Tag Archives: Caitlin R. Kiernan

WILD JUSTICE – Edited by Ellen Datlow

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. All my other real-time reviews, during the last three and half years, are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

As is customary with my real-time reviews,  I shall not read any introductions, story-notes or any other ‘extraneity-creep’, until  after I have completed the review of all the fiction, i.e. in accordance with my guiding interest in ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ since first encountering it during the 1960s.

I recently purchased this anthology as a customer from Amazon UK and downloaded it in a Kindle format to my ipad.  (None of my real-time reviews have been based on review copies.)

Wild Justice – Edited by Ellen Datlow

Ash Tree Press : 2012

First published as ‘Lethal Kisses’ by Orion Paperbacks, 1996.

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

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.

Authors included: A. R. Morlan, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Thomas Tessier, Terry Lamsley, Joyce Carol Oates, Roberta Lannes, Pat Cadigan, Simon Ings, David J. Schow, Christopher Fowler, Douglas Clegg, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Marshall Smith, Michael Swanwick, Jack Dann, Pat Murphy, Michael Cadnum, Richard Christian Matheson, M. M. O’Driscoll,


…Warmer – A.R. Morlan

“(Edan detested the obvious, in all things.)”

Whether I shall ever get warm enough to locate this story’s core, I am wondering. I was borne along by the amazing style of its once pre-retrocausal ‘ruin porn’ (please forgive me if I get my terms wrong but I know deep in the heart when I enjoy a read whatever the niceties of describing it – and I sure enjoyeed this interconnected concertina of step-changes in an all-pervasive pent-up sememe fest) – and here a budding starlet fresh from tattoo-licking and nipple-ring ripping in a film of real-time agony is chosen / asked by a cancer-brinked, twit-anglicised, twat-filming impresario to lip-synch with some cyborg ligotti-dolls that have beautiful voices and things stashed away on their bodies fit to revive Ancient Rome or Greece as a new pawn of ruins without the necessity of the debt haircuts (I may have some of that wrong – I lost the connection between the dolls and the beautifully striking sing-voice). Pawn rather than porn because of this story’s quantitative-(dis)easing “Euro-market crotch-grinds“!  Phew, I am not sure I got all that was going on in that hair-raising read. But I was certainly taken along in a whirlwind of images and urgent motives, body-wise and blood-racing, “E“-book curdled, domino-rally story-driven.  I may need to re-read it after I have gone further into this book’s aspirational connect-bacchanale of a gestalt. Or so I suspect.  Keeping my head, I hope, walking “…a quarter mile of empty hallway carpeted in the sort of plushy beige carpeting that mats down if you sneeze at it,…” (11 Mar 12 – 7.35 pm gmt)

Anamorphosis – Caitlín R. Kiernan

“The carpet had ended at the threshold and the floor was just hardwood and something on it that looked like Karo syrup.”

The Morlan, I recall, talked about italics as a way of talking. This Kiernan has cutting italic asides among the other “words like fishhooks” and a repainted “Jackson Pollock” scatology of ripe pungencies that I feel, if this book were made of paper, it would actually smell for real.  It’s that strong. This story is about a laundromat-working ‘scryer’ helping the police unofficially by sniffing out synchronous, almost occult, connections, as I do with real-time reviews. But my office is thankfully nearer to a laundromat (I hear it churning suds and clothes even as I write this) than it is to the unspeakably awful crime scenes in this story!  When I worked in London in the 1970s, I visited the National Gallery quite regularly at lunchtime, and saw Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’.  I often read Yeats on the tube train commuting.  And Conan Doyle, too.  (I read the Afterword by accident!) — I’m just ringing this story round: hesitating to get to its nub. It’s most unsavoury, you see. But that’s because the prose is so effective.  And the idea of the gradual homing in towards the gestalt of crime-solving by Deacon the scryer – reaching out, much to his own hesitation of vulnerable self-sanity as part of his powers-to-see, like mine, thus only to graze against the mix of truth and fiction: the head-lease author’s skilful stretching in and out of the words themselves from different angles … like Deacon does similarly when viewing the Holbein.  I think I shall remember this story for a long time.  It even has a reference to “small-time porn” to resonate with the previous story.  Both have that slick stickiness of meaning.  Flensed but rich. From humanity’s ruins building a structured cartilage of  phonemes and sememes anew. “Deacon had done his hangover morning counting trick, backwards from twenty-five,…” (10 Mar 12 – two hours later)

A Grub Street Tale – Thomas Tessier

“They’re too sophisticated and good for the commercial market, category fiction, but they’re not quite brilliant enough for literary acceptance.”

The eternal conundrum of writing fiction, even if one doesn’t think about it too much, but just writes. A thought-provoking but workmanlike tale – I’d say about serious revenge – or it may have been about an elaborate joke of light-hearted revenge by one of the parties involved because the ending skilfully ends too soon to tell us. A story about an author whose life was not fulfilled for whatever reason. And a metaphor of someone who would have been better left adrift, I guess, off the coast of Whitby rather than taken ashore -assuming the power of fiction is real magic rather than make-believe. Just my extrapolation. In any event I imagine Deacon from the previous story being given the job of sniffing out what lies behind this story’s crime-of-passion. I enjoyed being taken through the story’s civilised conversation: a quiet relief from the manic driving of the previous two authors! (11 Mar 12 – 8.45 am gmt)

Back in the Dunes – Terry Lamsley

“He scraped away some of the ashes and realised there were concrete floors…”

I am taking for granted that there is a connecting ‘link’ with all these stories that I do not need to plumb: i.e. as connected by the original ‘Lethal Kisses’ title of this collection, and I am satisfied, so far, this is the case.  I am keeping my powder (or sand) dry, meanwhile, concerning the new title: ‘Wild Justice’. My job – as I perhaps presumptuously see it – is hopefully to dig in different directions – and here to dig, along with the main protagonist, beneath the beige carpet of sand: in a scrubby seaside area connected with holidays and caravans and arcaded amusements etc – which is very much like the area where I actually live on the NE Essex coast.  This story creates that ‘genius loci’ brilliantly. Including the textured litter or props or uncivilised signs of behaviour that the sand and dunes often conceal.  And the sense of timelessness as well as lost time, easy sex, serial relationships to mask loneliness, shapeless miscreants who are not a million miles from Deep Ones or from Aickman glimpses out of the corner of the eye or from, as here, ghosts of seaside tragedies and of uncaring care in the community … and I am not disappointed, further enriched as it is by an atmospheric sense of retrocausality.  I am only slightly disappointed by what is, for me, the stilted mechanics of dénouement through self-conscious dialogue. (11 Mar 12 – four hours later)




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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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