Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Moment of Eclipse (1970) – Brian Aldiss

15 thoughts on “The Moment of Eclipse (1970) – Brian Aldiss”

  1. The blind idiot god Azathoth – Trump famously looking at the sun without protection on the day of the recent eclipse.
    RIP Brian Aldiss who passed away around that time.
    The two events suddenly caused me — just like the Danish film-maker going to Africa after all in the first story — to want to real-time this collection….
    Also encouragement from Rhys Hughes who told us on Facebook that it one of the greatest short story collections.

  2. ———————————-
    I sense I have already become this book’s “loiasis vector”…. Its inner shadow, disguised as something flickering outside, not inside, to bloodsuck it, not to subsume it from within. Or perhaps I do both?
    This first story is truly amazing. In a style that temptacles you into a slipstream of beautiful prose and constructive mischance. A film-making man obsessed by a Danish woman in fields beyond the fields they know, he being Danish, too, bending fate to follow her to West Africa, making his film after all, a film that he wouldn’t otherwise have made, entranced by her legends of love, love even with her underage son whom the film-maker also later meets, in fact still sporadically meeting her son by bored chance beyond the end of the story itself. It is a frightening story. She is a Munch madonna. Also a Thomas Hardy sonnet. She is not the SF they wanted him to film. This story is something far more rarefied, paradoxically far more real, too.
    “, brains that teem,…” Thomas Hardy.

  3. IMG_3644
    “Permanent happiness lies only in the transitory.”
    A train story too, as attacked by carnivores.
    If I said this was a philosophical discussion by aliens in the shape of Socratic humans, interspersed with italicised visionary codicils or codas or, even, corrections to their own alien history, and where the cynosure of Cythera is sought by each participant, you might start yawning…
    Take it from me, this a perfect gem precise because of its imprecision. Something that lodges in the mind like the previous story’s inner eclipse. That previous story’s entangled polarities, too.
    Also the ‘cage of words’ that Aldiss described here in 1970 prefiguring endless, increasingly bitter and logic-chopped threads on Internet discussion forums!
    “Perhaps truth is an accident.”

    “Postponement is an Indian virtue. In Europe, it’s an admission of failure.”
    A long story, ostensibly well-written, well-characterised Graham Greene like with slants on cultural and political geography, but with the added tantalising texture of it being written in 1970 about 2001, being read by me in 2017. A dislocation echoed by the opening phone call, ending with an ancient landline, from England to India, a phone call through various junction points from Tancred to his wife against whom he is (secretly?) committing adultery with an Indian woman, whose character and body we all grow to relish alongside him. But also a dislocation echoed by the text itself: straight-line bordered mini-texts between the main thrust of text, mini-texts including postponed or premature ‘quotes’ from the main thrust of the text itself (also one line I spotted from ‘Mrs Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch’ by Alice Hegan Rice)….
    But like Tancred, I see myself as no “spoiler”. So please absorb this remarkable anachronistic work for yourself. It is revelatory. But what does it reveal? Infrasound warfare, notwithstanding. And the standard of living on Mars. Floods or droughts and bandits.
    “It creates a sort of pendulum action,”

    “Why not do it again in crayon?”
    From 1970, a pre-fabricated-in-hindsight story effectively about the Internet, but an internet to solve the loneliness of an overcrowded world. But the Internet in reality, today, I sense, has exacerbated both problems. And reality itself, what and who is real? And a story about the control of the birthing rate – as they do in China today? Why not do the world again, this time in crayon?

    “There was a heart-shaped swimming pool at the back, although it was empty of water and the sides were cracked.”
    An aging white man, working for a union of European countries to fund the poor parts of India,, and his daughter, are halted by his sudden heart attack near a village, his daughter later going to a part of the village that “lost heart”, and meets a poor, arguably story-eponymous, Indian man with smallpoxed family who tries to swap a vase for a heart, a story transplanted for another. A world away.
    His daughter 40 and the Indian Doctor’s daughter 20 hit it off. Provocative, with a sun’s wound annealed. The story’s open ending, too.

    “That burial business was all a joke — a swindle.”
    The swindle transcribed from the previous story’s ‘death swap’, here what I imagine a SF writer or publisher dying, his revealing subconscious still in place, but not his conscious, mixing and mingling current concerns about the escalation of the Viet Nam war (a (pre-)echo of an earlier and future Korean War in the area?), and many of his relations who thought themselves proper writers (including his Aunt Laura) – we all think we are this today! – and wanting his help to further their writing!
    His name Festival.
    Death is a sort of festival, I reckon. An eclipse. Estivation is the summer sun’s version of hibernation.
    Just noticed that this book has each story under a heading as a numbered chapter, as if encouraging from the past my gestalt real-time review approach in the present?
    The subconscious as an alternate world?
    “When a concentration camp was set up, it was rapidly filled; people have a talent for suffering.”

    “Since there is no danger that any of my present readers have heard of Report on Probability A…”
    Holman Hunt again, I say. I’ve lived with probability’s report some time now but without the knowledge of Nigel Calder’s book TECHNOPOLIS until the author left it on the cafeteria table during a V&A Hunt exhibition in this story. A story that says, with Hunt, you never see the threads. Except the pair of threads in this one entwining the author and the package-life of a strange woman (with her orangeade in the cafeteria) talking at him. Her important memory-life, but not as important as Proust’s? No painter has painted a hysterectomy? Except Gustave Courbet’s Origin of the World – nearly.
    “My review.”

    “GE NU: The sorrow that overtakes a mother knowing her child will be born dead.”
    …that being just one example in a shown series here of SF alien words and their equivalent English meaning – but without the many stances that should accompany the words to fulfil their meaning.
    A conflux made tentative. The ultimate real-time gestalt review now being needed by all of us. And notes compared on what stance we instinctively took with each word. Hawling, I call it. Dreamcatching, too. The Moment of Uneclipse.

    “No sooner had the American congregations united with ours than they broke away on a point of doctrine at the Council of Dead Tench”
    Thing or God? This is an outrageously believable scenario of a Huge God settling on our world like a caterpillar on an apple, where its seconds are our years, leaving once, then making a Second Coming, shifting twice, and the resultant changes in geography and climate, and in our religions, schisms, heresies, wars. It is absolutely mind-altering, and ironically the Americans tend to be on the Thing rather than God side of the argument, making my feeling even more ironic that this is a very clever prophecy of the Coming of the Trump or of the Tench (see my views on the latter here: Is it a Tench?)

    “Child! You’re the child, Father!”
    Intimations of Wordsworthian Immortality as a viral disease via the lens of Mad Scientist SF when blended with the more subtle literary force of this novelette. An island in the Indian Ocean, a man back from the South Pole, has reunion with his second wife and his young grown-up son by an earlier marriage, jewfish, carrier-plankton, pseudo-incest, carcasses of blue whales almost still alive, cross-channels of ocean currents via impossible straits of natural or smuggled route, this is an important work that will travel right round your mind using more channels of thought than otherwise would not have been possible. With nefarious machinations of guns and prior relationships that form this map of patterns to dreamcatch vastly a gaia of human motives within which we are just plankton ourselves?
    “The Kraken often rode on a pink sea.”

    “Not a fortress, not a temple: the meaningless functionalism, now functionless, of some kind of factory.”
    A disjointed sequel to the previous story, not only by dint of their conjoined meaning of titles, but also some of their characters and the intimations of immortality or longevity feeding into a disjointed narrative, with words competing with each other at times, instead of working with some harmony of meaning. The dystopic future diaspora of Calcutta, a hover-ambulance, an Indian character (as in the orgy of the living and the dying, part of this disjointment of words out-Joycing Joyce) having ‘satanic’ as a pet word, and sacrificial goats.
    “The refugees become refugees again.”
    I am placing this story in my DYSFUNCTIONAL ROOM here:
    Has anyone dared review this story before now?

    “…he still contained the skill to place new stones he had brought within the general pattern with reference to that natural harmony – completing the parapatterner.”
    My review site where you are reading this is one such parapatterner I have now discovered! This is a major work, a Blakean (not Wordsworthian) theme and variations on ‘change’ and the ‘child’ who ‘chilled’… immortality again, a gestalt for this book, as a force for mutation and James Tiptree scenarios, the treemen of Or, an anagram of the earth as a collected pile of stones, as Argustal and his wife Pamitar meet all manner of gradually accreted memories they had lost to the mooncalves, now to remind them what they once were. That child, subject to change.
    Together with, as eponymous counterpoint, a sun not at a moment of eclipse, but sporadically blotched with bits and pieces of darkness called Forces.
    An imaginative tour de force.
    (My own immortality story called ‘Dear Mum’, very humble by comparison, that was published in the early 1990s: )

    “(we have the new Negro androids working in the spaceship yards now)”
    And women. These and others (even limping androids) being employed in the FTL transport yards.
    A puckish tarramadiddle by Aldiss on AI, the intergender, the interracial, endemic role playing, the human condition as a necessary toothache, extra moonlight provision, suicide notes, and childhood antics, all apt in view of the previous story’s putative mutative Null Immortalis (and today’s views of Mel Brooks on political correctness: ).
    “I often feel women do not have quite such a large share of the Human Condition as we do.”

      As part of this dual coda to the book (from which I dare not quote in view of today’s hard-bitten polarities), this story – hopefully a satire – deals with what Mel Brooks said today he would never consider dealing with. Adolf Hitlar and the Final Solution.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Knucklebones – Marni Scofidio

13 thoughts on “Knucklebones – Marni Scofidio

  1. IMG_3645
    Pages 6 – 25
    “Giving books with five-star reviews one or two stars to bring down their ratings made her feel warm inside.”
    I already seem to know 53 year old Welshwoman Daere Synnott as if I have known her all my life. Not that my half-Welshness helps me out there, never having lived where she has lived, me in England, she in Wales. No, what helps me is a tactilely tractable and nicely engaging style of description. I do not intend to itemise the plot of this book but mainly adumbrate its effect on me as I gradually submit to its already captivating grip. But I will start here by itemising some deft moments in the portrait of dear Daere, following the Welsh glossary:-
    Another’s pre-Tarot gamble involved in her past as a child in 1970 when coerced into the shed by a pillar of the community. And now in 2013, her own Tarot habit, her shopping for own-label goods in Aldi, the man in Aldi who counts baked beans in a tin by shaking the tin, her demanding mother Edith for whom she spends her life caring in the flat with noisy neighbours upstairs, Daere’s EBay habit which is part of her wooing of the local postman Sam by means of his being forced to knock with the parcels, her DVDs of Strictly Come Dancing, and her speculation of a different family background for herself involving Anita Manning, Tim Wonnacott and Charlie Hanson. I know exactly what she means!
    “They couldn’t hurt you if they didn’t know you were there.”
  2. IMG_3651Pages 28 – 47
    “, never to litter. Litter not,”
    Two months later.
    Daere and her mother Edith have a new neighbour to replace the noisy ones, whom we meet before Daere does, maybe just as noisy, as she, this new neighbour (Clary), has a special needs child called Felix about to live in this social housing after being in a woman’s refuge…. I love the way these people are built up with telling modern details. This has a literary power, evolving a portrait of our times, with all its fallibilities and suspicions but often with intrinsic care from simple folk to simple folk. And focus on things, like litter, a stray fag end, as well as lack of focus often on big things. I noticed a reference to Virginia Woolf in connection with Clary. Synchronously, I currently happen to be real-time reviewing THE WAVES by that author. And there is a Sea Road in this Welsh town. Much else going on. A busy book, as well as a feel of it being stylishly laid back, too.
  3. IMG_3653Pages 48 – 68
    “People are crazier than they used to be.”
    You can say that again. Meanwhile, we learn more about Clary and Daere, now in interface with each other, the former with her loved Felix (Flea) an unpretty child based on first impressions of reader and Daere, at least. Daere equally caring for a dependant, her elderly invalid mother. Both women whose name is often mispronounced, both, I sense, superstitious or psychic. But with telling differences, too. I feel the literary and horror genres are now beginning to blend seamlessly. And I am intrigued by Clary’s reluctance not to name her errant and abusive man from whom she hides here in the back of beyond near Sea Road. And that painting above is not painted by Richard Dadd, I somehow find myself wanting to say out loud here based on a random, possibly errant, instinct of mine. And who is the ‘attic dweller’ who shares this building of flats with both women?
  4. IMG_3659Pages 69 – 93
    “Like a scarecrow he slouched on the wall, a patchwork of bones and flesh, all angles, no generosity.”
    I know the sort. Brilliantly, worryingly conjured. Clary’s man against whom she has a protection order. Near Ocean Street, I note, as well as Sea Road. There is half-bonding, half mutual reviling between the two women in face of this man, their preoccupations now bespoke for this book’s deeply enthralling and unpredictable audit trail. Clary’s son, Daere’s mother, a caring for similar human-things? Worrying, again. Constructively so for those of us who like somehow to enjoy worrying fiction. Those of us nearing ‘the lie-in of all lie-ins.’IMG_3660 Cinematic, too, in a seedy sort of Beckett way. Or Pinter? I was merely bemused about the prop of Clary’s mobile and the reason given to us for its staying untopped-up. And much else, including the WPC at the local nick. A town that is becoming Scofidio’s genius loci.
    “Summer sunshine in Wales never lasts.”
  5. IMG_3663Pages 94 – 116
    “He loved wood, the fact that it lived, that it had patterns,..”
    Back to the drawing-board or a new character organic with what went before? You decide. For me, it is organic. This book is full of things, like picture frames from Wilkinsons and supermarket delivery slots; it is a living place called Ffrynt. It sounds a bit like Clacton where I live in Essex, a seaside resort of a certain ilk. Down the road from here is another town, Frinton, one that is not like Ffrynt at all! Another synchronous name-wordplay in the book: Ruffalo with Buffalo. Baffle with bullshit. IMG_3664To Clary’s mother’s town-backstory of an info-dump from the Internet making me think back to what I said earlier that the horror genre is blending seamlessly with a literary work. One of them is now insidiously trying to break or mend those seams or replace the seamlessness with something else – ineluctably to prove which is stronger, or more likely that they are not differentiable at all.
    “Well if the synchronicity of that doesn’t call for celebrating…”
  6. Pages 117 – 135
    “‘I play in a band called Captem Cariad,’ Sam explained.”
    An unannounced synchronicity?
    The postman always knocks twice. But for whom?
    Just an obliquity, my self-amusing doodle of critique:
    Richard Dadd working on ‘Contradiction: Oberon and Titania’ (1854/1858)
    Meanwhile this is essentially a modern ‘Britain has Talent’ watching soap with ordinary people unselfish-consciously acting out a Pinter play. Pinter as Painter. A Welsh horror soap?
  7. IMG_3671Pages 136 – 160
    “Barefoot in the kitchen,”
    How can you love someone to pieces, someone asks somewhere. This consuming book seems so far to be about the sincerity and blindness of love as an oxymoron. Are we seeing the distinction correctly? I do not wish my reference to Richard Dadd the painter to muddy the waters. It’s just a skirmish of one reading mind, mine. Clary’s ex-partner is real, believable and monstrous. He is nothing to do with painting. Or even Mallory’s drawing-board? Back to that oxymoron of love, is there a difference between loving a “mong kid” and a dysfunctionally senile mother? Meanwhile, we seem led towards a view of Daere, the neighbour downstairs, that if I told you its details, would spoil the oxymoron. Suffice to say, the portrait is powerful. (The tarot partitions of this book, notwithstanding.) As powerful as the evocative conjuration of a music club and its music and its denizens.
    “All that for ten seconds of pleasure.”
  8. img_2619Pages 161 – 177
    “Sam flipped his tie with both hands, like Oliver Hardy.”
    The battle ensues between horror and something else, but now the seams seem not within literature alone but within life itself, within our era, as we know it, to the backdrop of thump thump thump from a imageneighbour’s party where nefarious things go on that already go on on-line as insidious echo, crips and all. The characters continue to develop, some with misunderstandings of love, that oxymoron of love now a creature trying to douse a ‘Creature’ with perceived kindness beyond the ulterior motive – and we do well to differentiate ugliness from beauty. Normal human jealousy and coolly manic obsession. There is nail-bitten suspense, too, depending on mobiles, wrong numbers, available taxis, and what we see as truth, so different from what the characters think they see. Or what all horror writers see, like those named in the text.
    “If you blocked out its deformities, it looked so beautiful,”
  9. IMG_3686Pages 179 – 203
    “Then it was the use of ‘Ms’. Ugly sound. Like a bee with a speech defect.”
    More drawing-boards of sorts, not only Clary’s, Mallory’s and Richard Dadd’s, but also now the daughter of a social worker (the one trying to visit Daere and her senile mother), a girl who has “drawed” a “pincher’…and Daere herself with a clumsily prophetic collage of her Tarot.
    Passages inclusive of but not exactly “chocka” with texting. Yet full of typing. And machinations, plot tensions and accretive characterisations continue to entrammel the reader.
    “And Anita thought happiness was the belief that no matter what happened in your life, you were equipped to deal with it.”
  10. IMG_3694Pages 204 – 229
    “…everyone found what they needed with a finger-swipe…”
    Back to the drawing-board, organic or vestigial? You’re on your own now, O companion-reader-alongside-me. Such a plot twist now occurs, or SEEMS to occur, transcending prior omniscience as well as a suspension of disbelief regarding knowledge of the Internet, Amazon reviews, mobiles, smartphones and texting. I am really enjoying this now horror-prevailing book. The heart of the stench, perhaps, notwithstanding.
  11. 481E3AF4-59FB-4CC5-B9B1-F96A573D7DA2Pages 230 – 251
    “That’s where my art desk is going.”
    These pages trace the nature of “a learning curve”, in more ways than one, the good and the bad in life alike, including your own as you read the book. I wonder whether to mention the rather rarefied or irrelevant observation that the author of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ has a surname a near anagram of Clary. Or that Daere, among other things, tellingly needs to replace her shower curtain. That libraries are for silent reading or using eBay, not clumsy machinations of romance. And that there are ludicrous expectations of the containing volume of shopping trolleys…..
    “…’it’s complicated’, because it never is unless you want it to be.”
    Whatever the case, at least part of me is helplessly entrammelled by this book and I need to finish it so as to escape properly. Almost enjoying it too much, if that is the right word. Certainly enjoying the process of gestalt reviewing it. The nuclear option, or the knucklier one?
  12. D99D2064-CC7F-4ED1-8B25-B458A3A6CB24Pages 252 – 287
    “From pain, a plan: in every cloud.”
    This has the suspense of a Hitchcock blockbuster now arriving at Ffrynt Carnival together with the subtlety of stitched tropes. We follow what is happening, the interactions built up from the book’s hinterland. 1981752C-86FC-4EDD-A0EA-9298F8E75A1C The gullibility, the temperamental mobiles, the “schmeant, meant” of looks, casual and deliberate. I feel I am some sort of Querent, as I unshuffle this book’s cards dealt out. Following “a scattershot nature” as well as a methodical plan of pain. “a sound like clicking bones”. Bottles of Night Nurse. And a remorseless cruelty of means needed to reach inchoate ends.
    “Sometimes it seems like my entire life depends on a series of people who can’t be left on their own.”
  13. C6013EA7-A34E-4C42-A301-42AB142FA299Pages 288 – end
    “, it’s dead fiddly.”
    This is the second day in a row I have had some sort of synchronous run-in with Queen Victoria (see here), but the word my Welsh father first taught me, ‘Hiraeth’, is an important catalyst and that word is used in these pages and imbues the book in hindsight. It means more than it means. It draws you to serendipities, as well as memories that may not even be your memories. Homesickness and eventual emotional healthness, whatever the symbolic stages of the cards dealt. Fiddle-faddly, too, a word my English mother used. BA12E1DC-53B6-4E4E-9401-0CAB4FBED367And here, meanwhile, we continue with the exciting cinematic suspense and dénouement “played out in bloody Technicolor…” plus the psychic illusive ventriloquism of Horror, with a capital H, but who or what ventriloquises whom? The future mimics or uses the voice of the past while the rattly bones that were once upon a time deadly throw-dice of abusive chance are now embedded in Fate’s structured slopes as knobbled stops to prevent further sliding. Not really “a Valkyrie on fire”, or if so, eventually a hurtling distaff of hope, a hope that the innocent can prevail. To beat Fate at its own slip-slidey game. And to know that love will eventually outweigh its opposite.
    “…all the time she’d known The Creature, it had never looked so beautiful.”

  14. A page-turning novel-reader’s novel. A Horror novel that it never tries not to be; in fact it drops names. A work that is dreamcatching of some literary force. Lifecatching, too. And tantalisingly elusive and allusive, words where you hopefully find the Querent. Mighty or not.