Tag Archives: Garry Kilworth

BFS Journal – Spring 2012

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

It is a paperback book I received yesterday as part of my membership subscription to the BFS.

British Fantasy Society Journal – Spring 2012

Published by the BFS

Editors: Lou Morgan, Guy Adams, Ian Hunter

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.

All my other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

As is common with all my real-time reviews, I shall only be reviewing the fiction and poetry. There is much else in this book I anticipate enjoying.  My previous real-time review of a BFS publication: BFS Journal (Winter 2010).

The authors as they appear in the Journal: Jonathan Oliver, Zoe Elizabeth Barrett, Kelda Crich, Neil Fulwood, Rhys Hughes, David Glen Larson, Grant Quimper, Marie O’Regan, John DesPlaines, Fiona Moore, Allen Ashley, Garry Kilworth.


don’t you like the bird man? – Jonathan Oliver

“At the convention the two of them had picked up several awards for A Murder of Crows and now they were at Midtown Comics, drinking complimentary booze and meeting the fans.”

A story worthy of  the legendary long-running 1990s magazine: ‘A Nasty Piece of Work’ – in plain prose an  exercise in extrapolating from the creativity of seamlessly blending art and story: that, then, here, blends further into real life: a story of a monstrous bird man, and the writer’s wife’s regression to abuse in her childhood. Honestly nasty, but leaving a thoughtful aftertaste regarding life’s hidden motives and waking undercurrents  deriving from sometimes meaningless, sometimes meaningful nightmares. [I  became muddled about section breaks when coupled with page breaks on at least two occasions and I also spotted a loose comma. Having already riffled through the rest of the book, I noticed that the ‘don’t you like the birdman’ title is shown on the second page of the Rhys Hughes story.] (29 Apr 12 – 9.20 am bst)

morningmares (poem) – Zoë Elizabeth Barrett

in darkness, deep as death,”

Graceful horror lines that seem the perfect coda to the previous story: inasmuch as haunting by day blends with hunting by night: those waking dreams from nightmares being factored into real life…and vice versa. (29 Apr 12 – 9.35 am bst)

shadow whisperer at black hole hotel (poem) – Kelda Crich

“Don’t look into ink-space face.”

A woman born from the actual paper text’s dark enjambement: from TS Eliot, Bob Dylan, with a touch of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel?  And, thankfully, more I can’t quite pin down. Sinewy – and good. Wouldn’t work psychologically as well in ebook format, I feel.  [‘Add you life’ –> ‘Add your life’?] (29 Apr 12 – 12.25 pm bst)

the call of chavthulu – Neil Fulwood

Sorry, I’ve tried to read this but – probably due to my own shortcomings – I cannot read pages and pages of a story in such mock-dialect. I just can’t do it. It may be brilliant – should one be able to get past that hurdle. (29 Apr 12 – 12.55 pm)

jenny khan – Rhys Hughes

“‘When I go to Parliament,’ said Jenny, ‘I’ll abolish clouds. And I’ll live on cakes and peanuts! And when I’m full, I’ll jump up and down until I’m sick and start eating again!‘”

The older I get, the odder. But never as creatively and constructively and dyslogically odd as Rhys Hughes or, at least, Rhys Hughes’ work.  This is genuinely one of his greater pieces (and quite different from, if the same as, most of the other works I’ve read of his); good job! It takes up about 30 pages of this Journal. Worth every page.  It starts off with Jenny as a wonderful new take on Jane Turpin (by Evadne Price), a young girl version of Richmal Crompton’s ‘Just William’, but better.  And it evolves into a major satiric, Lewis-Carrollian ironic-fantasy: absurdist, hootingly funny, with at least half serious undercurrents about Parliament and voting, and power, and monarchy, and the Middle Class, and Machiavelli: with so many wonderful new Rhys-Hughesian conceits: eg: Alky / Alchemist, Jingo /Bingo, buying years for the amount of their numerical ‘name’: with all manner of larger-than-life characters and references like the one to the Guy who tried to blow up Parliament: and Whovian statue-blinks, Whovian mayhem in Westminster, slime things underground etc. Even a version of Facebook for Dictators. And much much more. The prose is plain and short-paragraphed (not usually to my taste), but the ideas scintillate. And it’s thought-provoking, too, if you have any thoughts to be provoked.  It even has childish conceits, to go with the more clever ones, like not finding any kangaroos in a kangaroo court. And the ending is not bathetic. It’s almost touching.  (29 Apr 12 – 3.05 pm bst)

As for the book’s gestalt, the ‘Jenny Khan’ absurdist syndrome is perhaps, inadvertently, a subtle symbol of the woman about to emerge from the Crich poem and feistily resisting any girl’s ‘abuse’ backstory touched upon by the Oliver story. The politically correct incorrectness of Hughes’ quantatative teasing. (29 Apr 12 -3.25 pm bst)

doorways (poem) – David Glen Larson

“But he being me didn’t know.”

What I call a plainstyle poem, yet skilfully carrying a metaphysical punch – derived from the ‘Dark Tower’ doorways between universes – with an interesting twist.

Further book credits: Design: Cavan Scott – Cover Illustration: Chris Roberts  (30 Apr 12 – 8.20 am bst)

mother’s boy – Grant Quimper

His hand fell onto the wooden grip of a carving knife and he paused for moment to enjoy the soft feel of the handle on his fingers.”

A striking vignette, starting, at relative length, with almost an ‘anti-novel’ precision of descriptive tactility in the making of a cup of tea and other kitchen activities: for example the quote above, where the softness of the fingers are deftly transposed psychologically to the hard handle. He makes the tea, thus, while listening to the screams of his mother before going off to help her. And ending with a “Nasty Piece of Work” slaughter in a Swiftian ‘Modest Proposal’ mode, the carving knife left for the source of the brood…  Effectively sick.

[I wonder whether it is worth my while continuing to seek a gestalt in this book’s fiction / poetry, as is my wont heretofore in real-time reviewing. I think this is the first time where I’m processing works scattered about a book rather than grouped together. In my similar regular real-time reviews, i.e. of Black Static, Interzone, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, BFS Journal: Winter 2010 etc, the fiction is grouped together whereby the gestalt  can seep from one to the other, unlike here. That’s not a criticism, of course, but an observation. Or it may be simply an excuse from me for struggling here to find the usual, almost ‘occult’, gestalt that has always emerged with sweet synchronicity when processing discrete items of fiction that had been deliberately grouped together edge to edge! 😉] (30 Apr 12 – 3.15 pm bst)

listen – Marie O’Regan

‘Then came the wind,’ he said, and the children instinctively moved closer together as the room seemed to fill with whispers borne on the breeze,”

[On reflection, maybe the book’s fiction gestalt was destroyed by my omission of an earlier story –] … yet here I seem to be back on some sort of serendipitous course, with Storyteller O’Regan’s Storyteller starting to tell his story about the wind [I am currently reading Stephen King’s new book ‘The Wind through the Keyhole’ and the latest homework task for our local writers’ group has to have the title “The Wind Whispers” –] and here the children gather around O’Regan’s Storyteller, abandoned in all good faith to this ‘enjoyment’ by their parents in the library. The children’s good faith, too, to listen – to suspend disbelief. One boy in particular grows more and more discomforted by the tenor of the story as if he is the only one present to spot the evil Pied Piper disguised as the Storyteller. A sudden change of point-of-view to the Storyteller then discomforted me – until I realised this was a skilful way to convey the fact that Story now faced Story in some battle: in a world that needs evil so as to create the good by contrast with that evil. The prose is satisfyingly dense, longish-paragraphed: yet it slides easily through the ‘assumed’ reading-ears carrying the transcendent story deeper and deeper into you – with toing and froing – and later the subtle influence of other horror figures but upon whose side they fight is uncertain.  Very effective story indeed reaching an ending that is at first inscrutable – but, on reflection, I think I know what it tells about a child’s life, the future dangers any child faces and the people whom to suspect or whom to depend upon. Very powerful and poignant climax, by innuendo: a final teasing hug for the reader before you depart the layers of storytelling. Listen and thou shalt hear. (30 Apr 12 – 8.20 pm bst)

the  wheel of whumpus (poem) – John DesPlaines

“For inscribed there…are the names of every bad boy and girl”

I think this is a gem of a new old-fashioned nursery-rhyme with a “morality-compass” message threading the near-nonsense verse. It means more than it says and resonates with the girls and boys in the audience of the previous story. Back on track-o with a perpetuo mot-o. (1 May 12 – 7.55 am bst)

the kindly race – Fiona Moore

‘Isn’t that the guy who directed Death in Venice last May?’ she asked.”

An engaging, poignant, well-written, humorous, slightly SF RomCom: with a well-characterised friendship – stretching over many of the years of our recent past – of a lesbian woman and a gay guy who are involved with artistic projects (collective drama etc) many of which are all Greek to me. Deals with exploitation of self and others: dealing with ends and means: immortality and Ishiguro-type clones, sexual politics, business ethics. Loved it. Like ‘the wheel of whumpus’, a morality-compass.  Like the audience and storyteller in ‘listen’, the gullibility of “longevity, not youthening“: and a superb ending that reminded me of a side-show climax of a Freaks film: factored into by an earlier telling reference (hidden in the text) to the poem ‘Tithonus’ by Tennyson that I’ve just re-read. I’m off to get my Greek haircut now. (1 May 12 – 9.30 am bst)

faerie mails – Allen Ashley

“I have read you over the ether and I know we can connect.”

A wittily dotty series of phishing spam emails that remind me of Ramsey Campbell’s instigated real-time thread ‘Amazing Rubbish’ here and some of the devices in his book ‘The Grin of the Dark’. Also resonates with the phishing promise of immortality and its implicit traps from the previous story.  Just fill in the dots. Rumpelstiltskin had a thing about Greek haircuts, too, I guess. All upon the weirdmonger ‘wheel of whumpus’ that is the internet. (1 May 12 – 10.00 am bst)

the fabulous beast – Garry Kilworth

It seemed as if the edges were melding together, […] …texts on the hides. I studied the edges of the scrolls and found their rippling hems locked together like pieces of a jigsaw.”

OMG, I think this is my Holy Grail of a gestalt in all my years of real-time reviewing. Why did I mention ‘edges’ of stories through which they seep together earlier in this review? Here this concept reaches something I did not expect when I said that: something so uncanny for me, I think there is a tadness of ‘occult’ about this process, after all! Taken on its own, this Kilworth story is a genuinely original mad scientist story, touching on gaia undercurnents worthy of Algernon Blackwood (cf The Centaur) and the ‘workshop of filthy creation’ in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. On top of that discreteness as a compelling story in or out of this book’s context, ‘fabulous beast’ echoes the immortality theme of the Moore (even explicitly mentioning a ‘freak circus’ in the Kilworth), the ‘birth’  of those autonomous creatures in the O’Regan, and the destruction of the ‘brood‘ in the Quimper: and the emergence of the bird man in the Oliver, ‘the wheel of whompus’ now spinning so hard it brings into explicit being, here in the Kilworth, the very Parthenogenesis theme with which I was obsessed when I started the ‘parthenogenetic fiction’ (and ‘late-labelling’) with ‘Nemonymous’ (cf: for example, ‘Sexy Beast’ by Tony Mileman in issue 4 (2004)).  And the “Zoo” mentioned here echoes Cern Zoo….

This is a brilliant mixed bag of fictions and poems. Tantalisingly unified as well as a variety  of styles and subjects. Whether editorially intentional or not to create this effect, I am awestruck. And apologies again to Neil Fulwood. Who knows what his story may have factored into the edgy melting-pot. (1 May 12 – 11.00 am)


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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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