Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Interzone #268

7 thoughts on “Interzone #268

  1. img_2807EVERYONE GETS A HAPPY ENDING by Julie C. Day
    “…I just don’t think God wants us to be part of it anymore.”
    Or God doesn’t want to be part of it anymore?
    Or we don’t want God to be part of it anymore?
    This plainly-spoken post-apocalyptic equitopia holds many complex questions within it, I found, whether that was intentional or not, intention by God, by author, by narrator or by a reader such as me reading things into it.
    “trying to ignore the new reality that is Ohio.”
    This distaff couple, Kendra the narrator, Steph the plot’s protagonist as bearer of a ‘nest’ of Immaculate Conceptions in the shape of….
    Do I dare tell you without spoiling this story?
    The story is a sort of sanctuary from today’s ‘new reality’ and I leave it to you to find it from scratch, always the best way for besties and beasties alike, I guess.
  2. THE NOISE & THE SILENCE by Christien Gholson
    “Wall babble. Wall nonsense.”
    We all know the need sometimes to leave social media, against all the hoots of authority and pangs of disconnection drawing us back to it, just to enjoy a few moments of forbidden Silence.
    Well. This story is nothing to do with that. It is more a prison, a release, an exploration of dusty documents, an interaction between two stories, a man and a woman, in parallel, fossils, her daughter, his son, dystopian filth, a rebellion against the noisy-wall, wrapping oneself in noise to hide that very same noise …. a ritual sacrifice: a sculpture
    or living person immolated.
    One needs to absorb this noise and silence scintillating ricochet-story like wrapping yourself in that noise and then enjoying the silence that paradoxically emerges from it. (A stereo side-splitting of our dreadful wall and trumpish wail today, with silence imprisoned at the sound’s focal point between each side?)
    “So many kids! How do you keep plooping them out?”
    “…the burning figure, full of life.”
    The Immolations obliquely equivalent to the fast-breeding Immaculations in the previous story by Day…?
  3. THE TRANSMUTED CHILD by Michael Reid
    “We’ve seen the black motes – are these the many small brains moving between bodies?”
    This almost transcends the fast-breeding human pregnant ‘nest’ in Day and ‘plooping’ in the Gholson with, here, a “fat banana slug” that “slorps away…” and telling of a well-characterised human Buddhist nun in contact with an alien lifeforce that reminds me of the learning of alien language and other complexities of contact in Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life’ where the ‘you’ here is an alien-transmuted human child, not a daughter as in the Chiang and in the previous Gholson story, but a human child vital one moment and deadly the next as a safety-handcuffed intermediary between alien and adult human. And this unique emotionally convulsive story essentially stands alone, a Buddhist transcendence permeating such alien contact or conversation, one that actually makes your own reading brain not only change its content but also its shape – or so you can easily imagine. I found it very powerful in this way. A Rorschach communion, a selfless kamikaze event, but with what results for the child?
  4. WEAVERS IN THE CELLAR by Mel Kassel
    “I am old enough to have learned how to weave silently –”
    The title tells a story even before you start reading this relatively brief but rich story that appears under it, and in the end both stories become one, a hive mind of cross-woven individuals similar to that in the Reid, transmuted children, too, from all the previous stories, here in the guise of Kafkaesque metamorphoses where change of shape also means change of content, the Unthinkable retro-anthropomorphising.
    Meanwhile, I loved the word-texture of what they were weaving and the associated artwork, the texture of these talking insectoid-woven chitins, from armour to silk. To hopeful gossamer wings?
    “kamikaze mindstates”, “friction paths”, “autonomous mind-swarms”, “the aircraft is the horse and drone element is the herd.”
    “The space around me took on a rich synthetic texture, complex and changing.”
    My brain, reshaped by some of the previous stories — the ‘sculptures’ in Reid, the hive minds, the chitinous weaving, the exoskeletons, the joined-up consciousness by handcuff or synapse, the motes and bunnies — has now been put through, in reading’s real-time, the actually FELT experience of being a dog-fight pilot amid AI drones and centaurs, some AIs cleverer than others, some in greater cahoots with the human pilot, (a human pilot sometime mercenary, sometime rebellious, but ultimately loyal in various around-Martian space-rivalries of rock and asteroid navigations etc) – involving accusations of treachery from previously loyal symbiotic AIs, and a bodily attenuation almost to a Post-death post dud-left-leg experience to explore the infinities of the universe along with your only eventually loyal stoical “Red” AI beta or supernode – and much more.
    All in one sentence. Or so it seemed as I slip-streamed miraculously through the wild but paradoxically disciplined text. Gotta sell the ruse. “a god you could smudge out with your thumb.” Firewalls, notwithstanding.
    Like one of those Rorschach tests… seeing “Wings”… the gestalt dreamcatching or hawling “cognitive patterns across limited bandwidth.”
    There are so many words and expressions that keep firing such literary almost Joycean ordnance at you. Far too many to quote here or even pick out from each other, “bypassing my conscious mind.” Freedom of Navigation, indeed.
    “America rushed, and consumed itself.”
    The previous story had the wild interactions of AI and Human in symbiosis during space warfare, and we now have a more closeted theatrical drama of such symbiosis within a single room (with a bathroom attached), and these two scenarios are themselves, by some unconscious magic of literary preternature, symbiotic within the overall Buddhist-like sugar rush of a gestalt granted by this set of handcuffed yet standalone fiction stories. This illuminating, compelling, visibly heartbeating Napper story, topped and tailed with vomit, tells of the perfect AI being presented to the world in the racial human shape most acceptable to the audience, with square brackets to differentiate the speaking or translating, say, Tagalog from Mandarin. And a well-characterised human cleaner woman about whom we are given italicised clues as to her political background (when mock omniscience is lifted) – with the proximity of involuntary kamikaze danger between Pinteresquely politicising artefact and human. The ruthlessness of selfish symbiosis, and the thought I had that our trumped up world would be better off without both mankind and AI as machines, flesh or machine-flesh in anthropomorphised symbiosis, but better off just with bunnies.
    Or just go off into the space between the words and text-lines as if that is where the new universe to explore resides.
    There is much else in each edition of Interzone to interest the SF enthusiast in addition to the fiction.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Black Static #56

Black Static #56


My previous reviews of TTA PRESS publications HERE.

Stories by Scott Nicolay, Eric Schaller, Danny Rhodes, Eugenia M. Triantafyllou, Charles Wilkinson, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Ian Steadman.

I intend to real-time review the fiction in this issue and, when I do, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…

7 thoughts on “Black Static #56

  1. THE GREEN EYE by Scott Nicolay
    img_2791“Of course there was a catch. None of his copies had any covers.”
    This is a seven o’clock sign, a seven o’clock siren, for adolescent pulp horror and TS Eliot’s objective-correlatives… a mighty hybrid, and I finished reading it at exactly 7 pm GMT here in Britain, about twenty minutes or so ago as I write this. Miles away, but I can sense fully the Cuban Missile Crisis aftermath when Scott Nicolay wrote of his protagonist, and perhaps himself, remembering learning about it. (I remember experiencing this crisis in real-time from while watching a US serial on black and white TV in U.K.)
    Among the spooklights, hookerman, backyards, trails and streetlights of that part of a Wild West beyond my own imagination and land mass in another land that houses now the monster Trumpman, and Nicolay’s memories too during the TS Eliot section of an aftermath, his first encountering, inter alia, TED Klein whose two books I have just finished reviewing, Nicolay now not now telling us of a pulp horror green eye but of another green eye blending into it as belonging to a real boy whom he knew among many other boys around the tracks of the later Waste Land, where just missing oncoming trains and jerking off of a car hood ornament he got another boy to crowbar off, or tantamount.
    MAD and madder. I got off on to it, too, this new land, a junkyard or waste land – and pledging by the sign or siren what part of these horrors might have been real to ensure all of it being real. And there are no excuses for muddying the water with one part of the text being a palimpsest of the rest. No excuses, and there can be no suspension of disbelief but only pure belief itself. If torn off a strip.
    “She traces an image among the leafy curlicues on the fireplace surround,…”
    …Tracy does.
    This story possibly has more growing implied dread than any other story you are likely to read. Especially for the father of a daughter. But how do I know especially for someone such as him, as I am the father of a daughter, too?
    A work with images that you can stitch together for yourself from the wooden bureau of words it creates for you to burn rather than continue dreading reading it to the very end, echoing, too, the palimpsest device of the previous story, THERE story-notes upon itself, HERE inviting bits of itself to be gestalted, a person installation, a person upon a person, but which one is installed? You dread you already know the answer.
    (Did I imagine it, but I somehow recalled chicken bones and a maple also in the previous story, one that mentions Barron, Bartlett and VanderMeer as well as Klein, all of whom I have real-timed, but now can’t find them? Arguably, Klein was the only one whose writing is politically incorrect? To be put to the bonfire of palimpsests? The writer or the writing, the notes about a story or the story itself?)
  3. BORDER COUNTRY by Danny Rhodes
    A deceptively plain narrative, as deceptive as its moving wood. It packs a punch when the various simple emotions mix Into a complex gestalt of real or self-manufactured hauntings and subtle threats leading to an eventual growing dread of a father for the safety of his small son, a dread to echo that in the previous story between a father and small daughter.
    All of this is skilfully accentuated by the atmosphere of the downtrodden camping-site together with our sense of the guilt and despair attaching to the father’s thoughts about his broken marriage to his son’s now remarried mother.
    “What’s done cannot be undone.”
    ― from ‘Macbeth’ that also has witchery and a moving wood – and the Border Country?
  4. WHAT WE ARE MOULDED AFTER by Eugenia M. Triantafyllou
    “Sometimes brother against brother, blood against blood.”
    This is a very powerful story, one I suspect you will hear of again. It is about a woman who creates a new husband in clay, creates him in the image of her real husband (presumed killed in battle), and it is the clay husband whose point of view is used to tell the story. This is believably conveyed, especially in the context of the palimpsest theme of this set of stories so far, ‘a person installation, a person upon a person’, as I wrote about the Schaller work. But which person is the most real? It is also in tune with the previous Rhodes story (arguably connected with Macbeth) where there are tantamount to two husbands, one an ex.
    Amid Triantafyllou’s mud and clay in the sturm und drang ending, palimpsest upon palimpsest, I, for one, couldn’t help thinking of this as being an oblique version of a plot surrounding Lady Macbeth as Frankenstein….
    “…and complicated thoughts are a luxury for me to express.”
  5. THE SOLITARY TRUTH by Charles Wilkinson
    “With re-reading, the full meaning will no doubt become apparent.”
    img_2786As you may be able to tell from the above link, I am an aspirationally completist collector of the works of Charles Wilkinson, reading and real-time reviewing them — so imagine my delight to be able to read this one, in its due turn, as a form of Birthday Present to me today, especially such a genuine poetic poignant masterpiece about old age, as it is. The onset of exquisitely diminishing returns if one real-time reviews the same work for many weeks, even years, on end (in the story, a single day’s newspaper)… a portrait of the patchy relationship of a long-married couple, from the point of view of the husband, a story involving the inventions of Isaac Newton, a cat flap, a now abandoned, once families-filled, terrace of houses, including the couple’s own now derelict, fading posters in their house-front shop… to go out or to stay, always devolving to a default. To a fault.
    And what comes in and goes out through the cat flap? The foregoing gestalt context of this Black Static set of stories’ palimpsest-dread of person installations etc. — including the earlier parental ones (e.g. parent and daughter) as well as, now, a pet-al palimpsest — makes this work EVEN more powerful. Puckish and pitiful, sardonic and strong. And much more, over time.
    “Soon I will start to lose the details…”
  6. THE MANEATERS by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
    “I imagined words, so many words, filling up a blank white page.”
    You eat a man you eat his words, or your own? These being your own. The stories you write.
    A once telling image of herself as girl boxer with black balloon gloves, revisiting her Grandma’s relationship with her Granddad, a contrastive but paradoxically similar parallel with the old couple in the Wilkinson story. And the narrator girl, the Granddaughter, eats not only words but patties of meat, like her Grandma used to do, still does, and who now tests the Tarot destiny of a new generation of man in her Granddaughter’s bed, this narrator’s bed, and this is another of Black Static’s set of stories’ palimpsests of people, but here searingly pan- or cross-generational, via the blood or flesh that the two women seem to seek. A man (a son and father) meanwhile carrying ironically that strain between these two, this Grandmother and Granddaughter.
    Powerfully ominous. Does she dare succumb to such passionate bitten chunks of fate? With words succulent enough to eat as well as read.
  7. STANISLAV IN FOXTOWN by Ian Steadman
    “Next to him, I look as if I am built of chicken bones.”
    This is a strong, obsessive experience, as if a bumper bucket of KFC becomes a nasty tangle of discarded bits, some still raw, and beginning to stink around the wing and thigh bones…
    And to imagine scavenging foxes moving like dressage horses or with a Wilkinson-prefigured “cat-like swagger”… well, I was gob-riven. I was gagging. Seriously.
    A fine coda to this set of stories that stands alone and co-resonates with the rest.
    It tells of a dwindling downtrodden housing estate, a chicken frying establishment, and the protagonist working there equally downtrodden by the owner fryer. At first I imagined the piles of chicken wastage as potentially becoming palimpsests of the foxes themselves, a blasphemous re-creation of life as some eventually pointless ritual to obviate pain and poverty. But, no, this story’s palimpsest is far more powerful than that potentiality. Thus palimpsest is, rather, a prolongation, a passing of the baton of body-ownership – and the frying itself around the bones, I think. And the ruthless or desperate self contained within.
    I have discovered over several years of real-time reviewing the fiction in Black Static that its editor always prints great gestalts of otherwise standalone stories. I guess he is spoilt for choice. One day I hope to home in on a gestalt of gestalts as a necessary transcendence of the human condition, the human imagination.
    There is much more contained in Black Static for the Horror Arts enthusiast in addition to its fiction.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Dead Letters

Dead Letters


An Anthology of the Undelivered, the Missing, the Returned….

Edited by Conrad Williams

Titan Books 2016

Stories by Steven Hall, Michael Marshall Smith, Joanne Harris, Alison Moore, Christopher Fowler, Pat Cadigan, Ramsey Campbell, Claire Dean, Andrew Lane, Muriel Gray, Nina Allan, Adam LG Nevill, Lisa Tuttle, Nicholas Royle, Angela Slatter, Maria Dahvana Headley, China Miéville, Kirsten Kaschock.

When I real-time review this anthology, my comments will appear in the thought stream below………..

21 thoughts on “Dead Letters

    THE GREEN LETTER by Steven Hall
    I enjoyed this forensic dissection disguised as fiction of what we know of the preternatural green letter, whatever its propensity for delivery, recurring accidental blotting and appended cloned accoutrements, the choice of recipient’s circling and duplicated dire consequences. I thought the ‘blank’ was a reference to the blank story I published in 2002, and decided to leave it at that. Inscrutable but enjoyable.
    But then I thought – the ‘tain’ of Captain, the Mike or Mick of Michael and the significant marks on the green letter’s envelope and the ‘wain’ of Wayne, I was led to believing the key to this story is the book ‘Letters from the Earth’ by Mark Twain.
    (“A way must be conceived to pursue the dead beyond the tomb.” From this Mark Twain book.)
  2. Any by-line links are to my previous real-time reviews of the authors in question.
    OVER TO YOU by Michael Marshall Smith (and HERE)
    “…something of an allergy motherlode”
    Trees as allergy, smoking or drinking as death, death being a disease passed from person to person by dint of being human.
    Unless you can pass the buck? Man to man. Gambit against gambit.
    A compelling, page-turning tale of a man working from home and trying to kick the habit of social media between bouts of eschewing cigarettes (bar the odd sneaky one), under the suspicious gaze of his loving wife and son. Until he has one of today’s rare, seemingly non-junk, packages received in the post…
    To tell you more would spoil your determination to finish.
  3. IN MEMORIAM by Joanne Harris
    “She started to cry, as I’d known she would, and reached for the bottle at her side. And afterwards, there was a fire – always a risk, when smoking in bed –”
    In the previous story a father and caring son. Now a mother and caring son. Here the passing bucks have wings, I guess. And the ability to eat clothes. Or take them off in business transactions.
    This work is an immersive tale of a motherarium – in more ways than one.
    An intriguing establishment in Belfast, where failed missives flock; I sense a real place where the Post Office deals with this book’s type of mis-routed letters and packages, and in this story, dead letters, for real, as well as anachronistic ones, reaching a culmination of the narrator’s family history explained, touching and haunting. Foreign names, forgotten memories, et al.
  4. AUSLAND by Alison Moore (and HERE and HERE.)
    “L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between
    A sense of Stephen Poliakoff, too.
    A stand-alone, quite short, story but also blending serendipitously with the previous work, narrating a reunion from knowing each other years before, now an old woman and a German inventor type, and a mis-routing of photographs, synchronicity and then anachronicity. And a plot revelation you will remember.
  5. WONDERS TO COME by Christopher Fowler (and HERE)
    “When you sell people a dream, he thought, they don’t want to know how the dream works.”
    This is an ostensibly enjoyable yarn of a new hotel with supposedly foolproof ultra-modern systems of utility that, upon its opening, become a monstrous disaster zone that I shall loosely call “substance abuse” …possibly because of a sample package being sent (for forensic investigation) by untracked Royal Mail instead of some other more reliable method?
    On another level, it takes off as a fabulous prophecy of the Trump Inauguration this coming 20 January. Just read it and see. It all fits in. Details such as the performers booked and the hotel called Atlantica (cf Trump’s Atlantic City business disaster) …. and more.
  6. CANCER DANCER by Pat Cadigan (and HERE and HERE.)
    “You think a lot of crazy shit when you get cancer.”
    This is a genuine compulsive can’t resist turning the next page read, one where a touching empathy semi-autonomously sets itself up a “not-a-coincidence file”, as an apparently mis-delivered post takes the cancer-invaded protagonist on a hindsight gestalt’s path of sensible hope however absurd cancer makes it seem along the way. A loop towards eternity via google maps and slammed down mobile phone conversations. I just wonder if Detective Sergeant Michael Parris (Ret’d) is connected (as he might be connected via this book’s inscrutable internal routes of deliverance) with Captain Michael Wayne? Or with the great erstwhile editor of The Mayflower Books of Black Magic Stories, Dream Trips et al, a possible dreamcatching that should have been side-stepped?
    “Apparently awkward was mandatory.”
  7. THE WRONG GAME by Ramsey Campbell (and HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.)
    “– sometimes it’s a stray phrase…”
    Ramsey, you embroil us in your story, implicate us in its entrancing wiles, its synchronised shards of random truth and fiction, and having now read it, it is too late to unread it. Just watch your post. A playing card for a playing card, a gambit for a gambit (from the Michael Marshall Smith story in this volume?) The inscrutable routes between literature and literature that my poker-faced dreamcatcher is set to trawl. After the washing of hands like Pilate, we’ll send someone, one of any number of us, to the stigmatiser for the ultimate tontine prize of horror. Each of us searching for the core original idea, that stray phrase never used as a plot ignition before, with nothing up the maleficent sleeve…but just make sure it does not become lost among the junk or left in endless orbital trajectory among the litter of dark space.
    Remember Bournemouth is one of those very rare words (if not the only one) with ‘nemo’ in it.
  8. IS-AND by Claire Dean
    “There are old patterns to follow.”
    And the patterns for my eventual gestalt started off as – hmm, yes, a workmanlike narration, nice touches, but is this another run-of-the-mill child changeling story on an island beset with even older patterns than my own? Thankfully, I was left with significantly more than simply what it said. I will leave you to decide what that is.
    In the same way as the female protagonist needed a dictionary for her boy friend’s shrugs – having come with him to this island where he had lived originally with his mother and where he had once entered a now broken marriage – I also needed a special decoder for this story’s own diffidence. The mis-addressed package that had awaited his return to the island. More shrugs and redactions. His mother’s behaviour and whether there are more child-like novelties to activate if I fully unwrap it or fill in the gaps of both title and text.
  9. BUYER’S REMORSE by Andrew Lane
    “That meant I wavered between wanting to feel apologetic and wanting to be irritated.”
    Indeed. But, against my better judgement of either, I found myself relishing this slip-easy story of delivering a mis-delivered package by hand, even though I had to travel quite a few miles to coastal Devon by Italian scooter.
    I can’t remember a story that I consumed so readily, despite or because there were no stuttering halts along the way, bar the strange cauliflower plants bordering the road, the talk of geographical names undifferentiable by Google Maps, the twitching curtains when I arrived, bartering instead of buying, and the names of some of the barterable books that I vaguely recall from when reading Panther paperbacks in the 1960s. Whether this journey was meant to be disturbing or humorous, I found it a huge laugh in the main and highly enjoyable. Sometimes one wishes one had swapped one’s own children when given the chance.
    And when I eventually get to the end of this anthology book, the place of this particular story in it, and in the gestalt of my reading life, will no doubt slot into significant place, like a collage of arcane maps. A caveat emptor, notwithstanding.
    “‘Nothing is accidental,’ she said, smiling sadly. ‘Everything happens for a reason.'”
  10. GONE AWAY by Muriel Gray
    “Tragedy […] is defined by the protagonist bringing the calamity upon themselves.”
    This is an engagingly sardonic, well-versed tale (as narrated by a self-described plain woman from within our country’s aristocracy at the dead-end of her family’s scions) about the wrong-side-of-the-blanket tentacles of the hubris and nemesis of that buried as well as landed aristocracy.
  11. ASTRAY by Nina Allan
    “– everything battened down and no loose ends, because every army kid knows loose ends can kill.”
    I have previously read and reviewed many Nina Allan works (as you can judge from my link above), and this is a Nina Allan classic, in my book.
    Meanwhile, I must say I am a big fan of hand-written letters (“You don’t see that many hand-written letters these days.”) as I have exchanged such letters on subjects such as literature, ideas etc. with one person since 1967, on average once a fortnight, and they are still going on! The odd one goes missing, but rarely. But the whole idea of dead letters etc. has captured my imagination as a result of this anthology, and the way that this topic often leads to compelling and page-turning experiences of reading about intrigues, puzzles, coincidences, detection, travelling by google maps to deliver a mis-directed missive and so forth. And this story is no exception, concerning an army child without the commitments of long stays at schools, growing into womanhood amid a whole skein of dead letters and mad-seeming, Fortean excuses for behaviour, involving all the plot factors I list above. And such tranches of life criss-crossing with other tranches by such means make a telling portrait here of fallible people and other tragedies – but there is no clinching gestalt in hindsight to give a punch-line ending, as things always do carry on beyond the end of every story that captures you by accident or by imagined intent. A story delivered by this book to unknown addresses.
    “It was almost as if there was a story going on, a story I had made myself a part of by opening the first letter, and now I had no choice but to see how it continued.”
  12. THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES by Adam LG Nevill
    “So many ways to see everything. One skin and then another skin. It had made me squirm and squirt.”
    You may think this inwardly Nevill story is the Theatre of the Absurd and the Theatre of Cruelty trying to outdo each other, or a misdirected package of literature in itself, but knowing it takes place in a seaside resort similar to the one where I live makes it seem quite believable, judging by my own experience over many years, even the eating of ‘child-size vanilla ice-creams.’ Or vanevilla?
    It tells of a wedding held in a charity shop, and a man and woman relationship of attrition together as a result of this misdirected package, a story that seems more in keeping with bodily excess and manual relief as forms of concocted revenge against complete strangers and even stranger Movements of people each tantamount to a hobbyist diaspora within a ritual re-enactment of a church painting.
  13. ‪ THE HUNGRY HOTEL by Lisa Tuttle (and HERE)‬
    ‪”The fanciful story he began to tell turned into a song. I wondered if he was making it up as he went along,…”‬
    ‪This plainly spoken story implicates its young female narrator between her absent fiancė and an obsessive passing affair with a rock band member, one who later rides the ups and downs of wikipaedic musical fame that she witnesses, in later life, from a distance. What actually transpires is locked behind the door of a hotel room somewhere, one you may decide to open or ignore? ‬
    ‪There is also the engaging description of a delightful child-like belief in where babies come from, something that I will not divulge here, but if this idea is original to this story, it is really quite a discovery. I was finally left satisfied by this story despite the misdirected pointers toward being romantically run-of-the-mill along the way.‬
    ‪Hunger for love, hunger for fame, leading to emptiness or a shared dream? It depends on who is sent to whom, who is received by whom, and when.‬
    ‪The Faim-Inn or the Fame Hotel.‬
  14. img_2767
    L0ND0N by Nicholas Royle (and HERE and HERE and HERE and, in 1994, HERE)
    “Go ahead. Skim. I’m just telling you what I saw.”
    This is a conflation, or is it? A story within a story, or is it? A picture within a picture, then? Maybe, if you count ‘found art’ like a red vase or an unknown contraptiveness in a railway station subway… Or a novel within a novel? Yes, maybe, if it is a novel about the Belgium coast (and its postage stamps) facing the coast of England, on this very day, this very moment, when the tides encroach in real-time upon where I sit on the Essex coast waiting for lands to touch each to each, as if in a Geographia poem by TS Eliot, or a tale of dark diaspora by Joel Lane.
    This is a wonderful work for me. I take ‘found art’ photographs like red vases etc for some of my real-time reviews, including in 2013 a novel by Nicholas Royle. This story also gives useful advice on the etiquette and art of using Twitter and Facebook. It is a seminal work for our strange times of pervasive communication and the conflation between self and unself that results. A ‘mise en abyme.’ Nicholas Royle fiction writer/editor etc. and Nichola Royle Sussex university literature professor.
    I saw the Gilbert and George video about Gordon’s Gin in Cheltenham art gallery a month or two ago. Possibly my last holiday.
  15. CHANGE MANAGEMENT by Angela Slatter
    This is primary colours, not pastel.
    In your face, an untrammelled essence of Dead Letters and the earlier mentioned Belfast office, whereby Eva works conscientiously in the local sorting office trying to avoid sending such letters to be sorted in Belfast, by sorting them herself, as she was once sorted into life’s hidden pigeon-hole by childhood abuse and later caring for her elderly mother – a life needing change of direction if not in the way the local sorting office itself has just changed management…
    This is not only primary colours, it is Grand Guignol, too, the story’s correct label of saving grace, with a sharp-edged division between evil and good, except possibly the new emotionally powerful style of loving that comes into her life via a clutter of bloodstains and epiphany as well as of good and evil. The fable’s moral is uncluttered though: the nature of men. It is as clear as red is from black.
  16. LEDGE BANTS by Maria Dahvana Headley & China Miéville
    “Since then I’ve been on this dread postal quest, forced to chew my way through decades of lost mail, trying to get my teeth into things that were stolen from me.”
    …this being extrapolation from exactly that, this book’s pastel and primary colours are now mixed and merged with James Joyce, John Cowper Powys, Peter Ackroyd, William Blake, Arthurian fantasy and more. Is it a Tench? I ask. No, a Stoat. Ha Ha Ha.
    An ageing postal worker whose job no one questions but involves sorting through decades of Dead Letters in this book’s terms for that expression. One wonders whether he has been sent mad by this activity, imagining he is eating the contents of these packages, beset by the ‘distaff’ oppression of his self as lots of men as old as me seem to be – or wielding his ‘spear’ in self-defence in the misguided belief it is Excalibur, forgetting it was originally wielded by a distaff, anyway, from under a lake! Which is which out of these two authors, I wonder?
    And so we are following this ageing man’s mind through such crazy byways he has created for himself.
    OR it is all true, a fantasy that exists as reality? “…a skull carved from a bigger skull.”
    OR a metaphor for Trump, Brexit and post-truth? Yes, that’s what it is. But who am I?
    “You should never underestimate the magic of magic’s passing. The strength of the death of that strength.”
    “My book, soaked through days before, illegible — each page polluted with the next, warped, stuck, tearing if turned.”
    Each page mis-labelled, too, upon the next, as mis-directed as the parcels of half-pairs turn out to be, yet a gestalt of itself, just as this whole book’s own gestalt is a strong mixture of literary differences, but producing its own child, sometimes torqued, sometimes pilfering, sometimes hitting the spot, a child for whom the reader can act as tutelary agent – a child called Dead Letters.
    This story – perhaps the most disarmingly powerful of all within its own foregoing context as linchpin – tells of another tutelary agent, genderless, caring in a very strange way, as if it divided those socks at birth into half-pairs, knowing exactly what was going to happen. A small boy has a new sister, and boys who expected themselves to be the sole centre of attention often hate anything in the shape of a sister come to change that. Not disarming, after all. A poetic density takes the reader along and we understand it because it understands us and our own foibles as once child and later grown-up, even ageing, as I am, once a parent, too, of a boy and girl, in that order, an overgrown-up who needs such lessons to re-learn. To search for my own “birthbloom.” To become a tutelary agent or hawler myself? A Dreamcatcher.
    “A battlefield poppy, wound-fed. As I have observed it, much of mothering involves contortion.”
    Indeed this book has an engaging variety of styles, full of intrigue and mis-direction, teasing and compelling, as well as cohering an optimal literary theme for a fiction anthology. It makes me wonder why this theme has never been used before. Or has it?
    I hope I have done it all justice.