Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Interzone #260

Interzone #260


Stories by John Shirley, Priya Sharma, Jeff Noon, C.A. Hawksmoor, Christien Gholson.

My previous reviews of TTA Press Publications HERE.

When I real-time the above fiction, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above…

5 thoughts on “Interzone #260

  1. WEEDKILLER by John Shirley
    “…jagged shards spun around her, glinting, reflecting her image over and over,…”
    I reckon this cybermedia-mix of reality and virtual reality means you can’t actually use WEEDKILLER itself for finding out what really happens in it – just as much as weedkiller as a killer of weeds, or a winnower of chaff and wheat, cannot be used without killing both chaff and wheat. One character uses virtual reality means for her empathy kicks that take her beyond gaming into a realm where she is what she thinks she is, producing this effect by intake of something that may or may not be weedkiller, so why not the human weedkiller himself – ostensible family man or secret, authorially disintentional hologrammatiser of his own backstory? – becoming someone that even the author believes what the text says he is. It makes this extrapolation of a bleak world – with a need for the culling of unworthy, unproductive humans to prevent them from blighting the required pattern of productivity – EVEN bleaker than it is. But which the cullers, which the culled and which the uncullables?
    Charlie Venter his own Charlie Brooker.
    “…planted on social media.”
  2. BLONDE by Priya Sharma (& here)
    “She defaces the paintings, smashes the porcelain and bends the tines of the pastry forks.”
    The tines as if fiction hair made metal?
    It seems appropriate that following a story entitled ‘Weedkiller’, too, that this Rapunzel theme and variations where her rapid anagen blondeness becomes baldness is next the story to read. An intriguing treatment of isolation by vicious-sounding myths instilled by others about what her escape into an unknown outside world of men and monsters would mean… Instead such monsters come to her…. And these ‘weeds’ knot like mere hair – or life? – inside her… Read on, I say, and see.
  3. NO REZ by Jeff Noon
    “Need to talk to         Bella about it, tech geek:     strange life       she has,      in her tiny dark room,”
    I often hope my dreamcatching real-time reviews are a form of ‘blue sky thinking’, no more than I hope with this Noon’s height of a POV source of actually living with the pop-ups and textually conjured existence of a (sometime focusing sometime scattering) cyber-self called Aiden, POV upon POV, as he tries to triangulate his bearings during a street mugging situation (as I try to triangulate books with my gestalt reviews from 2008 and as Brian Aldiss did in a completely different way with his 1968 novel ‘Report on Probability A’ that I dreamcaught here).
    NO REZ synchronously resonates in mutual symbiosis with the Shirley story above. And its ‘sprites’ or ‘pixels’ chime, in hindsight, with Sharma’s vision of Rapunzel’s strands of hair coming back to her in a different form… A story that is is the ‘Golden Resolution’ of a mind-sky extrapolation from today’s growing sensation of becoming an Internet existence, as well as its classical Golden Mean, in an astonishing graphological word-portrait, through a verse-enjambment, typographically bi-landscape medium.
    I see what I see. Skimming, streaming, ‘vision-sick.’
    “Her headtresses washed over her face as she looked back down the silver ribbon of the express train glinting blue and violet in the sunset.”
    I think I am the wrong person to review this SF story. The plot of politics and conspiracies went completely over my head and I became very confused. On the positive side, I appreciated the style of description, the Express train itself on its journey from Jupiter to Mars, the swashbuckling with fanblades, the more spiritual aspect of a character’s exoskeleton, the dance with the pneuma machina, some of the characterisation and their religions or motivations (where I managed to understand them.)
  5. THE SPIN OF THE STARS by Christien Gholson
    Now THIS is my sort of story. It is a wonderful extrapolation, at least in part, of a Steve Rasnic Tem ‘fishing lost out of the way’ nam, afghan, iraq veteran type story, where a lucky quirk in Brian Aldiss’s Probability year of 1968 is this character’s back story, wherefrom a fished-out manatee is an ancient spell-making grandmother of grandmothers and an old man is the old fogey reviewer like me who helps out the hero, helps him reach his story, through – a passion of mine – connections and astrological harmonics. As a pattern of destiny. Several lives of self whence to choose a single one from the Shirley and Noon concatenations of now…
    “Real time – when past and future twist around each other;”
    “…the connections between all things, and how those connections play a part in healing.”
    There is much else in Interzone #260 in addition the above fiction.
    This review has been made using my subscription copy.


    Sunday, September 27, 2015

    Black Static #48

    Black Static #48


    Fiction by Jeffrey Thomas, Stephen Bacon, Steven J. Dines, Andrew Hook, Cate Gardner.
    My previous reviews of the fiction in TTA Press publications HERE.

    When I real-time review this fiction, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this book’s title above.

    6 thoughts on “Black Static #48

    1. DISTINGUISHED MOLE by Jeffrey Thomas
      “Lights flared in his vision like the flash-bulbs of all the photographers he had dreamed, in school, would one day gather when the world caught word of his discoveries.”
      I found this substantive work creeping up on me, revealing something about myself – not that I find myself staring inordinately more than most others at the navel of my vestigial computer-screen, and certainly not nearly as much as those scrying hand-held smartphones as if they are the oracles of a selfie’s self… That is just one spin-off from this organically accretive creeping of a text’s own melanoma, embodied by the OO VIP WAK BENDO hospital characters (here exemplified by Bendo) in this enthralling, suppurating plot, characters who seem to take for granted the prawns, cockroaches, jellyfish of their patients’ illnesses (illnesses or dire hanging-by-a-thread body-injuries), but seem surprised to find one such creature in a patient’s ear along with impacted wax, while emulating the incremental skin moles of other people to the point of some obscene ambition of grafting and tapping such hairy moles for their own skin, their own envisaged benefit.
      A massively original story. A culminatory disturbing one on a visceral level. But, for me, it is also one that would even wake Rip Van Winkle from the self-denial of his smug sleep… And I took a look at my own real-time reviewing since 2008, as if I, too, rode the concepts of others, like putting my hand into the text and tearing out of that octopoid seedbed of words my own version of a prime succulent hair-sprouting mole to place onto my own cheek, like a beauty spot onto the cheek of a literary fop or of a dreamcatching sap like me. And I have been horrified to the core after just this minute looking back above at what I have somehow distilled – in the guise of a book review – from this fine fiction.
    2. BANDERSNATCH by Stephen Bacon
      “That’s the word I use – ‘nauseous’, not sick,…”
      Although I thought I understood this story, it has been nagging at me ever since. Which is a good thing.
      It is what I would call a simple-tantalising tale, of a brother ‘exiled’ from his sister for ten years, with our never knowing fully why they have not been able to have a reunion (although it becomes easier to guess why) – till their mother died. The sister has changed, he notes, with her now liking dogs when she didn’t before, has a boy friend who accentuates his biceps, needs to be whittled down to size, I guess, like the boys at the end of the Jeffrey Thomas story did with their long sticks, making the human bandersnatch frumious….
      There is a sense of wrongness with the Bacon story, so utterly wrong, so aversionary, I was left with undercurrents of bad taste but mixed artfully with the Carrollian.
      Practice makes perfect. Dogleg and wrist.
    3. THE SUFFERING by Steven J. Dines
      “The spire can always find you;”
      Salisbury Cathedral spire in Black Static #25
      Salisbury Cathedral spire in Black Static #25

      Read this story for the first time upon awaking to a sunny Saturday morning, as I just did, you will see your own reflection in the computer screen as you write about it aureoled in gold, as if it has given the reader a new effulgence of life through its own revenant of death, its “dead seconds, black static.”
      A powerful vision at any time of the day. Not a story so much, as a rhapsodic symphony of grief, a self’s skin-peeling, a wolf as just one symbol among others, a protector or opponent (“a ghost of her ghost”) of the one you have lost through cancer as you run and glimpse her in a charity race through trees.
      All ‘elephants and butterflies’ and closing down a marriage legally, a Cripps Pink Apple like that of the earlier stories’ Bandersnatch or ‘distinguished mole’ (“they merely wear their injuries like badges.”)
      The thud of the falling apple as in Elizabeth Bowen’s ‘The Apple Tree’?
      Another astonishing Dines, this one almost a religious experience.
      “…because pain knows what it is.”
    4. BLOOD FOR YOUR MOTHER by Andrew Hook
      “Latterly I came to understand what pareidolia meant, but even so it remained a comfort.”
      I, too, am haunted by the meaning of that word as a running theme within my ‘dreamcatching’ book commentaries, aka ‘gestalt real-time reviewing’, another of my possible obsessions to match the one I described in my review above of ‘Distinguished Mole’. It is almost as if these leitmotifs have been planted in these stories to make pareidoliac patterns…or I have imagined them for my own purposes?
      The fifties-something woman narrator who works as a radiographer visits her father, someone currently needing the care of an elderly neighbour but is on the brink of being a social services case. The narrator’s own gestalt from what she sees is absolutely heart-rending, creating a gestalt from the current awful state of her father’s physical and mental existence and from her own exiled or estranged relationship since childhood with both her parents (carrying the spiritual and visceral auras of the previous stories). This leads to some of the most horrific scenes that I have ever experienced from this author. A tour de force. Perfectly judged. The doubt is whether her gestalt is pareidoliac or real. That doubt in the dream she seems to ‘catch’.
    5. WHEN THE MOON MAN KNOCKS by Cate Gardner
      “Yet surely the dead grieved, too,…”
      imageA novelette with fourteen numbered chapters. For me, a page-turning, theatrical or cinematic ghost story with humorous elements amid the, not geomancy, but ‘lunacy’ of grief and bereavement. Humorous, maybe, but essentially heart-rending for the woman who is in denial about her partner’s death from cancer. No mean feat on behalf of the author. No bedside closure on behalf of the character.
      Concepts of messages from the moon by paper-cutting paper birds, and the conspiracy of such ‘lunacy’ between the living and the dead. Stirring doubts and disloyalty. But which is the living which the dead?
      Which the charlatan? Easier to be a mock medium these days, this story infers, because of the availability of Twitter…
      Heart-rending fiction in tune with the tenor of this set of fiction’s gestalt, with elements of the surgery or cutting from Thomas, Bacon and Dines, and Hook’s pareidoliac envisioning or dream as here limned by the moon…. And it seems appropriately pareidoliac that I should read this now, bearing in mind the blood moon we are told by the news to expect to see, for real, tonight in our skies…
      “She didn’t return from the garden until the moon had slipped behind the trees, and then it was too late.”


      Thursday, September 24, 2015

      The Rite of Trebizond and Other Tales

      The Rite of Trebizond & Other Tales – Mark Valentine & John Howard



      I have just purchased this book privately from its previous owner.

      My previous reviews of this publisher’s books are linked from HERE.

      If I real-time review this book, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.

      10 thoughts on “The Rite of Trebizond & Other Tales – Mark Valentine & John Howard

      1. THE RITE OF TREBIZOND by Mark Valentine & John Howard
        “Yes. Empires rise and fall. When this one fell, the new leaders declared that only Turks could live in their new republic. All Greeks had to return to Greece.”
        It is good to get back to the classic stories from the first decade of the 21st century – one that I had not read till today. This is exquisite prose, depicting, by inter-told stories by equally exquisite prose, a tale of the Connoisseur, a soul of literature that I personally see as the soul of the Mesquita in Córdoba. It should be read aloud within the precincts of that building.
        Stemming from an investigator of British precincts that have their own rules, by arcane tradition, beyond any Local Authority control, and, in this pastoral lost domain, for me being a Wagnerian Parsifalinia of Master and Boy Apprentice in search of a new Oriental /Occidental Grail for our times in the second decade of the 21st century when migrants piggy-back each other across the old Ottoman Empire, sending epistles to each other by text rather than this story’s epistles “creased and folded, covered with colourful postage stamps, postmarks, and handwritten scrawls.”
        A ‘last redoubt’ by anamnesis?
      2. THE SERPENT, UNFALLEN by Mark Valentine & John Howard
        “…the usual ecclesiastical smell of the church, all polish and prayer-books, was becoming intincted with a trace of sharp gums and herbs…”
        This luxurious book, inspired by bright red inner vestments and ochre frontispiece embodied around the sensual smoothness of its printed pages, seemed to become imbued with other hues as scents, an alchemy of incense, as I read on in this story, a symbiosis of form and content.
        It is another tale of the Connoisseur here alerted, by further immaculate prose of told-internality, to the prehensile pulsing of icons and reliquaries with implicit dangers to be exorcised or summoned by competing forces of the story’s characters or others whoever whatever…?
        This competing brings the previous story’s struggle or symbiosis of Cross and Crescent towards intriguing relationships between the two stories themselves, here the Holy Roman Empire, there that Empire’s time-lapping Ottoman one, and within this single story itself, the Fallen and the Unfallen.
        Combining homely domestic church-keeping with less homely ornamental church-seeping.
      3. THE TEMPLE OF TIME by Mark Valentine & John Howard
        “There were many reasons evinced for why their actions did not, or could not, also flow back down the time-stream, and thus also influence the past.”
        …although I do believe this my review, written, even as I start writing it, today, has had some retrocausal influence upon the writing of this classic story from the first decade of this century, as, hopefully, all my reviews of both these authors have had similar influence upon the previous emergence of their combined and separate canons, to date. Long may that continue. Having said that, I could not prevent this story from mentioning the music of Sir Arthur Bliss before I mentioned it in connection with this story, as I would have done without the story’s prior mention of it. He is still well known for his Things to Come and Colour Symphony, but Bliss’s fine chamber music works are not things to come but things to have gone…
        This story will become an unforgotten classic eventually, another intriguing tale of the Connoisseur (seemingly a sort of conversationally laid back Sherlock Holmes), and he elicits here adumbrations of an Art Deco or Egypto-classical British cinema wherein are evoked a viewing of the Wellsian ‘Things To Come’ film, things then to come like, for example, the White City concept that, if I do not misremember, has appeared in John Howard fiction since this story was first written, things to come as derived from or deriving the Toynbeean history of challenge and response (or, in tune with my brainstorming above, response and challenge), a type of history that stirred into being the -isms of the previous century. The ambiance of the cinema building in question, and who was found watching a film alone with the Connoisseur’s interlocutor – and these unfolding discussions will become even more influential than they already are simply because many have not yet read this story but will now do so as a result of reading the challenge in this review to respond to what I say about its existence as a classic story of the early 21st century. But that begs the question of who or what will later stir this review itself into prominence…a blogpost rather than a concretely designed artefact like a cinema building showing once transient films.
      4. MRS. WINTERGREEN by Mark Valentine
        “‘Before the war’ — the phrase had a hollow sound now.”
        Hollow, until one was able eventually to look back in the future and say ‘After the war’ – and this reminds me of the start of The Go-Between – something like: the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
        There are inferred mondegreens, too, in this charming tale of half-heard conversational exchanges with a tea-drinking lady who — far from being a spy, as some suspected, for the Luftwaffe — was in actual fact someone conserving the medicinal herbs for the war effort.
        In hindsight, I think I saw lights above this story’s every word like fireflies.
      5. OUT OF THE OBELISK by Mark Valentine & John Howard
        “I had a stroll about the place in the evening light, just as a bright moon was rising, like a great golden zero, and I felt it was simply bliss to exist,…”
        To be beyond Hammersmith is, for some central Londoners, tantamount to visiting a village called Endean. An immaculately rhapsodic told-internality, between the two men who erected it, of a monument of once ancient Hope as well as Fenwick, a monument in a churchyard that was for someone lost even further afield – in South America.
        More lights above these words – as their own monuments to fine allusive literature. A visitant urchin wielding a historically achronological coin of silver to offset the moon’s of gold, a ‘black mirror’ between. A tale of untold choices and seaweed poultices.
        I was blissfully enchanted.
      6. PRINCE ZALESKI’S SECRET by Mark Valentine
        “From a shining censer there rose faint fumes, tantalising and ethereal in their scent.”
        Oriental machinations ex Occidente, in some passages more phonetically-semantically-involuted than even MP Shiel could have written, with scenes of conspiracy concerning tea and its ingredients while revealing historical intrigues, prefiguring, for me, George Osbourne, not Nixon, in China.
        This book itself is tantamount to a word-censer. Pungently pervading beyond the boring Customs of even my literary nostrils.
      7. SIME IN SAMARKAND by Mark Valentine
        “…daintily done in goatskin and gilt, and every page reeking of the abyss.”
        imageSurely, surely, this story is one of the great classics of weird literature. I know I have read it before, reviewed it, too, but I have just reread it, without peeking at my previous thoughts about it. (I intend to show a copy and paste of my original thoughts in the next comment below, once I have finished this comment.)
        It tells of feisty Sime the book illustrator (of Machen, Hodgson and others) and Johnson the narrator’s attempts to persuade him to illustrate the famous book of poems by Flecker. Very entertaining interchanges as the persuasion progresses, full of wit and pungency. There are some very striking passages of Johnson’s later visions of what I (if not the text itself) can only call a Fleckering he sees about Sime (as if Goya had chosen to paint nightmarish prehensilities surrounding the dreamer’s head as an admixture of dust and shadow) and another vision in the busy street of people as the marionettes of amorphous figures above them – all coming together in the climactic scenes, scenes that later effectively tail off into the fatal poignancy of the First World War…a war that Sime survived, having polished spittoons, if not censers, as part of his duties.
        I cannot do justice to this story. It simply has to be experienced rather than merely read. I feel by sharing a story with others immediately after finishing it is the nearest anyone can come to ‘experiencing’ that work. I think this work of fictional truth about Sime’s artwork for Flecker has in my mind’s eye become a version of real-time reviewing through the eyes of Johnson, also known as dreamcatching…
        There seemed, in creative hindsight or retrocausality, to be kindly tugging shapes above me as I experienced this whole book … amid clouds of scented motes from its double censer.
        • MY APPENDIX
          Oh, bliss! Below is my exact copy and paste of my review from February 2011 as originally published here:

          Sime in Samarkand
          “The coal-hauler and the lord, eh? […] I think he wrote more than he knew.”
          Oh, bliss! This, for me, is the perfect Short Weird Fiction – carved from a gestalt represented by Machen, Dunsany, Hodgson, Poe, Flecker, Samuels etc – and a fiction by Vance I’ve forgotten the title of that plays with those ‘shadows’ from the previous story in this book and extends them to things that are witnessed in the street by the narrator as controlling people (otherwise invisibly) like auras or demons…? Anyone know that fiction by Vance? This Valentine story – this VA author with quiet, imputedly gentlemanly, cosmic OOF! – is a true gem: conveying a feeling of truth when following an artist inspired by a poet’s work and then whose resultant artwork is thankfuly lost (or is it?) for fear of its certain power. But that description does no justice to this story. It has to be read. It has to be reprinted and anthologised forever – or, on second thoughts, like Sime’s artwork, it’s perhaps safer that it resides solely in this beautiful stiff-leaved, hard-boarded, smoothbark-jacketed treasure of a book for we few, we select few readers to read only. Seriously. [As an aside, there is also a most beautiful ‘dying fall’ that enhances the end of this story, one that involves the onset of the First World War, another of those concatenations of ‘certain powers’ in conflict, so resonant with today.] (21 Feb 11 – three hours later)

      Wednesday, September 23, 2015

      PURGE STATUS - Shawn Mann

      2 thoughts on “PURGE STATUS – Shawn Mann

      1. I have just read the first half of this story, and one thing that strikes me is that, having firmly believed that the large part of success stems from ‘WHO rather than WHAT you know’, the fact Lew Flier (a presumably anxious, socially inept loner) is able to obtain a fruitful job interview – at the towering, lowering cube of glass housing Kessel Management in the plot’s disrepaired town ambiance – as a result of the contacts of a psychiatrist, his long-term psychiatrist Dr. Ticay…
        Even if I don’t know where that now derelict sentence of mine was going, this story text itself – about a near derelict town with an amorphously changing business plan at its centre with the building mass and its staff called Kessel Management – flows story-tellingly well from the point of Lew’s encounter with a stranger in a hallway who mumbles about defects of that hallway and, later, defects before his own self-destruction, and, later, the now ominous or weirdly philosophical ‘Engineer’ in the Kessel cafeteria, someone who impels me to ask myself why it is me reading this and nobody else reading it? How many chances or synchronicities of fate and forked pathways meant it was me reading this chapbook today and not you reading it, not even some chap only very slightly different from me, i.e. NEARLY me?
        Dr Ticay, meanwhile, reminds me of those Ligottian doctors who inhabit areas like this town and this Kessel Corporation. But only nearly so.
        The book’s cover, one of the most striking covers that I have seen for this type of fiction, evokes the huge cube wherein the ceiling has merged into darkness away from Kessel’s office lights, and makes me want to savour and finally fathom the status of this chapbook, stopping halfway, as I have, so far, to purge its near inevitable continuation. (But it is already printed so how can it possibly be even slightly NEAR inevitable for it to continue as it is frozen in print before I get to read it?)
        TICAY and LEW FLIER, for example – will these names’ letters later de-anagrammatise?
        Forgive me, but all these thoughts ran through my changing mind as I read through these few pages, readying myself for the rest.
        Notwithstanding all that, Lew Flier represents a meticulously delineated character study of the anxious loner and the nature of his anxieties, real or imagined, amidst the above scenario of tawdry township and attempted self focus before dissemination.
      2. The second half of the story has now been read and somehow what I have read makes me wonder if I am the same reader who commented above on the first half a short while ago. I can now remember the accreting gestalt of vines as threads or leitmotifs in that first half, ones that failed to be mentioned by ‘myself’ above and have now come home to roost in this second half as something more amorphous like the metabolically plaiting or shadowy machinations of Kessel itself.
        I wonder if it is possible to let slip plot spoilers about this second half if it is not the same text as you are reading alongside me or have already read – or due to read in the future because you love the sound of this chapbook based on my review of it.
        Meanwhile, the words ‘Purge Status’ cast their long sinuous shadows upon what I see as the nature of reviewing. Its retrocausal element that I have often mentioned since I started such book reviewing in 2008 – and the quandary about whether real-time reviewing EITHER affects the way you look at a text when knowing all the time that you are publicly reporting on it while you are still reading it OR affects, however unfeasibly, the text itself in a proactively and/or retroactive way!
        This particular text, by its very nature, embodies that very quandary. A Kafkaesque-Ligottian weird Corporate Horror tale that works very well on that level. But also a metaphor for the modern condition of a zero hour contracted employment-baited individual with his own vulnerable issues and management’s shadowy involuted nepotism, becoming one foul symbiosis. Nobody gets a clean bill of health, not even the reader, ESPECIALLY not the reader who becomes part of that foul symbiosis, too. Of course, that’s not a spoiler. Nothing about it can be spoilt whatever anyone says about it.
        I am glad I have read this relatively short chapbook – it has caused me to come out of myself. Leaving someone else trapped inside the self-devouring text that happened to be the one that was read. I am not sure it would have worked like that IF, before continuing to read this hardcopy text, I had not ceased reading it halfway and brainstormed my public electronic thoughts about it. This would still be the case if nobody was reading my review at the time I wrote it or even if nobody EVER reads it.
        Whether or not all the above considerations make this decidedly good weird story a great one, and whatever the unknowable intentions (by dint of The Intentional Fallacy) of the freehold author himself, indeed whatever the intrinsic truth of the matter, at least one self-status has been truly purged by the experience.

      Monday, September 21, 2015

      The Horrifying Presence - Jean Ray

      The Horrifying Presence and Other Tales – Jean Ray


      Translated by António Monteiro

      A book that has been purchased privately from its previous owner.

      Ex Occidente Press MMIX

      My previous reviews of this publisher’s books HERE

      If I real-time review this book, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above

      36 thoughts on “The Horrifying Presence and Other Tales – Jean Ray

      1. This is a luxuriously gorgeous yellow book, with paper glossy enough to slide off and die for, and (without yet reading it) I sense an initial hybrid aura of witty or absurdist literature and page-turning linear high pulp laced with frissons… About 300 pages, limited to 300 copies.
        My only previous reading of Jean Ray gave birth to this review in 2011 of two of his stories HERE.
        The Story of the Wûlkh
        “‘Tem,’ the master whispered, ‘the day will be splendid or terrible.'”
        …the day as well as this book, but if the first story is anything by which to judge, it will be the former, not the latter, immediately reminded, as I was, by its title, of the ‘Servants of the Wankh’ work in 1969 by Jack Vance…
        It tells of a breezy hunter called Weybridge tempted by the pub talk of a taxidermist to seek the culling of the fabled Wûlkh in the atmospherically described wilds of the Fenn…
        Accompanied by his pointer called Tem, the hunter undergoes a möbius section of a sticky destiny whereby I thought, unaccountably, of the terracentric skull whence and whereto the rare-flighted quagga soars and then sinks.
        The avocets, notwithstanding.
      2. I Have Killed Alfred Heavenrock
        “His young friends call him Freddy. Why?”
        Good question!
        Meanwhile, this is an engaging story of a razors and shaving-cream salesman in Kent just after the German V1s had decimated many of the towns, whose mind we are allowed to read intriguingly as, on an improvisational basis, he plays a confidence trick on a woman whose house is still standing. A confidence that proceeds to feed on itself – without his help – and serves to trick him back!
        A melodramatic mystery as if written by Richmal Crompton or Evadne Price on the day they wanted to write a story without children in it. This story will stay with me, possibly because all good mysteries have loose ends and at least a few lies. Alfred Hitchcock wanted to make a film of this story but couldn’t get the right actors.
      3. The Inn of Spectres
        “Silence fell, heavy like the burning solar beam that inflamed the glasses and the mottled counterpane; the sound of mice as well as Freyman’s watch could be heard.”
        I know that this story was not originally in English, but I still wonder if Freyman is meant to evoke Ferryman, an involuntary ferryman for exporting monstrousness into the open?
        This story starts with a good meal but ends with the Innkeeper’s double cross (cf the double cross or con trick in the Heavenrock) by the double double crossing of double crossers, fooling them to pilcher, sorry, pilfer, the room in the inn with King Solomon’s sign, and thus, inadvertently, exercising, sorry, exorcising, its haunted curse…
        The cataclysmic finale echoes that of the Wûlkh…where all participants are double double double crossed.
        Off-the-wall gentlemanliness amid rogues and chancers, beautifully sketched in words.
        “Did you bring the binoculars?”
        To siphon the sea? No, to inspect this text and fathom its machinations.
      4. Merry-Go-Round
        “Years ago there was in London, in Bethnal Green, between Shoreditch Station and Bricklane (sic), a miserable public square …”
        And is this translation a version of ‘looking a gift horse in the mouth’? – “…one is not supposed to look in the mouth of a horse that has not been received as a gift.”
        And the word ‘pedunculated’? A lovely sounding word but is it the correct one?
        Anyway, there was a French Fair in that public square where a certain character ran a merry-go-round – at first with a real horse turning it, and later a mechanical device, but one of the animals was replaced … Oh, it’s a long story to retell but a relatively short one to read for yourself, and there are many strange and enjoyable machinations and double crossings of human and animal – to such an extent that the whole thing reminds me strongly of fiction by Clarice Lispector that coincidentally I am also gestalt real-time reviewing at the moment HERE. In fact there may be a strange, previously unnoticed kinship between the work of Lispector and Jean Ray. Hmmm…
        “I feel reasonably sure that it is a machairodus, the prehistoric tiger. Look how the head is elongated like the head of a horse or a donkey, and that muzzle has no similarity to that of any other beast. What a giant that must have been, don’t you think? Twice the size of a buffalo!”
      5. The Black Mirror
        “Nevertheless, his indifference had not reached oblivion and on widely separate occasions the complex image in barbute and sollerets passed like a quick shadow before the obscure eyes of his memory.”
        A teasingly clumsy patchwork of a story about impoverished Dr. Baxter-Brown, another double-chancer who pilfers, including the obtaining by such means not of Charlie Brooker’s but of Dr John Dee’s fabled Black Mirror (I’m sure we have met Dr Dee once before in this book but the meandering of the text makes you sometimes want to forget (in a nice, hazy, idiosyncratic sort of way)) – and the spectral recurrence, over years, of Dr. B-B’s favourite pipe he calls Polly becoming lost and then returning, as a result, is a real spooky conundrum to conjure with.
        Polly put the smoke on, Slumber take it off again.
        You know, there is something mesmeric about this text, however loyal its translation to the original, with its creative typos and accidental neologisms, I guess, making one’s brain itch with even more itching than the semantic and syntactic Ray originally meant to permeate your skull with!
      6. The Graveyard Guardian
        image“I did not wish to force you to read through the poetic descriptions of tombs hooded with snow, nor through my opinions on Grieg and Wagner, or my literary preferences or my philosophical lucubrations about fear and loneliness.”
        …so our ‘narrator’ addresses ‘your Honour’ when explaining the seemingly murderous outcome of his job as Graveyard Guardian, among two other such Guardians, with the drinking of ‘Chur’ – a sort of Char or Tea – and the job of keeping any intruders away from the tomb of the Duchess, the last one buried there and arranging such Guardianships before her death.
        Alongside the quirkily absurdist and obliquely birdish aspects of this plot, it is genuinely horrific and effective as a story of possession and double-crossing from the grave.
        Hot drinks and blood-letting, and phantom echoes of blistered earache.
        “He who under-values the devil belittles God.”
        A strange story of a marshland connected to the sea by a rumour of a riven dyke, sliding mud moving against the grain of the land and the sea, and more. The cattle did not thrive there, in fact suffered the fates limned in the Wûlkh, and nobody dared fathom these mysteries. Until the narrator commissioned Mr Hilmacher to stand up for his boasts – and sent him there to investigate and, as an advance prize, the ability to fish with dynamite.
        Well, the man who dared explain the story’s ending is myself! It meant so much more than any previous reader had ever expected or sussed. She who was found amid the shredded fish was none other than God’s devil, not the traditional devil of our mere human dreams. Think on.
        “Incredible things can be explained only through even more incredible things.”
        A new motto for Dreamcatching real-time reviews?
        “You’re-back! I-am-quite-hap-py.”
        So clicks the narrator’s clock on his return home to his sluggy and tumorous abode. The intrusive violence that ensues in this short short is both amusing and disturbing. Intriguing, too, A case of mistaken identity? Then, what about that clock, I ask.
        “It was a true bell, with a tocsin voice, cast in gone-by centuries by Servite monks…”
        For me, and perhaps for me alone, there is a worm crawling through this book from cover to cover, and back again. Cut It in half and the stories grow around the two halves to hide the fact that there are now TWO worms threading the text. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in physical revenants. Here it is a Platypus Pygmy (my expression, not the text’s) but there are so many strange uses of English words in this text, anything could mean anything – but these words are so RIGHT for a Ray text in whatever language it is cast as unto a delightfully cracked bell!
        This story is about abstinence as well as wonderfully described meals of good eating, visitors from far-off places, here a cousin, and strange apparitions echoing that cousin’s tale, apparitions that are SO strange they cease to be strange at all in the context of ringing together with the cadences in the rest of this book, although you’ll likely dream about these apparitions after eating, sorry, reading this story.
        By the way, I imagined the worm. Perhaps it was disguised as a locomotive thundering down the track at me?
        “‘Panama… Panama…’ he repeated again and again, endlessly… ‘Panama.'”
        An incantatory mazurka while walking, I wondered how the Isthmus of Panama could be relevant to this deadpan, extremely ordinary, yet engaging, slightly grotesque, slightly absurdist, slightly amusing tale of a a human head coming to life a bit like WF Harvey’s hand… A man who murdered someone so that he could be beheaded as a punishment… Stretching out his neck to avoid the vocal chords being severed. And the rest is his story.
        Well, when you think of Panama and its severed nature between two huge heads called America, and the fact it is itself a name of a hat, it all becomes clear,
        “Just go into the marsh at evening, when bubbles of rotting gas, large as tables, burst in the waters,…”
        Large as tables is an interesting simile. This text is full of them.
        Any simile in itself is a sort of translation… So ripe here for each inchoately beamed Ray of language into and beyond the sleek glossy pages of this book.
        This particular Ray is a brief nightmarish slice of the narrator’s life amid the earlier scenario of the Wûlkh, that seeping morass called the Fenn – excusing himself to the Coroner as to his drinking whiskey to ease the burden of having lost Mr Stumble to the dreadfulness of the ‘flaccid-eyed bush’ that the Fenn faced them with.
        This story is a tall as storms.
        While the dog’s name in the Wûlkh was Tempest, here it is Cyclone.
        “Sullivan reminded us that Sol Pans was a Jew and that it would certainly bring us bad luck to give a Christian burial to someone who came from that race…”
        That thought of its time notwithstanding, this is another deadly atmospheric slice of events, this one told to us by transcription of a whisky-fed interview, an interview involving one of the fur seal hunters sailing in the Minches… With talk of a dreadful smelly wound, the sole scabby seal caught, and, in a cave, a siren (or beautiful seal) akin, for me, to the God’s own devil I identified in ‘The Man Who Dared’…
        Whisky or not, between two glasses, a vacuum…?
      13. The Story of the Wúlkh: “…the hunter undergoes a mobius section of a sticky destiny.” Love that phrase. I think this is the most fascinating review I’ve seen from you yet, Des. For me, anyway. As your review went on, I had the impression that Jean Ray might have more in common with Jack Vance than a story title that reminded you of one of Vance’s novels. I don’t know if I’m right; I haven’t read Ray. As I read the next story’s review and started doing a little searching, I began to wonder just why I hadn’t read anything by him – clearly he wrote in the genres that I read and collect. And did I actually have anything by him?
        Excuse the note of desperation that might be detected in the following lines…
        I Have Killed Alfred Heavenrock: “A melodramatic mystery as if written by Richmal Crompton or Evadne Price on the day they wanted to write a story without children in it.” This sounds delicious. And your comment that Hitchcock wanted to film it but couldn’t find the right actors had me scurrying downstairs to find my much-thumbed Hitchcock by Truffaut volume. No mention of this story. Google only turned up a reference to another aborted film project (Alain Resnais wanted to film The Adventures of Harry Dickson based on a 1930’s crime series by Ray.)
        I should explain that I’m presently handicapped because my library database is out of action (the external hard-drive power-supply packed up – guy in the shop’s working on it). After scanning the contents pages of 24 Hitchcock anthologies from my shelves, no Jean Ray. He’s not even referenced in John Connolly & Declan Burke’s Books to Die For (contributions from 120 of the world’s leading crime writers!)
        I do have the feeling I’ve missed something…
        Although I’ve only commented on the first two stories reviewed, I did read all the reviews. Now I’m going to go and soak my head. Utter humiliation. Why don’t I know this author? Perhaps I’ll post this comment both here and at TLO. Just to confuse you.
        • Sorry, Rog – my brainstorming recognition of the resonance of Alfred Hitchcock with Alfred Heavenrock was my best way to spotlight the con artist actor of aliases and the lies in the story by becoming a hopefully transparent con artist myself in the last line or lie of my review!
      14. And I, too, wonder why I haven’t read this collection of wonderful stories before. They are certainly often off-the-wall horror but genuinely resonant with all our absurdist as well as real-seeming nightmares, I guess. A notable discovery in the field of literature I am most interested in.
        “Why did the wife of Kram, the local blacksmith, give birth to a monster: a being with an enormous head with a black blubber-lipped mouth, like an Ulm mastiff?”
        Good question, as it turned out.
        From the between-the-glasses of the previous story to the glass perhaps even more transparently more deceitful in this one, I have been wondering, with a lot of these amazing stories, to what extent are some of their narrators or points of view insanely or mischievously unreliable. Which is the monster? And with this account of the narrator’s new neighbour’s metamorphoses seen through his window, this wonder has surely come home to roost. Echoing headlessness from the earlier Isthmus of Panama onwards and with the dark ambiance of continental alleys, I really had a field day tangling and untangling and retangling my brain!
      15. This gets still more interesting. Reading your latest additions to the reviews page, I decided to look on Amazon for an affordable Jean Ray book. Immediately it became clear why Ray has got under my radar till now: most of the books appear to be in the original Flemish (?) And as I’ve never learnt another language…
        Comments here go off at a bit of a tangent, so apologies in advance:
        Anyway, I saw a title I recognised: Malpertuis. A film by Harry Kūmel starring Orson Welles and Susan Hampshire, based on Ray’s only novel-length work. From IMDb I’ve learned that the first version of this film to be released was ‘hacked to bits’. It was released in several different versions for different language markets, and all were drastically cut. A full-length director’s cut is now available, running I believe 125 minutes (elsewhere it says 119 minutes).
        Finding the right version wasn’t as straightforward as I’d expected, but eventually I learned that a US import from Barrel Entertainment slightly had the edge on the Belgian Royal Filmarchive DVD (though both are director’s cut). I collect films, but the cost of the Barrel Entertainment release (currently about £80) puts it way above what I’d pay for any DVD. The Belgian Royal Filmarchive release is currently about £15/£24. See this site if interested:
        Re. your review of The Inn of Spectres and the name ‘Freyman’: You write “…I still wonder if Freyman is meant to evoke Ferryman, an involuntary ferryman for exporting monstrousness into the open?”
        I know your fascination with coincidence, so you might be amused to see that the name of the writer of the screenplay for Malpertuis’ is Jean Ferry…
        I’ll take the liberty of posting this both here and at TLO again, feeling some justification in the thought that possibly there might be some cineastes there who might find the links above useful.
        • Thanks, Rog. Before continuing this review, I would mention that it seems that a few people feel this book represents a faulty translation of the works. To be able to have that opinion, one needs to compare the original text line by line which I haven’t done. However, as I have indicated above, I feel the evidently off-the-wall translation fits brilliantly the spirit of the works or the spirit of the works that I hoped and expected they would have. I am enjoying this whole book immensely.
        “…the one thousand and one adventures, true or deceptive, that are told at the warm hour of cigars and liqueurs.”
        This particular bracing adventure not in the wilds of elsewhere but close to the narrator’s home in the Ardennes, the white beast and the slot cave (reminding me a bit of a published collaborative by John B Ford and myself some years ago) – but here the feminine element of the frightening monster imbued within its masculine bravado of monstrousness (cf the earlier siren etc.) resulting, for me, in the good amid bad things and vice versa…
        “A ray from a pale winter sun played in my eyes.
        Oh! how good life was, rosy and full of great joys!”
        “It is a very mean boy who ravages the beds of roses in a park to tease a ladybird, and here it scourges our shack like a giant ray with its fins.”
        I wrote above that these tales are ‘tall as storms’, little then knowing that the phrase would truly come home to roost in this story, a story that I have never read before (like all the stories in this book, I feel). Also Jean Ray’s self-irony – concerning the trappings of the horror genre, monsters, stormy nights “black as clotted blood” etc. – also comes home to roost. But equally, despite that self-irony, the horror is genuine and heartfelt and frightening. No mean feat. (I feel the same with my own horrifying presence currently under the Ray. Horrified and self-ironic, but I simply know the Ray will finally kill it.)
        Wonderfully, this is another story told under the ‘influence’, another Conte du Whisky.
        And there is ‘gold ‘ – in a peat-bog! As there was gold in the previous story’s slot cave…
        “With a shaking finger, he pointed to a weird tufted dress, of indefinite fashion, made from thick blue tissue with a violent sheen, carelessly hung from a nail lost in the wall.”
        Sometimes, one encounters a writer or a text that he or she has written, and the ambivalent ambiance (here in Germany), the ambivalent sense of evil, the ambivalent number-counting of characters, the ambivalent nature of the uncertain ghost or ambiguous demon, the ambivalent need for exorcism, the ambivalent ending, the ambivalent list of characters (one a keeper of avant grade magazines), an ambivalent translation of the assumed ambivalent original text…
        And here we have all those things in this story, including its ambivalent reader, satisfied or not.
        A precise day, though: Thursday. And a dance unequivocally round.
        I think I loved it.
        At the heart of the mystery
        “One thinks of the main lane in a dream garden, bathed in a very sweet slightly pinkish light.”
        A free-wheeling, wide-ranging, compelling, if madcap, adventure story that seems, for me, to feed off the stream of ‘consequences’ in a child-like rather than childish imagination, one that the ‘child’ feels has its reality underpinned by some centre-of-the-earth power, a power existing in the otherwise empty gap between waking and sleeping… Not dream, not even dozing, but a special form of world building, a crazy audit trail about some students visiting the Scilly Islands and then one of them and his young professor, based on the message in a ‘bottle’, visit the Orkneys where they plumb the depths of a lake towards a human-controllable machine controlling several coloured rays that home in on various portholes, but upon what interiors? All in a world that seems lost from ‘Lost’, like metal catacombs, with one ray penetrating a porthole with a world of machines that seem – as in ‘The Machine Stops’ – to be a frightening premonition of the mental and spiritual and flashmob traps today trapping mankind under the guise of something called the internet… Trapping mankind even physically as well as metaphorically. All told by diaries and a never waking up from that dream proper I denied as existing at the beginning of this review, or that imaginary dream garden mentioned in the text. So, if not a broken dream, what about that world building I mentioned above? A world building encouraged by the two polarised white or empty gaps before and after the text starts and ends. And I woke up, at the end, to find it had all been a dream? No, not a dream at all. It’s all still there.
        Between the two dream archipelagos of magnetic existence.
      20. HOUSE FOR SALE
        “The whole house is afraid!”
        This story should appeal to me particularly as it is – early on – billed as a ‘backwards ghost story” – or in my usual parlance ‘retrocausal’ or a truly lovely word I learnt elsewhere in the last few days: ‘wackbard’…
        But, whether or not it is due to a problem with this translation into English, I found it confusing with its different narrators.
        There are some other good moments, like the afraid house (cf: The House and the Brain by Lord Lytton and the HOUSE of Leaves by Danielewiski), the ‘demonograph’, the skeleton footprints in the carpet, the retributively sorcerous curse concerning a Judge, and another reference to Dr. Dee’s Black Mirror…
        “I go to the railway station, I take a seat in the first train that comes by, without worrying about its destination, and I get off following my whim.”
        I think this is genuinely not only one of the best train stories I have ever read but also the best weird tale! Its approach (encapsulated in that quote) not only typifies my own story writing but also my real-time reviewing, bringing home gems for my own and your enrichment, I hope. Literally.
        Anything more I might tell you about this work would spoil it, I guess. I would add that a ‘choucroute’ is a sauerkraut with smoked or salted pork, frankfurters and potatoes. But it is also known as a ‘chouchou’ – with ‘route’ appended.
        I’ll get my coat.
        With seven stations left to travel through.
        “But what a face!… Only Hell would have been able to assemble in a single vision so much horror, ferocity and anger.”
        Crystallising such leitmotifs into a gestalt, relentless real-time reviewing of so much hyper-imaginative literature as I have been doing since 2008 exposes me to such a danger of a ‘single vision’, singular, too. One can perhaps forgive some of the characters’ anti-Semitism in this particular story, when we eventually find out – as in earlier Contes du Whisky – that it was told under the influence of drunkenness? Nah!
        Similar to that in the Choucroute, we have here another broken bottle from out of a strange vision later examined for its nature beyond glass in its shattered existence in our world.
        In all, not a Ray masterpiece.
        “…he thought of the pink chubby figure of Hilary Channing, at his girlish white neck and, not without disgust, he saw Duck’s simian hands carefully moisten and feel the cards before putting them down.”
        Duck’s down…
        This is an amorphously dark scenario of a prison at night before the next execution, of Hilary Channing, with gradual accretion of prison guards and officials and their traits, with autonomously grumbling undercurrents amid their talk of revenants of those executed and glimpses of bleak auguries of retribution in forced march… And a life-mocking dissection. And a Bolivar hat to match the Panama one earlier?
      24. GOD, YOU AND I…
        “‘Beautiful demon,’ I said, ‘I can understand that you refuse a man,…'”
        This strikes me as a startling experiment in automatic writing, an avant grade or surreal patchwork of events as a man returns to his home town – where he was regarded with opprobrium – after twenty years of buccaneering … a neighbour who seems to be a tasty woman spurns him, but she returns to steal from him in the guise of his earlier ship’s bat called Tine – or is she a vampire set to suck his blood.
        Another work on the theme of the ‘beautiful demon’, one that will frustrate or puzzle you and send your nightmares queer in unequal measure!
        God, You and I? Author, reader and reviewer equally drunk or doped together? But what about the translator!
        “It is but a deceitful patching up…”
        “‘Well,’ I said,’there was some filthy drug in the bottle I emptied and I have embarked into a nasty dream.'”
        Well, I feel the same about this story – and the one before. A patchwork of characters being trapped not like genies in a bottle, but as the pattern of a plate – in another buccaneering story of retribution and adventure, the sudden appearance of an island, and another beautiful demon, one who now calls herself a Countess…
        A fairy story within a fairy story purported to be based on King Solomon’s “vestiges of his terrible but just wisdom”…
        “‘Well,’ I said, ‘there was some filthy drug in the bottle I emptied and I have embarked into a nasty dream.'”
        Well, I feel the same about this story – and the one before. A patchwork of characters being trapped not like genies in a bottle, but as the pattern of a plate – in another buccaneering story of retribution and adventure, the sudden appearance of an island, and another beautiful demon, one who now calls herself a Countess…
        A fairy story within a fairy story purported to be based on King Solomon’s “vestiges of his terrible but just wisdom”…
        “Mare … mare … the night mare.”
        Incantations and refrains, like that of the clock in Camberwell, pepper this next buccaneering patchwork of adventures and drunken wildnesses (now in Prohibition America). I suspect that the eponymous girl in question, upon whose care much hangs in the machinations of the so-called plot, is a demon in disguise or a ship that bears her name – or both!
        “Are you familiar with the meaning of the word ‘canivet’? It refers to a parrot, as big as a fish-eagle, which normally nidifies among the fumitories that cover the dreary areas of the Antilles.”
        This is a wild were-parrot story that requires reading to believe! Wilder even than the wildest Rhys Hughes story, and the latter now makes sense by comparison!
        But I began to love this madcap Jean Ray escapade in words and conceits, but did not really appreciate the previous three buccaneering ones.
        I wonder if it’s the translator who’s now become the madcap rather than the freehold author? I have long heard of the unreliable narrator technique in literary theory, but now we possibly have the translator transcendator in wayward mode as a quirk of story-telling!
        “…a ray of violent brightness that had just shot up from the weeds in the garden.”
        A tale as tall as the storm with which it starts…
        I now realise that it was foreordained that I should recently re-read REPORT ON PROBABILITY A by Brian Aldiss (my review here) – because it contains, in hindsight, Jean Ray-like triangulative and dimensional angles upon urban streets and inferred characters and relationships and retributions, a novel that chimes – by mutual clarification between the two works – with this particular Ray story.
        This story, too, provides a neat mind-bogglingly mathematical ending to this patchwork collection, generously sown with sharded gems of refracted or incidental rays in all directions of horror or absurdity, sometimes in all directions at once!