Tag Archives: ann vandermeer

The Haunted Bookshelf

Photo of my own haunted bookshelf

The Ash Tree Press Yahoogroups ‘All Hallows’ has been going many years with much discussion activity on ghost stories and things horror genre, of which group I have been a member. Yesterday, Christopher Roden announced another Yahoogroups entitled ‘The Haunted Bookshelf’ specifically at first to discuss systematically the stories in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s massive and massively acclaimed THE WEIRD. You may apply for membership here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Haunted_Bookshelf
Their Facebook page for immediate updates etc: https://www.facebook.com/TheHauntedBookshelf

During November 2011, I conducted a detailed systematic real-time review of THE WEIRD here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/df-lewiss-real-time-review-of-the-vandermeers-massive-the-weird/ and I have since received a lot of good feedback about it — including from one of its editors in a public statement and, yesterday, out of the blue, Johnny Mains started a new thread on his Facebook page with a link to my review and stating that it was: “The greatest review of any book in the history of reviews.”

I don’t intend to re-post any of that review to The Haunted Bookshelf discussion group or, at this stage, to re-read the book. But I hope members of the group, if they think fit, will read my review about each story ‘in media res’. I shall be interested to see what the others think of the stories and I shall no doubt make input regarding any new thoughts of my own during the discussion.

Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories


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My real-time ‘unofficial companion’ of THE WEIRD

Quoted from HERE, regarding my massive review of the massive THE WEIRD ed. by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.


“I discovered recently that Des Lewis’s monster ‘real-time review’ of every single story in ‘The Weird’ is now available in book form from Lulu.

Real-Time Reviews – Volume Six by D F Lewis (Paperback) – Lulu

As fans of his reviewing will know, DFL is very astute at highlighting correspondences, subtexts and ‘gestalts’ between the stories, both real and metaphysical, and I’ve revisited several of them on the back of these reviews simply because he made me realise that I had overlooked some of the deeper themes on first reading.

If you’re like me and ‘The Weird’ will reside on the bedside table to be read and reread for years to come, then I can wholeheartedly recommend Des’s little book as a useful ‘unoffical companion’ to this peerless anthology.”


And many congratulations to AV and JV for recently winning the World Fantasy Award for this anthology!

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The Hospice – by Robert Aickman

I am celebrating the year’s anniversay of commencing my real-time reviewing of THE WEIRD, a truly massive anthology of stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. And seeing that the Guardian newspaper has today featured this particular story by Robert Aickman, here is a reprise of my review after the story was published in THE WEIRD last year:

The Hospice – Robert Aickman
“…it was as if most of these people had been with one another for a long time, during which things to talk about might have run out, and possibly with little opportunity for renewal through fresh experience.”
I am utterly delighted to re-read, re-value this ultimate classic of weird literature in the context of ‘The WEIRD’ and of my own late middle age / accreting old age.  It is of a male protagonist in an era without King’s Full Dark, No Stars sat-nav / gps contraption sent on a short cut and arrives at this private hotel (with petrol low in his car’s tank from having become lost) – (and no mobile contraption or even a phone in the ‘hotel’) – (and contraptions inadvertently unmentioned in my Third of the Way report above) – now faced with a claustrophobic concupiscence between the sexes, strikingly heavy meals (unexpectedly exaggerated but typified by the picture of spam soup earlier above), shapes in the night – but, earlier, anxiety sitting in the restaurant like a fish out of water (cf Dirk Bogarde in ‘Death in Venice’ hotel restaurant) and a sense of people of my general time-of-life  in “God’s waiting-room”: the common nickname for the area where I live. There is a pub nearby where people of my age regularly eat – a large steaming roast dinner a day. Not that I go there very often, myself, but when I do it is teeming with people I recognise from when I went there before – except for those accretingly absent…  An Age of Anxiety. The story’s weird unsettling grows artfully. The dust settling grew on this story, until I exhumed it today thanks to this book. It is a “bad dream“, true, but it is also the best thing since sliced bread. “‘…I have seldom seen a more gorgeous dress.’ / ‘Yes,’ she replied with simple gravity. ‘It comes from Rome. Would you like to touch it?‘” (19/11/11 – three hours later)


My much earlier comments on THE HOSPICE story relating to Brussel Sprouts etc: HERE



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The RevaMenders upon the Ives of November

I am planning very soon (November 2) to celebrate the year’s anniversary of my commencement of a massive Autumnal ‘real-time review’ of a massive book: a book even more massive (in all senses) — indeed a review even more massive — from the perspective of hindsight. Yes, The WEIRD, co-edited by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer. More and more massive as the days expire between reading it and my ever diminishing ‘now’.

What new is there now to be said about it? Well, re-reading my own year-old daily postings about the book — in this renewal of an eternal Autumn — I know I shall dwell on ever newer things that arrive towards my mind.

Goodness knows what would happen if I actually started reading the book itself again! My mind would explode, no doubt.  I might indeed repeat all my unstinting praise of the book as well as any remaining ‘Unanswered Question’ that I made in the review and elsewhere (the year before the year before) about the genre of Weird Literature, its definitions, its exponents.

The WEIRD book is not so much a Weirdmonger’s Bible, but a journey I made, am still making: an accretively recurrent ‘Road to Damascus’ where creative dreams are more important than destructive bombs.

Beware the Ives of November, the Sturgeon pointing along a new river of thought. But the dream may indeed be finally mended, each Unanswered Question retrocausally answered, for each of us in our own way.

Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories

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Three BFS Award Winners 2012

All my real-time reviews for CHOMU PRESS books ab initio: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/my-chomu-press-real-time-reviews/

All my real-time reviews for BLACK STATIC issues: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/tta-press-my-real-time-reviews/

My massive real-time review during Autumn 2011 of the VanderMeers’ massive THE WEIRD:  https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/df-lewiss-real-time-review-of-the-vandermeers-massive-the-weird/

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Forever Autumn


From my 2011 Real-Time Review (HERE) of the VanderMeers’ THE WEIRD:
“The best Weird fiction can touch and tantalise you strangely, darkly, poignantly, humorously, grotesquely or with deathly finality, but, also, mellowly and fruitfully, because, from the very experience of reading it at all, one never quite reaches the winter beyond the autumn in the way that you once reached the autumn beyond the summer.”

From my 2012 real-time review (HERE) of PEEL BACK THE SKY by Stephen Bacon:
<<Forever Autumn
“…there are no seasons any more – just one long endless constant.”
When I real-time reviewed the VanderMeers’ massive ‘The WEIRD’ book, I came to the conclusion that the distilled core of its century’s worth of High Weird literature was, for me, a mathematical constant embodied by ’Forever Autumn’. I think I said this a few times explicitly in my equally MASSIVE real-time review. At that time, I had not read this story by Stephen Bacon, a number of whose stories would surely have been deserving of being included in that book. No greater compliment can I give his work than saying that. Meanwhile, this particular story, although not among his best, nevertheless makes me think for the first time that such post-virus scenarios are emblematic of a slipping and sliding of human standards since I was a child in the 1950s, towards a self-deceiving brain-numbness in authorities when trying to ’control’ the <<’soldiers’ that are us>>, a fact that yesterday’s Hillsborough findings show was already happening in the downward zombie-viral cycle as much as 23 years ago…only few of us remaining to recognise that inverted cone-spiral of verities… But that may only be because I’m well and truly within my own ‘Forever Autumn’ whereby all manner of clouded ’wool’ is being pulled over my eyes that I hope good imaginative fiction can still manage to peel off.>>

From my review of MORBID TALES by Quentin S Crisp HERE:
“I always relish dealing with Prince Autumn.”

‘The Last Balcony’ by me: The eternal last stand or simply CANDLE DREAMING?


several references to the ‘Yellow Wallpaper’ story in my fiction



Yellowish haze in Ligotti fiction and as a character called ‘Yellowish Haze’ in my ‘WEIRDTONGUE’ and as an avatar of one of my oldest internet friends.

Autumnology or Aeontonomy – a new approach to a late life of mellow fruitfulness…

Aeontonomy – Autumn Immortalis
He was going for the aeon…” — Rhys Hughes: at the end of ‘The First Book of Classical Horror Stories’, from his story about Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.


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Prince November’s Quandary

Having just completed real-time reviewing the fiction anthology DADAOISM (Chômu Press 2012), I have distilled my own symbol from the gestalt of its contents.

I now have the residual Autumn years of my life – however few or many – to decide which is the greatest anthology of all:



the VanderMeers’ massive ‘The WEIRD’ that I obsessedly real-time reviewed during November 2011: Inter alia, I said then: “The best Weird fiction can touch and tantalise you strangely, darkly, poignantly, humorously, grotesquely or with deathly finality, but, also, mellowly and fruitfully, because, from the very experience of reading it at all, one never quite reaches the winter beyond the autumn in the way that you once reached the autumn beyond the summer.”


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When I’m in the Hospice…

 When I’m in the hospice, I can’t think of a better book to have with me than … The WEIRD.

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Heath Robinson Contraptions

Today I bought this book in Waterstones Colchester:

Heath Robinson Contraptions

Edited by Geoffrey Beare (Duckworth Overlook)

Purchased in honour of the contraptive findings in my massive real-time review of the VanderMeers’ massive ‘The WEIRD’.

Heath Robinson, this Beare book visually demonstrates, often made physically algorithmic audit-trails into massive appurtenances of ‘hammer’ to crack small but desirable ‘nuts’.

Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories

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The Weirdonomicon and other reviewing point

I have now completed my re-appraisal of my original real-time review of the Reva-Menders’ massive WEIRDONOMICON (as I’ve christened it) HERE, and hence signed off the whole real-time reality-perspective of this endeavour on my part.


Quite separately, this is my general ‘nutshell’ view on reviewing fiction books that I posted yesterday on the interesting thread HERE:

“I think reviews divide into 3
(1) those that curve as far as possible to the positive to encourage reading in general (a la John Updike’s reviewing rules).
(2) Those that are negative.
(3) Those that are mocking or tendentious.

With (3), I suggest the review is not made at all or given to another reviewer.”

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The Stiff and the Stile – Stepan Chapman

Earlier extract from my real-time review of the VanderMeers’ massive ‘The WEIRD’ HERE:-

The Stiff and the Stile – Stepan Chapman

“- a string of worm sausages perhaps, or a nice roast of dog.”

A brief piece with cumulative vocatives of nursery rhyme without enjambement. Enjoyable, but not terribly impressed. But I can talk – as much of my own reputation was once based on similar experiments. (29/11/11 – another hour later)


Today I have re-read it – as I feel conscious, especially after yesterday’s Unsrednidipitous concerns of possible earlier ‘pigging’, that I should now re-appraise a 4th story, i.e. this Chapman one. [A quote from the earlier overall Real-Time Review: “Some of my wilder extrapolations and continual pigging on too many truly great stories. It does something to the mind. Good or bad, I’m not sure.“]

This story is still as brief as it ever was. The beauty of the dependability of being in a real book rather than in a slippery customer like any ebook chameleon of textual fickleness, pirateability, plagiaribility &c &c…

It is a “There was an old woman who swallowed a fly”-type fable, another example of which I srednidipitously found in a newly published Rhys Hughes fable a few days ago, i.e. ‘The Grave Demeanour’ , since completing my review of ‘The WEIRD’. The two fables are different but mutually synergistic. Hence: an example of the sensitivity of any conflux of reading and reviewing. The Chapman now seems to represent the whole book of ‘The WEIRD’ — the VAN – the SAW being the combined editorial slicing and filling with the reader’s visual intake and, having seen, SAW; the final trigger of the FLEAS being the text itself.  The GOBLIN, RAT , ONE-LEGGED BUTCHER, LAMPREY being the book’s Zoo or Chameleon Pettery trying to push and pull the STIFF meaning through its STILE, the semantically-sticky burr through the tangled bush … blending mincing mulching for loading on the VANderMeer.  Many downtrod as well as other cats in the book elsewhere. Eventually, the MERE CAT itself rises from being lisa-tuttled and stands tall, proud of what it has created. The Absurd Reliquary. The Weirdonomicon. “A happy ending.” 

[The whole real-time review now signed off by the Weirdmonger, two days before his 64th birthday.] (16 Jan 12)

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Proudly taken with my new iPad this January Sunday morning in my own garden. At least two people, so far, on Facebook think it is a screaming face.

Also, this review today of the VanderMeers’ massive ‘The WEIRD’ is most interesting: http://jhstevens.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/the-weirdness-addendum/ In hindsight, it also explains a lot about my own cited ‘pigging’ and then having publicly to reappraise (weeks later) at least three of the stories!

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Dust Enforcer – Reza Negarestani

I owe it to this landmark book – the VanderMeers’ massive The WEIRD – to read every word in it. In my original real-time review HERE, I abandoned this ‘story’: ‘Dust Enforcer’ by Reza Negarestani.  I have today read it in full.  It is still difficult. But, as deserved by its context in this book, it gives to this zoo of a book, at least a confabulation of zoological rigour in scientific exposition – coupled with increasingly mote-moating treatments of extrapolated forensics of human soul and demon dust: reminding me of my own ‘All is for the Pest in the Pest of all Possible Worlds’: a dissemination of plague (Cisco’s, in my review yesterday, Kubin’s earlier?) leading to all manner of modern, ancient, mundane, spiritual (even Lovecraftian) considerations: e.g. the recent history of the Middle East and the so-called Arab Spring (possibly now an Arab Autumn?) explicitly shown as part of the “Pest-Cycle“? The synergies of pairs, including male and female symbiosis or host-parasite syndrome and a specific reference to the spiderous symbiosis of Ewers (here an “intoxicated spider“), Cisco’s careerist, careering assassinuousness: here described as “overkilling“. — Not only zoologically rigorous but (tying its leitmotifs into a gestalt) a visionary Biblical-wide Hadron tachyon-electronica of coming to life (and death) as human achievement teetering on the edge of “an autistic nihilism“.  The Higgs boson that was born on Christmas Eve instable. — What this whole book’s about?  Its paper pages all to turn to dust when the planet chooses to enforce new far-reaching processes quite beyond our ken?  Ultra-Ebook-Electronic. Ultra Vires. Ultramundane. Perhaps Reza, in far-seeing hindsight, will be understood as a prophet. But who is clever enough to understand let alone prophesy?

[I hope I have now covered the few stories in ‘The WEIRD’ which I needed to re-appraise, while I am in this re-appraising mood.  If not, please let me know.]

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The Beautiful Gelreesh – Jeffrey Ford

Today, a different reader as Proustian self from the Proustian self HERE when reviewing the VanderMeers’ massive ‘The WEIRD’, I have taken advantage of a reappraising mood, in the context of  the later self’s more recent reading, to re-engage with The Beautiful Gelreesh by Jeffrey Ford.

“Although the garden appeared to be at the height of summer life, this adjacent stretch of forest, leading toward the sea, was forever trapped in autumn.”

…trapped in autumn, consorting with Prince November, as many of you know who read the original real-time review of ‘The WEIRD’, was a strong seam through the fabric of my reading. The Summer People – given salvation, here, with the Autumn of Salvation, by some messenger who turns out to be the message (Like Christ?). A way out from the Ligottian ‘knots’ – like Cisco’s Genius of Assassins that I reviewed again yesterday and remarkably, like another story I happened to review yesterday in a different book, Douglas Thompson’s Escaladore (incredibly so).  Here, in the Ford, again we have the ‘travel as chore’ syndrome of ‘The WEIRD’, now made a slipping away by geographically fabulous messages about your whereabouts following the easement of your death.  Plus a telling reference, I feel, to Denis Diderot’s ‘Le Neveu de Rameau’. Another example of the Pet Syndrome (“man’s best friend“) of ‘The WEIRD’ – “the boy’s cage” – for me, not a message in a bottle, but a relic in a reliquary. The reliquary of this story, of the book it’s now buried within. How did I miss this valuable bone before? This morning, the story shines out: now ready to fly or simply to preen its wisdom quietly.


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The Genius of Assassins: Three Dreams of Murder in the First Person – Michael Cisco

Earlier extract from my real-time review of the VanderMeers’ massive ‘The WEIRD’ HERE:-

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)


Today (7 Jan 12) I have fully read this story.  I must have had some sort of blind spot amid the blinding strobes of creative reading on 30/11/11 above.

Michael Cisco is a great author, especially if he can work this miracle, this turnaround – indeed, arguably, here with a story greater than most of the other stories that I appreciated first time round. But that is the danger of real-time reviewing, I guess. A picture in time. A mote, not a moat, around a reading-journey rather than infecting it like Cisco’s plague germ from this story.  A scenic self as murderer, a stereoscopic self as serial careerist in killing, involving otherwise loving blood-connected generations. Humans should love all other humans, as we all have blood connections, the simple possession of it. Perhaps that’s why we need to kill some of those humans, as we do not have enough love to share around.   It’s a dream, a nightmare, a theatrical critique of our dramatic entrances and exits.  A gratuitous Jungian pool of destructive desires: like the pool in The WEIRD’s Clark Ashton Smith story.  There is another cat-killing, too, as sort of top-off head upon an intoxicant far stronger than (my favourite) beer: words.  The larvae disguised as the tentacles from The WEIRD’s cover infecting our brain from the bottom of the barrel: the ‘final selection’ brew that un-does the un-doer in you: but still you go on, unable to stop, killing even yourself time and time again because you hate loving yourself. That’s what we all do. Self-serving. Even the whole world is your accomplice, its geography, its ley-lines, its contoured zodiacs or zoos, its sea-sized pools, its Barronial forests of desire.  [Simon trips on the pavement” – a few minutes after reading this sentence a few hours ago, a loved one returns from a walk by the sea, her face all bloodied. Tripped over the pavement, she said. Luckily she’s not badly hurt. More psychologically un-done for a while. True.] “…the park lying in the carpet smell…”

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Underlooked Weird Fiction of the Year

Overlooked fiction – some fiction is even understandably overlooked by those collecting the titles of the overlooked Weird books of the year 2011. But some fiction is underlooked…

The Peacock Escritoire – by Mark Valentine

Allurements of Cabochon – by John Gale

Amerika – by Karim Ghahwagi

A Pallid Wave on Shores of Night – by Adam S. Cantwell

The Mauve Embellishments – by Charles Schneider

The Bestiary of Communion – by Stephen J Clark 

The Exorcist’s Travelogue’ – by George Berguño

Alcyone – Colin Insole

Link Arms With Toads! – Rhys Hughes

The Secret Life of the Panda – Nick Jackson

Even The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories  that is also first published in 2011.

 Plus others I’ve underlooked myself!  And books that don’t fit the genre being overlooked.
Des, Author of ‘Nemonymous Night’ (2011) and editor of ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’ (2011) – both retrocausally interlooked or disturbed by ‘floaters’!


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Jeff VanderMeer on my Weird Review

I am really pleased with Jeff VanderMeer’s reaction in his blog to my real-time review of The WEIRD! It was an alephantine pleasure and a hard-won fulfilment for me to harvest such thoughts and srednidipities from this titanic editorial work by both Reva-Menders. It is my own landmark read in the Autumn of my years, if not in my whole lifetime. I saw Prince November – and I was happy.
Not wishing to be melodramatic or pretentious, but the thoughts I am trying to express above are of that order.

Extract from Jeff’s blog: So I would argue that we need more *reviews* that are both in-depth and sympathetic. That display evidence that the reviewer has allowed the text to be not just at the center of their attention, but to have all of their attention.

LINK to its whole: http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2011/12/09/the-weird-the-generosity-of-a-story-by-story-review/

Link to the index for my real-time review by clicking on the book’s cover:-

Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories

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I managed to see ‘Prince November’ for real

Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories


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The WEIRD: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories

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.

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. I have already ordered this book from an Amazon dealer. I hope to commence this review as soon as I receive it.

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or weeks. But more likely: months or even years (judging by the enormous size of its contents).

CAVEATS: 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. Also, Nemonymous (Cern Zoo) was the original publisher of ‘The Lion’s Den’ by Steve Duffy that is included in this book.

My many other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ (2 Nov 11)

“… maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. […] Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.” – an extract from John Updike’s rules.

Just this minute received delivery of the book itself. Wow! And double-columned text – didn’t expect that. (4 Nov 11 – 1.05 pm GMT)

Having now handled this beautifully handleable tome, as gigantic as it is imposing, I wonder now if I have bitten off more than I can chew by tackling a real-time review of it.  I am thrilled as well as daunted by this project, hoping that I live long enough to complete such an endeavour. As ever with my RTRs heretofore (proceeding apace for three years exactly today), I shall treat each story as it comes. Here, with this book, I shall re-read any story I have read before in my 63 year reading-life, hopefully attuning each reading to an emerging gestalt. Every collection and anthology has a gestalt, in my experience, whether intended or not, sometimes quite an unexpected one. Whether that gestalt has a randomly inexplicable / synchronous power or a more deliberate one, I try to feed back that power to the book itself when reviewing it, e.g. knowing that a  book’s reading journey may be different if one knows, when making that journey, that one is publicly communicating the experience of that journey in real-time. Finally, I usually do not read introductions, story notes etc until I have completed the review, and that will be the case here. (4 Nov 11 – an hour later)

The Other Side (an excerpt) – Alfred Kubin

Now the area had transformed into a monstrous zoo.”

A very promising start for me, containing feral and dream-sickness (my expression, not the story’s) and zoo themes that have obsessed me. A sleeping sickness plague for humans and when they awake the animal kingdom has run amok, with frightening and humorous results. There’s even a bear that eats a pork butcher’s widow. An enjoyable and provocative dystopian fable with implications for immortality and decay. I’m not sure if the excerpted nature of this piece has meant I miss or misread some of the characters’ protagonisms… yet it seems steeped constructively, and at least partially, in War With The Newts – by Karel Capek (4 Nov 11 – another two hours later)

The Screaming Skull – F. Marion Crawford

“One always remembers one’s mistakes much more vividly than one’s cleverest things, doesn’t one?”

Apt talk of November and of drugging people like Michael Jackson so as to sleep soundly and  a tell-tale or five-fingered skull – on the loose – and soliloquised about maniacally then sensibly then maniacally again then wrecked on the rocks of the reader’s craggy mind (i.e. mine) – this is an incredibly modern tale told to us from the unmodern past.  It’s like the animals in the Kubin are emblemised as on the loose with leaden brains and grinning bony carapaces. Each single haunted skull to  betoken another somewhere else or another part of itself with Darwinian jigsaw fitting? A classic horror story that I’m pleased to have brought back to my attention. I remembered it not. Not quite like this – in this book’s heavy-bendy skull-tome context… “…the dog, his face growing more and more like a skull with two little coals for eyes;” — (4 Nov 11 – another 4 hours later)

The Willows – Algernon Blackwood

I. “It was an otter, alive, and out on the hunt; yet it had looked exactly like the body of a drowned man…”

For me, a welcome opportunity to re-read this weird classic after a number of years. Lonely Literature’s ulitmate ‘genius loci’ (gestalt stätte): the boat trip of the narrator with his ‘unimaginative’ companion (the Swede) along the ill-differentiated Danube between land and water, nature and terror. Here we echo the stream of feral beasts or skulls of earlier stories in this book alongside the patternless, human-uncontrolled surge of currencies and debts that pervade our news today, joining a ‘parent river’ then we become another different unexpected parent-in-waiting of children that were misborn years before we were first alive.  Here we have willow-prehensile land and water as a herd or swarm instinct – as accentuated by even Unimagination itself now being impeached by frissons and fears – not Three Men in a Boat with jokey bonhomie, but two men alone together in a clumsy Jungian canoe that is you and me… (5 Nov 11)

II. & III. “It was we who were the cause of the disturbance,…”

Not by (a) ‘our’ disturbing the disturbance into existence, but by (b) creating it at source, from the hands of the head-lease author via the creative narrator towards the even more creative reader?  The story’s overt implication is (a), but re-reading this story in my later years I now feel it is (b) and – with the wind, the patterings, the heaviness of soul and the shapes emerging from some gaia – all take on a new meaning as I disturb – or create? – the story’s hidden gestalt. (5 Nov 11 – two and a half hours later)

IV. & V. “Our thoughts make spirals in their world. We must keep them out of our minds at all costs if possible.”

The above “them” actually being our thoughts themselves (any or all of our thoughts to be kept from our mind!) or is it THEM: the transcendents that lurk like Old Ones beyond the thinning or “veil” (veil or ‘door’, with the swarm of bees or humming gong sound, a la Stephen King’s Todash?) – or the strange disjointed fragments of phrases that make no sense and may be our thoughts disguised? This is all genuinely frightening to the reader who, as I hinted before, is more than implicated by just reading the story – despite the 3-men-in-a-boat laughter that breaks out at one point. Yet, there are three men here after all, the ego, id and nemo, but which is the Swede (cf: ‘the American’ in the Kubin story or ‘the Russian’ in Blackwood’s ‘The Centaur’ novel), which the equally anonymous narrator and which the anonymous victim ‘otter’?  There will hopefully come soon my ‘hole in the toe of my shoe’ moment (rather than my ‘hole in the bottom of my canoe’ moment). A revelation, this re-reading, as I imagine the transcendents’ shapes made up of several animals from another ‘monstrous zoo’.

“The nemo is an evolutionary force, as necessary as the ego. The ego is certainty, what I am; the nemo is potentiality, what I am not. But instead of utilizing the nemo as we would utilize any other force, we allow ourselves to be terrified by it, as primitive man was terrified by lightning. We run screaming from this mysterious shape in the middle of our town, even though the real terror is not in itself, but in our terror at it.”
– John Fowles 1964 (from ‘The Necessity of Nemo’ in ‘The Aristos’)
(5 Nov 11 – another 3 hours later)

NB: ‘The Willows’ seems to be a treatment of self-deception (and indeed the expression ‘self-deception’ in this sense is used in its text). This is appropriate as I am currently reading an academic book by Robert Trivers about ‘self-deception’. (5 Nov 11 – another 30 minutes later)

Sredni Vashtar – Saki

Without his imagination, which was rampant under the spur of loneliness, he would have succumbed long ago.” Cf: the ‘unimaginative’ Swede in the previous story!

 A short densely textured Saki classic masterpiece about a boy fighting (according to how the mood takes you in this welcome thoughtful yet relaxing mode of reading ‘The Weird’) against (or with?) class-conscious, generation-conscious, toast-conscious views of religion and social convention and all idol religion – with a feral god fluted from the Kubin or shape-swarmed, shape-beasted Blackwood. (Loved the TV version of this story but can’t get it out of my ‘thoughts’ when reading the story).  (5 Nov 11 – another 3 hours later)

Casting the Runes – M. R. James

“…Mr Karswell began the story by producing a noise like a wolf howling in the distance,…”

Karswell, Kubin. Sakitribution. Meanwhile, this is a characteristic, if slightly off-the-wall, M.R.-Jamesian story of various civilised and partially academic narrative-levels (one epistolary, another unreliable, others more reliable), i.e. unfictionalised fiction that hides and then tantalisingly reveals a pursuant or stalking evil like a simmering burr you can’t brush off.  A mass of creatures, at one point, and a “dry rustling noise” and, also as in ‘The Willows’, an Unimagination stirred into Imagination (the latter tellingly nearer to the truth about what lies behind any veils and piques) … and a snappish creature under the pillow that I imagined to be like Sredni Vashtar. And pursuant Runes or letters (some embedded in glass not upon it) like the lexic disjointments in ‘The Willows’. “I’ve been told that your brother reviewed a book very severely…”   Following the morally satisfactory conclusion of this spooky story, I nevertheless retain some empathy, if not sympathy, with our man Karswell…. (6 Nov 11)



All my many other real-time reviews are linked from HERE.


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The Lion’s Den – Cern Zoo


I am delighted that Steve Duffy’s THE LION’S DEN story from Nemonymous Nine: CERN ZOO (2009) is being published in the above book entitled THE WEIRD. Just looking at the contents list – this is a major event for any story in the whole history of Weird Literature! (Congratulations, Steve!)

Also delighted that a very old friend of mine, Mark Samuels, has a story in there, too: THE WHITE HANDS. Very well deserved.

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