Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Sculthorpe Earth-Cry

Interesting take by one of my favourite writers – Christopher Priest – on the Clarke Award short list. (My novel ‘Nemonymous Night’ was on the original list of sixty):

Thinking about it further on a personal level: I’d be happy with any resultant shortlist if I thought all those creating the shortlist had read thoroughly the sixty novels on the original long list. Mr Priest, too, when criticising the short list.
As to ‘Nemonymous Night’ – this is Jules Vernian-SF – and I’d be happy if it had several fair but bad reviews. Then I’d know where it stood. No fault of anyone, but it has only had a few reviews: (linked from here: for reference), the first being a 5 star Amazon review from a respected Amazon reviewer. One of the others was tentative at worst, the other three fairly enthusiastic at best.
But very few people seem to have actually read it. I hope I’m not tempting fate, but, with this comment, I hereby encourage into the public domain all those fair but bad reviews harbouring in readers’ or critics’ hearts, rather than just a handful of fairly good reviews it has received so far.
Revie(w)’s Leeds United 0 Colchester United 4.
Meanwhile, I admire Priest’s Hull/Scunthorpe article. I know he didn’t write it for this reason; but his work is a league above all of us.
My own take on his ‘The Islanders’ last September:

‘Admiration’ at the overall article is however not the same as agreement with the caricatural mini-reviews embodied in the article.

Earth Cry (Sculthorpe):

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Am Coming To Live in Your Mouth

Extract from my real-time review of a Glen Hirshberg book HERE.

I Am Coming To Live in Your Mouth

We’ve been coming here a month. I’ve never seen anyone fight like you do.”

An enormously powerful treatment of terminal illness, as Kagome and others care for Joe who has for many years been riding the hoped-for remissions towards an inevitable riddling death: a sense of crossword and other word puzzles or computer games as part of the tumours’ horrendous ’riddling’ of his body, too, perhaps. I don’t want to give the impression however that this story is not an entirely serious nocturne of pain, despite there being, just as one example, a retrocausal form of the ’Constantinople/ It’ joke together with the weaknesses of the carers (Joe’s wife Kagome, mother, cat, Hospice workers who visit and friend Ryan (and his strangely apt connection with playing a”ukulele” and as a useful Scrabble word)) – their weaknesses and strengths. “But why did Americans always focus on the death part? What else did they imagine angels were for?” And the central image of fighting back against cancer is here portrayed as a ghost or role-play character of haunting shuddering strength… we are never sure, and I’m not going to spoil things by trying to make things clearer in this ‘review’. Suffice to say, this is yet another Hirshberg fiction that has affected me deeply. Truly deeply. And Kagome: OK, Game? We’re never sure how far we can go in such circumstances. Or let go. “…then froze as the START NEW GAME? message appeared.” (25 Mar 12 (today being my father’s birthday – who died of MND in 2007 after a long battle): 10.55 am BST, i.e. now no longer GMT)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sangria in the Sangraal

I shall go out on a limb: I have read much Rhys Hughes fiction since the early 1990s and, despite most of it, if not all, being brilliant stuff, I genuinely believe the SANGRIA IN THE SANGRAAL book to be the best organically thought-provoking and mind-expanding whole. Fabulous with brazen wit and sparkle: also implicitly gentle and meditative and self-traducing. Making clouds shine even if the world’s sun is hidden.

My real-time review here:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rare Promise

An amazing serendipity:

An extract from my real-time review of the 'UNBECOMING' collection HERE in March 2009;  the bold is placed on the old text today in March 2012.

(18/3/09 – 4 hours later) Rare Promise - Mike O'Driscoll
Indeed this story holds a rare promise that, even if one tries to surrender its words, they will keep coming back. It is a deeply word-textured Lawrencian symphony of non-urban emotions revealing a bottomless melting-pot of adolescent friendships altered by sex and jealousy, raw or religious guilt and shame, dark almost mythic memories of the “susurrations that slip between sounds”, self versus self through time, the secrecy of imperious fate … and this story does not surrender you the reader not only as a fiction-force-in-itself but because of what has gone before it in this book. In this story, a Confessional that is almost an answering-machine where the demon answerer eventually jumps out at the caller when the ‘conversation’ is abruptly slammed down! The sanctity of silence. The almost Modern Art that this story becomes as a series of blended cuttings of self ‘copy’. The losing of innocence by paradoxically gaining it. Becoming and Unbecoming. I cannot of course do justice to something I fail to absorb completely in one sitting. It may one day teach me to understand when I’m dragged back to it. It will never surrender me finally to the ‘call’ of other books, I’m sure. But – who knows? – it may be the passion of a moment. Only time will tell. The story’s author may jump out of it and drag me back. Not its real head-lease author named on the spine but the story’s demon second-rung author-as-reader calling me to read it all over again so that I can make final penance for not hurting enough the first time. Hurt is only real hurt when it happens time and time again for eternity.

Extract from my real-time review of 'Wild Justice' edited by Ellen Datlow HERE (March 2012):

Rare Promise – M. M. O’Driscoll

“…sketching in the blanks…” — “His turn to enter the box…” — “Truth hides in a secret place…” — “…but there’s no escape in imagination.” — “engine-foaming sea…”

[This is the only story in 'Wild Justice' that I have read before. Above is my quite lengthy real-time review of this story in March 2009 when I reviewed the whole of Mike O'Driscoll's collection 'Unbecoming' (2006). Mike also has a story in 'Nemonymous One' (2001): arguably about Stephen King's 'accident'. And he has a story in 'The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies' (2011), a story that actually mentions the editor of 'Wild Justice' by name, which I real-time review here.]

My old review of this story above still stands. But I have just re-read ‘Rare Promise’: as well as being a poetic tale of awakening youthful passion and its stifling of earlier memories as yet beyond regression, it echoes the hearing of voices from the previous story. Hearing voices, seeing “voids” or vacuums, ancient leaf-carpeted woodland beds, I infer: a “consecrated ground” where you can’t bury suicides: where memories still fester… It is the coming and going of young Greta, cf: Ings’ Alice. It does indeed sketch in Michael Marshall Smith’s ’blanks’, and other stories’ burials (figurative or literal): another Clegg “flower woman” here close to confessional, the wild justice or catharsis needed for past memories or “a long-forgotten fear”, essentially ‘unforgotten’: the lies of ‘dark spaces’, ‘tight spaces’, the lie of the Cadigan Eye again where you try to hide lies by aphasia or by Oatesian diaspora especially if those lies once started as stated promises: “undermines his few remaining certainties” – a ‘mine’ (belonging to me), for me, as I mentioned in another real-time review recently, being a form of burial of self: and, meanwhile, this story is this book’s lethally ”epiphanic moment”.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Foreign Bodies

Extract from my real-time review HERE.

Foreign Bodies – Michael Marshall Smith
“But half-buried is not enough.”
A lengthy extrapolation on sexual politics between young couples in the mid-nineties – a fascinating period piece in itself when objects were objects, letters letters, books books, and what you did on the computer was word-processing with folders. (I wonder how this story would have panned out with emails.) It also has sharp observations on cigarettes, ladies’ public toilet habits, the default oiling by white lies (cf lies in the Cadigan), manipulators and those manipulated often interchangeable as in Schow and Lethem. But really this story is much much more: adding to this book its own often disturbing and page-turning “ingredients“. A memory’s splinter of glass or ‘diamond dust’, I infer, entering the body’s soul, thus being buried, a life of spasmodic denial. The story’s ”blanking” as another form of burial or denial akin to the earlier relic room, meat safe, burial under sand or garden or (incredibly in the explicit lethal finale of this story) under an actual ”ragged patch of carpet” … and Clegg’s flowers, again explicit as ”dried out flowers“. And Ings’ protagonist’s laconic ‘keeping’ of Alice becomes David’s desperately seeking … who? (14 Mar 12 – two hours later)

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Punch in the Doughnut

Extract from my real-time review HERE.

A Punch in the Doughnut – David J. Schow

It is said that the first impulse is to share good news; the second, to bludgeon someone with it.”

…and that reminds me of the quote from the Cadigan earlier: “‘Some things won’t go away and some things won’t come back.’ [...] ‘If there were any justice in the world, the two would cancel each other out, or at least balance.’” And those lies again, and whether an Oates marking on a cup is to mark that cup or to mark the other cup that has no marking. This story is so politically incorrect, I hesitate to even review it. I expect the publishers of this book will have been incarcerated since 1996 for publishing this story in the first place. But, taking my life in my hands, here goes… The prose style is a pack of synaptic racers racing inside a just-fired diamond bullet. So much more dead-eyed than a golden one. The two protagonists – I thought perhaps they are wrestlers or prize-fighters who depend on their abiding friendship as a collaborative backdrop to keeping their ‘business’ partnership-as-deadly-enemies in multilple dollars and ‘euro-market crotch grinds’ – but I’m not sure. But one of them gets a bit ’nancy-boy’ and starts yearning after a new friend with a huge dong to be lethally kissed or absorbed elsewhere. But the thing that will always stay with me about this never-to-be-forgotten story is “the Great Despair“: not a sudden shaft of revelation as we might have expected in our respective heydays of youth and aspiration but, rather, a slow-motion jumble in the jungle that accurately predicts – from when it was coined in this 1996 published story - the 2012 world today, with the downward sluggish accretive kindlefest entropy from the Millenium Bug onwards where each of us in our billions will now be needed to extract each apportioned particle of pixellated “diamond dust” that carpets the infinite retina of Cadigan’s aphasic eye: the bloodshot eye with spinning iris that is the internet. Or if not extract, implant. All depends which cup of wild justice you’ve got: marked by bluff or double bluff or neither. (12 Mar 12 – another 2 hours later)

Friday, March 09, 2012

Disarming Strangeness

I like TS Eliot's concept of 'objective correlative'.
But I prefer my own term of 'disarming strangenesses'
I've coined for describing Aickman's objective correlatives.

Cabaret Zoltaire

I woke during the night with a sudden revelation. I recorded it on my real-time review of SECRET EUROPE at the point I had reached, i.e. with 'Cabaret Zoltaire' by Mark Valentine.
Whether or not this is an intentional literary trick, it’s a literary trick that will go down in history!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Defeat of Grief


In 2008, I saw this painting by Christian Krohg (1852 -1925) inside the Oslo National Gallery. I wished her better.

A Minor Official - Mark Valentine
There are some men, I know, who like the wasted beauty of sickly pale creatures: yet — even so. At least, it seems he did not put the portrait in his book. Perhaps it was to be a private pleasure. The point is that a minor official does not indulge his morbid fancies: he resolves to find out how the sickness was caused, how it might be prevented, or at least assuaged.”.
“A Minor Official” is a minor classic.
It had me in tears by the end. Someone so conscientious about his official duties as a water inspector in Herzegovina. A simple good man who has instinctive brainstorming thoughts about ‘emotional’ geography (cf the aural geomancy earlier — here more mood-mapping) as well as his humble-important position or task in optimising the water supply for other simple folk he meets … and the tears came to my eyes when he expressed unqualified confidence in the equal conscientiousness of the postal workers (other minor officials) in ensuring delivery of his letter enclosing a copy of the ’Hydrologer’s Manual’ he had earlier promised to honest people whom he had met during the course of his water duties: despite not knowing the correct address but drawing a map on the envelope instead. I then brainstormed myself. I’m a minor writer, of course. An official of real-time reviewing. I speculated on the mood-mapping of our current Euro debt and currency crises, knowing, as I do, the importance of emotions: the confidence (or lack of confidence) in somehow determining the direction of the markets etc. Not a horsocope of tidal currents, but a conscientious cartography of currencies. A major consideration from a minor pen regarding a Sad Europe? (6 Mar 12 - five hours later)
The Way of the Sun – John Howard
A balcony on the Mediterranean: it had become almost an obsession with him.”
[I had no idea this story was coming up when I chose 'The Last Balcony' page of my website to house this part of my review. Also, the author's own off-piste comment at the bottom of 'The Defeat of Grief' review page here takes on a new significance!] — And after my reference to ‘Sad Europe’ (as opposed to ‘Secret Europe’) at the and of my previous entry about ‘A Minor Official’, things seemed ripe for this story of a sunshine trip, in quest of the balcony, threaded with lucid dreaming. A Defeat of Grief indeed. ‘Mediterranean’ itself – literally – reminds me also of seeking the Earth’s Core of the Nemonymous Night as well as the ultimate balcony, adding a perfectly offsetting tone of oblique dark-lightness,,, yet, we have the Mike Leigh-type (?) married couple, all mouth and trousers, bugging our protagonist, ever turning up with ‘good intentions’ and pointless chatter….not the minor official’s ’emotional’ map as such but a downhill pest-piste. In many ways, I resented them as much as the protagonist did! A story that can swing in this way is surely a masterpiece. [A world without a Bill and Joan would be like a world without the gloom under the aegis of which I collect art gallery painting cards by Munch, Bosch et al.] Or am I swayed by the story’s own insistent bugging obessions as well as by my own? No, it is an exquisitely-styled story, with or without any such connections. Surely set to become an all-time favourite story from the viewpoint of the Lewis head. (7 Mar 12 – 9.20 am gmt

Sunday, March 04, 2012


Extract from my review of SECRET EUROPE - here


Westenstrand – John Howard

“…with effort routes work themselves out.”

[More often than can be warranted by chance, I feel, when I am carrying out two or three real-time reviews simultaneously, as I am now, one story enlightens or synergises, across-books, with another story. Here, remarkably, the tone and plot of 'The Night of His Sister's Engagement' that I reviewed here this afternoon, just before reading 'Westenstrand', has now become even more highly wrought regarding a watery foolhardy challenge to oneself - and, dare I say, vice versa!] – ’Westenrand’ itself is a wonderful account of an island off Denmark – subject to Hitler’s contemporary shenanigans, I sense, that also have bearing on the protagonist’s romance with a woman who frowns on his connections, albeit indirect, with that Dictator - an island (a bit like Mersea Island near where I live in Essex, if the latter is in a much smaller way and with shorter  intervals) that is one minute an island, the next not an island, as subject to the sea’s effects on a causeway. A bit like history. And economics. In both of which disciplines, routes work themselves out, while human bail-outs often falter. (They often milled coins with ‘reeding’ to prevent shaving off their edges.) (4 Mar 12 – another 3 hours later)