get the impression, suddenly, of being free like a seagull in midair,…”
(My previous reviews of one of the translators, Brian Evenson: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/brian-evenson/)
by Karin Tidbeck
In a place where time turns sporadically weak or strong, three Aunts within a closed glass-bubble orangery have the raison d’être of ‘expanding’. Not to leap exactly from lockdown, but to rise lard-like from their own bodies using their bodies’ own volition to swell upward and outward, giving eventual recurrent birth to the next threesome of care-working Nieces who, when at their own optimum fatty expansion, become the next threesome of Aunts and so on … till you, as the next new reader of it, turn up unseen and leave a smudgy handprint on the orangery wall. A fine disgustatory tale, with increasingly oblique relevance to this whole book’s gestalt.
My reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/karin-tidbeck/
by Marta Kisiel (translated by Kate Webster)
“Respect your angel, it’s the only one you’ll get.”
An amusing novella about a writer’s inheritance of a “gothic freak” called Bugaboo House, and his encountering an angel with a constant sneeze and a need to depilate itself, water sprites, a purple tentacled octopus and other sitting tenants he also inherited. And a lockdown library containing the ghost of a poetic man called Fortunato with recurrent suicidal bouts of unrequited love affairs. Fortunato isn’t exactly a “leper”, though, and he does write about “flying over the meadows”. But locking ghosts in the basement or drowning them in a pond can surely do little good.
Although I found this engagingly readable, I am not yet exactly sure why this long work is included with the rest of the material in this book. An ill-fitting bedfellow suddenly discovered in the four-poster. As if someone or something got inside the computer file that shouldn’t have done and, dammit, still trying to work itself out!
“The idea put down roots reaching at least as far as the Earth’s core and briskly started to form buds.”
THE SPRING OF DONGKE TEMPLE
by Qitongren (translated by Liu Jue)
“Despite the dim light, he could still see the vivid colors…”
Exquisite work, and for fear of solipsism, I should not dare tell you why – i.e. the parallel here — in this wonderful genius loci of a legendary lost Buddhist temple in the hills and its nesting swallows — with Bonnyville’s seagulls. There in Bonnyville, as I implied earlier above, the old man that is me failed to fly off as a seagull from his lockdown in Bonnyville but ate the seagulls instead (!), but here Liu (cf the translator’s name above) rescues an old man from a pit within the temple, this old man having swallowed dirt as food to survive, and Liu himself eventually becomes a swallow, I infer, and thus escapes his own lockdown pit. Ironic and telling. My own out has been preluded?
by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
“So many stories packed into books. So many words packed into libraries waiting to be tasted, and swallowed by people like me.”
A miraculous story of the sapient sapor of words as you ‘eat’ them from the pages in great soulful literature, and of how this phenomenon affects a childless couple, and the state of writer’s block. And the arrival of an Ariel of words as a surrogate child….
I already have believed that this big and packed book itself has its own such soul or ingested gestalt. This story must now be its emblem.
A fearless faith in fiction and its preternatural power as this site has long claimed.
Cross-referenced with The Alphabet here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/09/14/attrib-and-other-stories-eley-williams/#comment-19935
by Ramsey Shehadeh
“…Creature, who knew that there are no happy stories or sad stories, only a single tale that stretches across the breadth of time, and happy or sad depends on which part of it you choose to tell.”
Compared to the Ariel in the contiguous previous story above, Creature when born from his mother seems to be seeped out as Caliban ‘savoring’ our ‘wonders’, as well as saporing them… A knowing and morphing form of a mother-born version of Theodore Sturgeon’s IT, that meets Little Girl and becomes, inter alios, her raft out of the city’s lockdown of evil, thus potentially transcending Creature’s own nature. No longer a predator but a facilitator (the part of it I “choose to tell”) of a new new normal beyond our new normal today, Creature having been “born soon after the apocalypse when the changes beset the world.” A great discovery this story, one that is still resonating with me as I write this rebirth of it in yet another morphed form – a rebirth not by regurgitation of what I have wordeaten but by what I might call renewed organic gestaltion. Beyond pretentiousness.
BEYOND THE SEA GATE OF THE SCHOLAR-PIRATES OF SARSKÖE
by Garth Nix
“‘How big a bubble?’ asked Hereward,… […] ‘A single room, sufficient for a dozen mortals,’ said Fitz.”
A highly entertaining swords and sorcery swashbuckler of a tale, not usually my thing, but certainly exhilaratingly imaginative and characterful. I loved the honest duplicities of Hereward (the Unwoke?) versus — but also collusive, even amorous, with — the bedding and/or slaying pirate woman called Romola Fury with her shapeshifting impulses she could not always control … and the nature of Hereward’s sidekick, the puppet Fitz. Their battle with the Sea Gate cum wall to gain the treasures of the Scholar-Pirates, the big mortar baby (as I call it) of a bomb they used, the backwashbuckling ‘bore’ in the channel they needed to avoid, and above all the amorphous nature of the godlet’s eventual gestalt starfish monster that both Fury and Hereward had to battle. With undercurrents of cannibalism and anti-slavery. Was the eventual booty just a “mound of dusty parchment or rows of books” to be wordeaten or was it a treasure indeed, I will leave you to find out. As there are other things to find out here, too. Like into whose bubble who went where?
My reviews of this author: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/tag/garth-nix/
Was one of the books in the rows, ROMOLA by George Eliot?
THE BEAR DRESSER’S SECRET
by Richard Bowes
“‘A funny thing happened on the way to my beheading,’ said the jester.”
These bear-dressing shenanigans, on the surface, represent another enjoyable but gratuitous-seeming flibbetigibbet to match the earlier Pratchett. This one is about a domineering Duchess and her own dresser called Grismerelda, and the eponymous Sigistrix, Grand Master of the Animal Dressers Guild, who suddenly quits as the Duchess’s bear-dresser of bears for the imminent Great Fair contest. Grismerelda the maid takes over the bears’ dressing full-time … leaving the Duchess bare?
What secret did the two of them hide from the Duchess. It’s beyond me. And what’s a “strangling scarf”?
TABLE WITH OCEAN
by Alberto Chimal (translated by Lawrence Schimel)
“, and there were also seagulls, tiny ones which flew and acted like real gulls . . .” (Sic, ellipsis)
Another delightful otherwise gratuitous-seeming flibbetigibbet of a tale, about a man’s small daughter Raquel (Quica) who questions her father as to why the table he bought had an ocean on the top with a ship crossing it slowly as if crossing oceans table to table… a phenomenon that adults couldn’t see, but children like Quica could see: Quica who made the ship go quicker!
Actually I sincerely believe this story does help my own story by bringing its seagulls back to life! And so I didn’t eat them from the Bonnyville dining-table, after all!
My photo from a few years back
THE JINN DARAZGOSH
A fable relating how the curiosity of a Jinn led to unhappy results and brought the closure of the Heavens upon his race
by Musharrat Ali Farooqi
A fine Biblical-style parable, if not fable, to act as coda to this big book. The big book to end all such big books. Telling of the cross-references of destiny, of this book’s angels, one of whom, in its animal form, may be on the front cover, and of Jinns that once helped Augurs over climate change and of other matters in human existence, but it gives me hope about love, about destiny working out eventually, and the art or artfulness of constructive fictions galore….the preternatural power of a single fiction, too, the fiction within this fiction. Not crude fake news told for political gain, but an undying truth of story-telling with quirks of happenstance and synchronicity and triangulation by every reader.
To be bound or to bound…
Cf: Real-time review of The Big Book of Classic Fantasy: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/07/05/the-big-book-of-classic-fantasy/
Quoted this book with the editors’ name as a concurrent review with XX here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/09/22/xx-by-rian-hughes/#comment-20204