Tag Archives: R.B. Russell

BLACK HORSE and Other Strange Stories

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt, drawing connections…. A book I recently purchased from the publisher and received a few days ago.

BLACK HORSE and Other Strange Storiesby Jason A. Wyckoff

Tartarus Press 2012

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/ (3 Mar 12 – 8.50 a.m gmt)

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An author whose name is completely new to me. But I relish the promise of ‘Strange Stories’, being, as I am, a ‘sufferer’ from Aickmania.

The Highwall Horror

“…he hung his North American wildlife wall calendar open to April and briefly considered the mallards in flight.”

Joe is a young ambitious architect – with a “honey-do” family of wife and daughters at home – and, at work, he moves into what I see as a glorified carrel or here called ‘cubicle’ whence its predecessor architect had left the firm suddenly.  Ranging between Ligottian ‘corporate horror’ and a Kafkaesque feel, we are suddenly tipped into a Lovecraftian panorama through the cubicle wall…. The prose is textured, sophisticated but easily accessible and highly effective. I sense we  have a significant Weird Fiction writer here – sensed even this early in the proceedings of reading the book.   A story that I am sure will linger with me as emanating from its power of what I gradually felt I was made to see as insectoid wordprint within the “oblong rectangles” of white walls … lingering until I read this book’s next story? “Terrible connections in his head were trying to come together while his sanity strove to keep them apart.” (3 Mar 12 – 90 minutes later)

Panorama

“Down beneath the carpet the small people in the floor creep over electrical wires to the walls…”

Sometimes in my whole reading life – and in latter years, my reviewing life – I wonder at the displacement of a particular work of fiction. Is this the work for which I have been waiting all these years to discover: originally stunned by Lovecraft in the 1960s, next  stunned by Ligotti in the 1980s, now to be stunned by Wyckoff in the 2010s? I have already (only) made a single deliberately concentrated reconnaissance of ‘Panorama’, but it feels more like a passing glance than an act of concentration. It surely needs far more effort and time for cumulative passing glances – just as the panoramic (Sistine roof?) work of art in the story itself needs its own various channels of passing glance to be travelled, created as this work of art happens to be (a cross between Bosch and Escher and more?) with separately autonomous and unsimultaneous ley-lines of tugged eye-path (or, in story-terms, reading’s audit trails)…  all mingled with vital considerations of the artist himself who perpetrated it, of the artist’s model (the artist’s loved one who is tugged herself into the canvas’ ley-lines (or paper insect-trails of print?)), and of the artist’s agent or, here, surrogate third-person narrator who is also in love with the model and who travels to the artist’s studio after failing to raise him on the phone and, after fearing the worst, eventually discovers this ‘Sistine roof’ (that expression of mine does not do it justice)  and the various entrapments of both word and word-evoked images, in turn mingled with images of an erstwhile gallery-showing of this artist’s work. Is this a major, landmark story fundamentally to shake the Weird Fiction world or something of which I shall never reach the bottom however many passing glances I devote to it? I keep my powder dry.  The text, meanwhile, is stunning: and incommunicable to anyone who has not directly experienced the work itself. (3 Mar 12 – ten hours later)

The Walk Home

“It was always the best party they’d ever had.”

A touching, haunting, exquisitely worded vignette of sprites as ghosts or ghosts as sprites, with a death-enduring feminine loyalty theme in the face of everpresent masculine dangers or poignantly masculine protections: a moral ‘thin ice’: hinting to me again of the vaguely adaptable formula for humanity’s selfish/unselfish motive-tussles that I identified in a real-time review that I just completed about another new (to me) writer here.  (4 Mar 12 – 8.35 am gmt)

Intermediary

Who says a ghost has to look like the body it fell out of?”

An intermediary is a broker. So is a fiction author. Without hopefully transgressing my much long-cherished view of The Intentional Fallacy as a literary given, here one of the protagonists – the archaeologist Barclay following aptly the architect Joe in the first story – has his own implied ‘honey-do’ family back home: back home while he is dicing-with-danger-or-amorality (possibly equivalent to writing dangerously weird fiction) so as to wreak honour or benefit for that family. This story, as foreshadowed by ‘The Walk Home’, is concerned with (what is here now called) “moral integrity“, with Barclay also dangerously faced with his own self-perceived edgy job and the archaeological ‘riches’ he and his colleague have found in Ecuador:  wrapped round with guilt, anger, mixed motives of greed and fellowship (even murder!), reminding me of much well-seasoned high-quality literary fiction I can’t put my memory’s finger on (later filmed by Hollywood for Bogart et al to appear in?): as their tent, in the middle of the Ecuadorian nowhere, is ‘invaded’ with their apparent permission by a large poncho man carrying a  shrunken head: with morality to broker and requesting coffee to drink as the excuse for ‘invasion’ [cf: amazingly, the exact same coffee reason given in a parallel edgy situation in another of my recent real-time reviews: i.e. of the story Fake in ‘Nowhere to Go’].  Only at the end does one begin to think. Thinking is thought-provoking. This story in itself is thought-provoking — as well as retrocausally atmospheric with a prose style to die for. “While you can only see fragments of a terrible future, he is weighing options and considering outcomes.” (4 Mar 12 – three hours later)

THIS REAL-TIME REVIEW IS NOW CONTINUED HERE.

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GHOSTS – R.B. Russell

GHOSTS by R.B. Russell 

A book purchased by me from the publisher and received in the last few days. I do not own one of the two previous book-printings of its fiction – although, in 2010, I read its stories kindly provided to me in a non-book format.  I am now glad to have all the stories in real book form.

The Swan River Press (2012)

Introduction by Mark Valentine

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My real-time reviews of this book’s fictions when I first read them as based on their earlier incarnations in 2008/2009:-

(1) Putting the Pieces in Place

A lovely story that features many of my passions – classical music, Venice, coincidences (jncluding the strongest possible coincidence that can create a rare unlikely situation of there being no coincidences at all!), a reel to reel tape-recorder, a ghost and its frisson, a mention of Proust… but fundamentally it seems to ’explain’ my ownership of these printed stories in the first place, my destiny to become a collector manqué or a collector completist – a piece put in place that caused me to be able to read the stories from unreal to real. (23 Apr 10)

(2) There’s Nothing That I Wouldn’t Do

“The connection between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary.”- Ferdinand de Saussure (1857 – 1913)

A memorable story of stalking in Ukraine and p***k-teasing…

It seems to combine Architecture and Language in a state of real and metaphorical subsidence. (24 Apr 10)

(3) In Hiding

Incredible, I suppose, that I seemed above to predict – meaningfully, as it turns out – the name of one of this story’s ‘protagonists’, i.e. Ferdinand!

I also predicted the ending of this wonderful ghost story before I reached it. That’s not a criticism. It seems perfect for a book with its overall title of ‘Putting the Pieces in Place’. Gave me a good feeling.

A coolly-told story of a sunburnt Greek island, of an exile because of scandal and a strange companionship. I wonder if it was a ‘spoiler’ to have said above that I predicted the ending. Only if you the reader predicts it correctly, too. And you won’t. (24 Apr 10 – three hours later)

(4) Eleanor

A believable and touching scenario of a Science Fiction convention … of an aging writer as a guest there, one who once created someone who has now become a cult female character since further propelled in various media by others … and he now meets her seemingly ’for real’ at that convention. A fable, as it turns out for me, of a character creating its own author just as much as an author creating its own character – and each taking the main chance to fleece the other by whatever means of creativity or harsh reality. Except both, here, can shrug off their own reality sincerely to love each other’s unreality. Real to real. Unreal to unreal. (24 Apr 10 – another 3 hours later)

(5) Dispossessed

“Andrew told his mother that Jayne seemed to him to be something of a blank canvas.”

A female at a loose end between relationship and shelter. The tape, too, when it flaps around and around at a spool’s loose-end. A dead pet or a residuary full groin, we have here a feel of that Ukraine stalker again, but who stalks whom? Here we are left to find our own way home to a chapter or story that I was given prior opportunity to read but have been too busy elsewhere with other chapters or stories. Who says a book’s stories should be read in order of printing, especially if they’re loose-leafed? But what else can I logically do when faced with real-time?

It is difficult to draw gestalt from this exquisitely Russellian book’s leitmotifs, as this story’s last reel continues flapping around. At least I now have some period of grace to regroup as reader, to escape the ancient scratches and feelers around me upon a tabula rasa or screen. All the pages freeze-framing, separate from the spine or spindle that once kept them together.

There is an afterword [in 2008] I’ve not yet read, an afterword seeming to imply an emptiness beyond each word. Still flapping around, flapping around… (24 Apr 10 – another 3 hours later)

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Bloody Baudelaire

This is a stunning novella I’ve just been compelled to read in one sitting – compelled by a fear of its words changing before I got to them. It starts as a country house shenanigan where young people might say in a different book: “Anyone, for Tennis?”

Not that famous Monty Python sketch, well, maybe it is, in a sense.

No, it is something seriously decadent and Dorian Gray and Stephen Poliakoff and pre-Raphaelite … with Elizabeth-Bowen-esque nihilism of a fractured soul. The Tabula Rasa of love … and a rite of torture that unfolds so slowly in such a quick book, one is driven along by it. This whole force of onward fiction has a very clever ending. I believed every word.

I felt I wrote it. The book itself – as a physical object – struck me as one of those old French books whose pages you needed to uncut. But someone had done it already.

Very well done indeed. In two Acts. (1 Aug 2009)

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

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The Master in Café Morphine

My scanning of huge dust jacket in necessarily two sections  – and my apologies for not managing its exact contiguity. (Its artwork is by Santiago Caruso).

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

And it is of ‘The Master in Café Morphine’A Homage to Mikhail Bulgakov – Edited by Dan T. Ghetu (Ex Occidente Press MMXI). A contributor’s copy of the book.

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years. Indeed, this is said with the knowledge that a busy Season is afoot and many people have calls upon my time. So I do not wish any of you interested in this review to keep returning to this page and finding nothing added. However, I do not know how to resolve this problem ….

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

All my Ex Occidente Press (Passport Levant) real-time reviews here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/ex-occidente-press-real-time-reviews/

I am pleased to see this publisher (Dan Ghetu of Ex Occidente Press) is still prolific in publishing great books, contrary to what I was led to understand and as publicly anticipated by the publisher himself a few months ago. I hope the logistics of book delivery and authorial care have improved from what I was also led to believe publicly from various third parties some time ago. I’ve never needed to complain in respect of myself, I hasten to add.

Authors featured in this Anthology: Mark Valentine, Jonathan Wood, Stephen J. Clark, Colin Insole, Michael Cisco, Rhys Hughes, Adam Golaski, D.P. Watt, Adam S. Cantwell, Charles Schneider, Allyson Bird, Justin Isis, Nina Allan, Me, R.B. Russell, Eric Stener Carlson, Reggie Oliver, John Howard, Mark Beech, Albert Power, George Berguño.

I am told that two other stories,  A Certain Power by Mark Valentine and The Horned Tongue by Stephen J. Clark, were both exclusively written for this Bulgakov
homage anthology and that they have been excluded because they have appeared in other Ex Occidente books. Therefore, I shall be considering both these stories at the end of my review to judge whether this book’s gestalt would have been affected.

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At first glance – a massively gorgeous book, restricted to 100 copies, portrait format, red mock-cyrrilic lettering for some titles/headings/quotes, 370 pages, stiff pages, stiff textured dust-jacket, frontispiece (by whom?), and a design on heavy-duty board-cover within dust-jacket (a design by C.C. Askew of the Eternal Sekret Society?)

The quote at the beginning of the book seems of our time – with today’s UK politics – and in many more ways than one:

“The séance is over!
Maestro! Hack out a march!” – Mikhail Bulgakov

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Nine Exhibits – by Mark Valentime

“Mikhail Afanasyevich’s stove was one of the most well-read in Russia. It consumed many pages of his work.”

I couldn’t stop laughing at that, so I won’t resist risking a spoiler by making that my quote of the day for this review.  But, having said that, there is something even funnier here about a cat’s dream that I won’t quote by spoiling. But, then again, should a homage to Bulgakov be treated so lightly?  Only if death is inevitable, I’d say. And stories episodically maxim-al. (20 Jul 11)

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This book, as a book, is something you need to keep handling and looking at – an obsessive plaything, the playful dust-jacket design spiking itself, less than playfully, somewhere into an area that is the ‘Hollow Earth’ within you, that brings me to…

Beloved Chaos that Comes by Night – by Jonathan Wood

“To be alone in London, is truly to know loneliness from within a glass jar, where silent leeches come and go and journey across one’s face for evermore, marking out one’s allotted time in piteous slime.”

I recall reading Jonathan Wood in the late eighties or early nineties in the small press, with huge distantly-paragraphed blocks of Proustian-stretching prose – and I was captivated. Equally, here. This substantial story is the mutantly symbiotic tale of two cities, or two countries (England and Russia), a first-person singular protagonal actor turned involuntary playwright then terrorist tramp…  A fiction describing its own urban landscape as a writer’s block ironically filled with words… I shall need to let the story percolate in this book’s future context, as if it is due to be groomed beyond any moral compass, forced into words it did not intend to mean what they did mean, forced, too, into becoming a literary suicide-bomb for the yet unread stories to conceal about their hollow ‘persons’? (20 Jul 11 – three hours later)

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Behemoth’s Carnival – by Stephen J. Clark

“Yet these were the elect of the melancholy come to hear the old cat speak.”

With the ‘Meow!’ (from a previous Ex Occidente Book – Amerika – by Karim Ghahwagi – another Bulgakov homage?) ringing in my ear and recalling the implied Nine Lives of the Valentine story above – I enjoyed this Hadean / Avernal vignette or maxim-al fable  or anthropomorphic (anti-)religious tract in code or a new fish and loaves parable or mischievous mummery… (21 Jul 11)

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The Princess of Phoenicia – by Colin Insole

“That afternoon I sought solace and consolation in ‘The Hall of the Whispering Puppets’.”

‘Solace and consolation’ as in a Schubertian Grand Duo of history and legend – or Author and Reader. Reality and Truth, each not necessarily the same thing at all. Pontius Pilate and Christ.  You know, when you sense, as I do, that you are one of the very first readers of this story, let ‘alone’ one of its first public reviewers, you feel indeed alone with it, tantamount to the first reader and reviewer, tussling and grappling (in that Grand Duo) with portents and elements of Russian History, the stolen Madonna, her (blood-permeable?) jewels  and many other symptoms of belief (logical and superstitious in solace and consolation), a belief in undercurrents that politically explain or poetically ‘sing’ (by a lost balladeer) of the duo of conflict and tragedy from 1904 towards a large part of the 20th century through the eyes of blended tales within a tale: and I think I counted the tales properly: nine. If not nine in truth, certainly in reality. The extra odd one being the tale that contains the four duos.  But one author and, perhaps, only one reader – steeped ‘in soul’ and in time’s lonely, sometimes unscryable, audit-trail of truth and reality. This work makes the ‘synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ passé. Meanwhile, the story’s  duo of style and language is exquisite. (21 Jul 11 – three hours later)

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The Cadaver Is You – by Michael Cisco

“As is reported to be the case in Hades, everything was washed out.”

In tune with our reaction to the previous story, in this artful Tarr & Fether provocation of ‘truth and reality’ we begin again ‘tussling and grappling’ with what we read and about whom – in an inverse sort of canine anthropomorphism – where we learn later that we are indeed struggling for meaning via another layer of characters with whom we feel we should empathise and sympathise while they read what we have just read as if we are now saner and less absurd and somehow less false than those about whom we had been reading.  The more of us there are the more brain size we control. So we shall wait for more readers to read what we have just read. For ‘we’, please read ‘I’ – until ‘you’ join me from where you are or hopefully from whom you are rather than from what you are or have become – or will become via scrying the astrology of  1712. (21 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

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The Darkest White – by Rhys Hughes

Chapter 0: Prelude / Chapter I: The Magnifying Glass

“There are many places in the world where east meets west, but Sukhumi is one where the north overlaps with the south so precisely that nothing comes of any attempt to detach them.”

Similarly, here is where the essence of Rhys-Hughesian fictionatronics that we all love seems, so far, to meet a relatively sane literary treatment of politics / history … but the best of both worlds rather than a straight blend. Indeed, this novellarette’s title is one of genius given the context of this book.  And, as I have publicly remarked before in my real-time reviews, many 20th century East European literary stories start in a cafe and here is no exception (the Cafe Morphine of the book’s title by the sound of it); the story-within-that-story also starts in a cafe, too!  We are promised that an object-in-hand will be explained by the inner story’s end, an inner story wherein we have another object, too, being sold as the three Zander brothers release experimentation mini-King Kongs (my expression, not the story’s) from cages while civil war encroaches and fleeing’s itch ensues – mixed with a “perverted economic basis” that reminds me of today’s news headlines of the mutantly simian attempts to call a default not a default in a more modern Europe…  An enthralling start to the novellarette. (22 Jul 11)

Chapter II: The Wisdom of Sticks / Chapter III: The Departing Treasure

“They showed him how to feign appeasement and how to give the impression of yielding while remaining in control.”

There is always much wisdom beneath the puns and wordplay of Rhys Hughes, and here the wisdom shines forth without such disguise as well as with it.  The numerology of not only economics but history.  And the ricochet of Ottoman and Armenian, White and Red…  The brothers – prior to arriving in Baku – make a creative form of Musketeer oath with each other – to be alone and/or together, an alternating current of strength and weakness. (22 Jul 11 – two hours later)

Chapter IV: The Scimitar / Chapter V: An Impulsive Decision

“Magnates had bribed the coalition authorities;…”

Now voyaging – towards a toxic lake, as it turns out, retrocausally – from Baku to a place with its own name’s redolent oriental aura: Bukhara – the brothers face various coalitions or ‘duos’, of sense and nonsense, true religion and false religion, blended pairs of reincarnatory existences – and the fraternal trio threatens to become a duo by dint of ditch or haha (my expression, not the story’s)  or by dint of that unhealthy lake’s premonition of one brother devoting his destiny to doom in the hope it isn’t doom at all but paired with or infiltrated by its opposite: fortune.  (Little does he know, I sense, that ‘fortune’, despite its positive aura, can be bad as well as good. Like ‘Bukhara’?). (22 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

Chapter VI: On the Terrible Lake

“Nothing is what I hope to find.”

Nothing = this book’s earlier “Hollow Earth”. The single brother in devotion to his own Salt Lake City of the soul, in tune with mending by breaking and breaking by mending (akin to what I call the erstwhile ‘Musketeer’ oath) by dint of a multi-religion ‘nirvana’?  This is strong literature. White and red in tooth and claw. “The perfection would thus be imposed retroactively.” (22 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

Chapter VII: The City of Defiance / Chapter VIII: The Bleeding Ears

“Those squares of the mystic chessboard known as nights and days passed with an impeccable shift.”

I truly admire this fiction as I experience the broad sweep conveyed of landscape / geography, historical perspective / knowledge, spiritual madness / sanity, as we follow the two remaining brothers (together, apart, together again), and eventually rumours of the ‘ice and salt’  lost brother, all three brothers perhaps providing some form of ‘Holy Trinity’ of the human condition: paradoxically together yet apart. (22 Jul 11 – another hour later)

Chapter IX: The Map /Chapter ∞ : Redemption

“They had reached the other café.”

In view of all the foregoing, this provides a shockingly perfect ending, for which you will need to read this novellarette to experience for yourself, to crystallise the ‘we’ from my ‘I’. Crystallise as in salt or snow under the magnifying-glass? Suffice to say Jonathan Wood’s erstwhile “Hollow Earth” was not a million miles away. Nor the anthropomorphism of King Kong? Or all that may be my subterfuge to detract from spoilers or Bolsheviks. (22 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

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A Country Doctor – by Adam Golaski

“Briefly, I was distracted by the shape of a snowflake that reminded me of a poem:…”

A doctor called to and from variously-aged women, a girl patient, her maid, a previous girl patient’s donated embroidered-blanket to keep him warm on the urgent sleigh’s journey, yet another waiting for him to return – a Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence, Anton Chekhov incident that haunts the stiff pages of this book, one of which pages might be used to funnel or chase dreams of forgetfulness in powder form…the sharpest funnel of all being the one that can deliver dreams of forgetfulness melted or distilled from the Winter of our souls by directly penetrating the skin with such a page’s words made fluid.  A book that is laden with more than just morphine.  A variation on a theme that allows this review to drain a story: thus to reveal an emotional essence that might otherwise escape, not unread, but unfelt. (22 Jul 11 -another 3 hours later)

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Archaic Artificial Suns – by D.P. Watt

“The line stretched around the street, into the distance as far as he could see. No doubt to the very gates of Hades.”

One of those stories that, in hindsight, will become a major reading event. ‘Queuing Behind Crazy People’ syndrome (some people labelled like lists in a Zoo), morphine queuing in the vein along the “tearing paper” that this book itself as a physical object conspires against but paradoxically encourages, Mikhail himself faced with a cruel theatrically Shakespearean charade-bouffe that takes on a dramatic, political, emotional, comic, cosmic truth via the two-way filter of a tapestried proscenium balcony-entrance, if not the last balcony or entrance of all. Towards or from the “galaxies of emptiness” that are the entrancing or entranced eyes that absorb these words like drugs. Then “kaboom!” like the Baboon of Nothing from ‘The Darkest White’. Itself awaiting another bearish buffoonery to follow. Exeunt Omnes. (23 Jul 11)

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Only for the Crossed-Out – by Adam S. Cantwell

“What could a tree’s devilish complexity mean to an ordered and just mind,…”

Well, you simply knew I was going to LOVE this story, [especially after editing and publishing the HA of HA!  This seems some sort of culmination of that spirit – albeit an exterior force – but, via the Cantwell-wrought spirit of our friend Mikhail, a welcome unexpected synergy with this other book]. It tells of a library censor (and includes a library policeman!) – the paradoxes of fashion affecting textual censorship in both creativity and spirit, retrocausal as well as linear – the books themselves igniting into their own form of prehensile, ink-veined anthropomorphism as they fall upon our censor down the chute – the ultimate book for dangerous heaviness and hybrid power no doubt being the very one in which I’ve just been reading this story!  I’ve often talked, over the years, about classical music being akin to fiction injected straight into the vein.  This story (if not the whole book) is the first occasion where I’ve genuinely discovered the ‘matter’ of fiction injected straight into the vein.  [And I’m glad I’ve encountered this story before my own fiction of self enters the baffle-less master-artery of death.] (23 Jul 11 – four hours later)

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The Fearful and Wonderful Phantasm of Time – by Charles Schneider

“A Great Demon, clearly one of Satan’s right-hand minions, was spotted in an expensive restaurant in Novgorod.

I was in Novgorod last year – but I visited a church there (for its iconostasis), not a restaurant.  This is a Blakean, Joe-Pulverian ‘synchronised shards of random truth & fiction’ disguised as stream-of-conscious – prose-poeticising the scatology of eschatology (and vice versa) – with many literary references and oxymorons. Brick by brick, like the censor’s library, aforementioned. “…Hell and Heaven are not to be found in an old book. They exist where the past and future intersect with geographical locations.” — “Each day I pack and send my treasured books away, to be stored in Dreamland.” — “…I saw a hinge at the base of the enshrined statue’s glass dome, as if it could revolve and display another statue after the polluted dusk arrived.” — “Hell is but Heaven for another Hell, and Another!” — “The Centropoli of Hades.” — “…garish massive faux toenails which the gold-chained simians truck about oh so proudly in,…” (23 Jul 11 – another hour later)

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The Black Swan of Odessa – by Allyson Bird

“Fiction does not feed my body.”

A cleverly intriguing story involving co-writers in a scrawny flat and their understudy of a ballerina neighbour who seems to bring truth to their one published work. As I read, I thought to myself, I am going to remark how there are many evocative ‘touches of detail’ (I used that phrase to myself) – and when you read it, you will know what I mean – but then the concept ‘detail’ later took on an unexpected importance. One of them “adored detail“, but was it God or the Devil in it? Like the detail that floats into the last paragraph…  A perfect, spooky ending, but, wonderfully, I don’t quite know why it is is quite so perfect, quite so spooky.

“…if Larisa’s dancing was anything like the control of her narrative she must have danced herself off the stage and into the audience at least once in her life.” (23 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

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The Heart of a Man – by Justin Isis

“Kolesnikov, ensconced for years in the office of the Mir journal, had long been famous for his negative reviews.”

A story I need to read again (review, literally) – Hegel, meta-fictionary existences, Eyes Wide Shut rites-of-passage – and anthropomorphism explained by a human heart being placed within an animal  – reviewing books making them what you say they are, bad books good, good books bad, everything is its opposite, a reality-creation rolled out as meta-meta-meta…-fictions , more Bulgacoffian cafés, fiction (when demetaed – not demented – to its bottom bone) as the only reality, illicit love-affairs nodded through as part of an over-riding plot of fates one ultimately wants to come to fruition – and this story is not worth reading. It stinks.  For, read it and sink into nothingness, namelessness. “Within each apparent unity is a corresponding duality, and vice versa.” The Schubertiad of a  Grand Duo again (four hands on one piano or two pairs of hands on two pianos)? The ultimate negativity. This story will need re-reading forever, so for God’s sake resist even reading it once! “- he’s considering writing reviews and publishing them under your name. Would you agree to that?” (23 Jul 11 – another three hours later)

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Chaconne – by Nina Allan

“His chair had been gutted, slit straight up the back and disembowelled. The person that did this had presumably been looking for valuables,…”

Unquestionably a major story and, I guess, it is one of Bulgakov’s heart-and-souls of this book, if not possibly (as remains to be seen) the core one to fill the “Hollow Earth” of our receptiveness – and a Bulgakov virgin when this book began all those stiff pages ago would no longer be such a virgin having read to this point in the book, and even this Bulgakov virgin reader would by now have lithely shape-shifted from a snow-uncrystallised cat and “hunkered down” (as if during one of its nine lives?) at the book’s ‘feet’ into something akin to the Behemoth or Old Scratch.  This story – irrespective of all that – was certain to appeal to me. When I see the word Chaconne, I think of Britten’s String Quartet No 2 that has a Chaconne based on Purcell. Here, meanwhile, what I said earlier about classical music being fiction injected straight into the vein, really comes home to roost with a bird’s furled wings.  Brahms, Scriabin, Beethoveen’s’Hammerklavier’ &c. &c. – this story seriously drips with music and its prehensile notation, while contrasting with the destruction of pianos, human limbs, even whole bodies, as we follow Alena – a pianist and composer – retrocausally dealing with Europe’s diaspora of people and cities pre- and post the War, and with her lost lover, lost sister, and diverse forms of physical sex on the brink of being made music. Is this story the book’s gestalt? Or do I have to journey further to realise that this was just another way-station of leitmotifs? If the latter, it is a substantial one, honed to stylistic perfection. I can’t praise it enough. [I can now replace the black swanbird’s chair, its back resewn.] (24 Jul 11)

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The Tsarina’s Wintercoat – by me

“…tentacular monsters who, in the same way as human beings, had insect-pests with which to contend – “

Written some years ago in its original form, I’ll leave others to comment on this vignellarette.  I’ll only mention it again if it has some bearing on the book’s eventual gestalt. As it does already, perhaps, when relating the following quote to Rhys Hughes’ earlier ‘Holy Trinity’ variation: “From behind the derelict station house, I approached the solitary threesome (guessing that such a few could sometimes feel more solitary than being truly alone as one).” (24 Jul 11 – two hours later)

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The Exquisite Process of Gala Gladkov – by R.B. Russell

“I was carving some panels that were to form the backs of a set of chairs…”

– interrupting which ostensibly incidental work was the arrival of the carpenter’s old but neglected friend – and amid hints of political differences regarding the still living memory of history and politics concerning the Russian Revolution between those of whom this friend now tells the carpenter in an intriguing Fable of Retrocausality, concerning turning back fates as well as clocks vis-a-vis the friend’s love / marital life. The story within the overall story (the latter artfully ‘carved’ by R.B. Russell to contain it), in this way, is like putting fictional things inside something non-fictional (i.e. inside an object like a real chair or a real heavy-duty book (like this one published by Ex Occidente Press), I muse, without this story directly causing me thus to muse) to make it all seem or actually become non-fictional. Truth and reality running in parallel and nobody knows which is the one in disguise? (24 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

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Café Morphine – by  Eric Stener Carlson

“Snow? It was July, for God’s sakes. How could there be snow?”

A lengthy, absurdist, often very humorous fable or parable concerning an Argentine unionist in 1921 travelling by train through Europe to a Union conference – sometimes mistaken by post-Revolution officials as a Jew or an Assyrian! – and he now makes a Poliakoff-type of inter-journey stop-over in a dislocatedly posh café – having already experienced confused absences and presences in the train carriage itself amid conversations about Kant and Heidegger – still clasping his precious box that the story opens for us at least twice – meets a self-confessed, untraditional ‘vampire’ – a vampire that feeds off or supplies Time itself (fresh from its reported propensity to retrocausality in R.B. Russell) – and I’m getting breathless and time-drained trying to cover (in one sentence) every point of this story which I evidently can’t because I’d need to tell it all over again while I re-read it – and why Café Morphine, I hear you ask – well, as I dream of “racing across the endless Iberian fields”, I dream, too, that Time (like Brian Ferry’s ‘love’ and Brahms’ Chaconne) is the drug for the veins (perhaps disguised as coffee to keep you awake) – and it gave birth to this whole book’s title that in turn gave the café  its name in this story so as to give it back to the book’s title, a name flying back and forth between like a butterfly. Second sentence: I loved this story for (but not only for) its timely message on how to spend one’s time-of-life with some ability to milk it to its last dreg. (24 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

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The Philosophy of the Damned – by Reggie Oliver

“The raising of the curtain on the first act was to him like the coming of dawn to a traveller by night, an event of unblemished hope.”

…indeed, the opening of any theatrical event that one has long anticipated in child-like trepidation and pleasure – and a new substantial story by Reggie Oliver is no exception. Petropol in the 1919 Crimea … and the theatre manager – himself with some trepidation – hires a new troupe. One that provides a zoo-like climax that is attuned to earlier caged simians in this book – and other anthropomorphic tricks: anthropomorphism that works both ways! This is another Reggie Oliver theatrical weird fiction classic of Hadean elegance – so fitting for this Hadean book.  And its ending is so provincial in quite a perfectly unexpected, but comforting and home-is-where-the-heart-is, manner, after all the dream-envisaged D.P. Wattian cabarets-bouffes that preceded it within this book and this story itself – and the Red Army that hearsay tells us followed it given no prior escape that fiction is supposed to provide in the guise of escapism. (24 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

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Red Green Black White – by John Howard

“…now coloured by the minute flecks of powdered paint and desiccated paper, drifting down in the still air from the ikons and portraits as they dry out; wood warping and splitting, paper curling and disintegrating, and leaving such spaces that she cannot remember what it was that filled them.”

…like vampiric time being drained to its last dregs again? This breathtaking patchwork or kaleidoscope of a fiction tells of more spaces to be filled, as a shape-shifting ‘agent provocateur’ “assumes” and “bodies-out” as different characters or many characters as history meets history in their own war to become the real-History –(like reading this whole book up to this point, in a synaesthetically exponential slow-strobing of the soul of Bulgakov that also crosses borders like fluid countries with no edges or with ever new edges (like morphine or music in the veins?))– in the real-Historical Balticana of 1918ish Ukrainia-German-Austro-Hungary, Poland &c &c, its various historical characters, treaties, events… “Your problem is that you do not – and cannot – see the larger picture that I can. You will never see it, and know your part in all these laughable dramas. You are not only drowning in history, you are already past, and becoming forgotten.” (25 Jul 11)

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The Immortal Death of Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich – by Mark Beech

“…hacking ungraciously at those great chunks of stone, straining all the while for the spark of a colour-filled memory or the swell of a kind of music…”

A compelling, extremely well-told story (told on a train to others) with a linear plot of non-linearity as the impermanence of the identity of the Russian God beyond an iconostatsis of a seeming immortality – immortality subsumed by the harsh ephemerality of politics upon the people – sculptures-of-likeness, thus, that are as tenuous as the man who sculpted them or as the man whom he sculpted with such well-intentioned permanence even if originally a skill granted for the nonce by an inscrutable stranger (one’s own ‘disintentionalised’ author if one is a character in a book) – and I nearly cried at some of the implications; and how all this sort of sums up this book itself: each story a sculpture of words on stiff pages within even stiffer covers and a seemingly untearable textured dust-jacket (a theory of untearability never to be tested)… “apulse with all the industrial noise and primary colours of a constructivist future.” — “…a wide balcony. / Quiet at last! a clear crisp Moscow night opened around him. The red stars flickered over the Kremlin walls. In the park beneath him, he thought he could make out one of his Stalins.” (25 Jul 11 – two hours later)

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I Listened to Laika Crying in the Sky – by Albert Power

“Darkness. And the barking – hack – hack – hack … of terror and confusion.”

If this were the last story in the book, I’d deem this the perfect coda (but that is the privilege of this book’s last story that is the only one I’ve read before)  or perhaps this Laika one is the rising fall (as opposed to the more common ‘dying fall’) of Nina Allan’s new chaconne, as the book enters Khrushchev’s era and – when three men and an eight year old girl are on an expedition upon the very cusp of winter’s ice for snipe and teal bagging – with, nearby, sputnik’s launchpad. The dog in space – the true rising fall – an anthropomorphic stretching-out towards that shifting Russian God beyond the iconostasis of new-found space or of Rhys Hughes’ ‘nothing’ – away from that erstwhile ‘Hollow Earth’. The later deserted girl’s vision in the snow of who I assume to be Bulgakov himself is remarkable. And the alignment of some antiquated words scattered throughout contrasts with the breaking-news of modernity represented by the launch of sputnik. A poetic experience the strength of which is that it cannot be nailed down through any part of our now (at this point in the book) well-exercised, well-toned reading-limbs, if I can coin a phrase for the spiritual antenna required when reading potentially great literature of the future’s past. (25 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

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I only read and reviewed the final story below a week or so ago in the author’s book ‘The Exorcist’s Travelogue’ – and beneath I show my very slightly corrected real-time review from that time which, happily, is, as it turns out, the coda for both books:

The Farewell Letter  – by George Berguño

“Suddenly, I spied Joseph Stalin on the opposite balcony – and our eyes met.”

…with another ‘ancient longing’? Mikhail Bulgakov – being written about by his wife to his brother. — “…several years trickled by” and there is much to ponder here: things to dwell upon that should never really resolve this book’s coda. Accessible or esoteric history of our recent times, reincarnation (permanence?) by lycanthropy or anthropomorphism, the misanthropic transience of old fogies like me and Molière’s Alceste. The mating-dance of literature with literature. The eventual madreperl of regret. It’s like listening to an unknown piece by Mahler as the last piece in the last concert.  (15 Jul 11)

That moment on the balcony is so utterly moving, even more so now, in view of the Mark Beech story. (25 Jul 11 – another 30 minutes later).

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The two stories that – I’m told – should also be in this book (together with, I suspect, Karim Ghahwagi’s ‘Amerika‘, with my review of it linked above somewhere) are A Certain Power by Mark Valentine and The Horned Tongue by Stephen J. Clark (the links being to my reviews of those stories).  Are there any more that were meant to be in this book? Not  a rhetorical question. If any later come to light, I shall mention them in the comments below this review.  Till, then, I keep my powder dry.  Other than to say – as I hope has come across above – this is one helluva book!!

 Does the gestalt of what is in the book differ from that with all that should have been in it? But perhaps that’s the very point of the book – as well as the crux or noumenon that I’ve been seeking, these few years, by carrying out my real-time reviews. One Platonic Form of Real-Time Review that they will all eventually coalesce into because they were meant to be in the one book – the ultimate heavyweight tome that sits in my head with the feeling of a still-unhewn stone sculpture? I now risk entering pretentious realms even I dare not enter. Suffice to say, I really loved the Justin Isis story above. I make that point in case there was any misunderstanding about my Molièrean misanthropy as an “assumed” or “bodied-out” curmudgeon or old fogey.  

What more can I say? That cat with poppy-eyes on the dust-jacket above stares mockingly as I write this, telling me that all reviews must end somewhere. So be it. I’ll end it in the Café Morphine. Join me there for the nonce, whatever you think of me.  I’ll be the one in the chair with the thickest back.

END (25 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

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Black Static #20

I’m starting below another of my gradual real-time reviews. This time it is of the fiction stories in TTA Press’s ‘BLACK STATIC’Issue 20 (Dec 2010  / Jan 2011). As before, I shall attempt to draw out all the fiction’s leitmotifs and mould them into a gestalt.

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 stories, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading them.  In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

My previous TTA Press reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/tta-press-my-real-time-reviews/

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/

Item image: Black Static 20

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

The fiction to be reviewed: as written by Paul Meloy & Sarah Pinborough, Nate Southard, Norman Prentiss, Barbara A. Barnett, Ray Cluley.

NB: There is much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its main fiction: – www.ttapress.com

For example, Peter Tennant’s  continuously excellent ‘Case Notes’. In this issue, his reviews of Horror books are second to none, as ever.  To cross-check them with my own real-time reviews, this issue’s PT reviews overlap with my own in these three cases: Remember You’re A One-Ball by Quentin S Crisp, Literary Remains by R.B. Russell, Lost Places by Simon Kurt Unsworth. (24 Dec 10)

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The Compartments of Hell by Paul Meloy & Sarah Pinborough

“…but then who knew when this shit had started hitting the fan?”

It’s Christmas Eve and if this is Santa Claus’ present to me – it’s certainly a present to the world from out of the blue – a post-apocalypse “it’s the thought that counts” – as those who have cracked and spiked enough are protected from the most gruesome, brain-ripping images I think I have ever read. By a long way!  And I would have spliffed and spliced what I just said with not only a prayer of thank you but also a f**king prayer of thank you. And I don’t usually swear.  This shit hit this fan, then, when these two authors came together – and produced this gotterdammerwrung (sp?) of guts.  It’s spilled all over Christmas.  No exaggeration.  (24 Dec 10 – two hours later)

(review to be continued here in due course after Götterdämmerung or Christmas whichever comes first or last)

Going Home, Ugly Stick In Hand by Nate Southard

It’s as if the characters in the previous story have, in extremis, downloaded Ian Dury’s Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick … or an early Beetles’ hit.  This is another post-apocalypse (a potential one or in the making), well-written, skittering, chittering, Whovianly monstrous in places – but do post-apocalypses cancel each other out? An apocalypse with a different apocalypse’s post-apocalypse? Or f**king vice versa? Another dying fall. We wonder if resolution is possible or we are being left to wonder serially whether man or manster will beat the other, through drugs or the adrenaline of sheer bravado in ludicorous expected defeat.

Gratuitousness made purposeful because we never find the purpose but we hope purpose lurks somewhere….like life. A piece of avant garde contemporary classical music – and Nate’s story is just the second movement or entr’acte or premature coda? We shall see whether the percussionist’s bust his drumskin. (25 Dec 10)

The Covered Doll by Norman Prentiss

“Sometimes things happened that didn’t happen.”

I am excited about this story for three reasons (separate and overlapping): (1) It is a touching image of childhood, hauntingly written about the ‘possessions’ of childhood. (2) At first, I was reading this as delicate contrast to the previous two stories’ apocalypticisms, but there is a telling eruption in this story similar to Meloy-and-Pinborough’s various eruptions and eructations – but here the signs of birth pangs rather than death. A squirming mass, nevertheless. This echoes back with retrocausality. And then forward again to make this story even more horrific. Forever. Perpetuo Moto. (3) Serendiptously, there are even more telling echoes with concepts of life and death via the ‘containers’ of each – strong echoes that were demonstrated yesterday, here in the UK, by Christmas Day’s edition of ‘The Royle Family’ on high-viewed popular TV.  Amazingly so.  Phenomenally so. Undeniably so. Those who watched it will know what I mean. (26 Dec 10)

Four reasons! See my concurrent review of Crimewave 11 (the Ilsa J. Bick story). (26 Dec 10 – three hours later)

The Wounded House by Barbara A. Barnett

“I yanked the covers over my head. I can’t remember if I slept again that night, or if I had ever woken to begin with…”

Let me take this stage by stage. This is a haunting story of a girl’s relationship with a grandmother and grandfather, their house, its redolent nostalgia-in-wallpaper-and-carpets…

In itself, remarkably well-written. But I can’t judge it properly. How can I? OMFG, but its relationship with the previous story and last night’s Royle Family is unmistakeable and incontravertible. The ashes almost in the Dyson!  What can have I opened? Seriously. OMFG. (26 Dec 10 – another 7 hours later)

At Night, When The Demons Come by Ray Cluley

” ‘It was f**king her?’ / The girl sucked in a breath. / ‘What?’ I reached for my gun. / ‘You said a bad word.’ ” [My asterisks]

I want to know if Meloy is harnessed to the back of Pinborough, or vice versa? This final story makes me ask that question. You won’t know why. Yet. 

“They were born to the ashes that came after.”

“I learnt that Cassie had sixteen dolls and teddies…”

This story is very powerful, apocalyptic … complementary to as well as ‘containing’ the fiction cacophonies and adagios that preceded it. Words wriggling out like several little new-born puppies or not, but “We did what we had to when we saw what was coming out”…  You see, only words can convey horror. Visuals – even with, or despite, today’s CGI effects – are certainly not in the same game. When words in fiction come together at their optimum (by design or serendipity), the nightmares are real, with new feelings injected straight into the brain forever via some indefinite sense that the reading of words facilitates and that watching or seeing never can. These ‘word-worried’ feelings are not forgotten, as a film of feelings often is forgotten when you walk home from the cinema or remove the DVD. And here, in these five tales, we have words unintentionally aimed from five separately independent angles of authorial attack. A mighty catapulting of serious demonic, eruptive forces that, with some quieter, darker moments, threaten your sanity and sleepfulness. It is up to you to channel those forces.  But rely on no drugs to protect you. (26 Dec 10 – another 3 hours later)

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“But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye”

A Boy Named Sue – Johnny Cash

END

NB: Any writer whose single story or novel or collection is real-time reviewed on this site before 30 April 2011 is – inter alios – eligible to submit a story to ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’.

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