Thursday, November 24, 2016

Interzone #267

6 thoughts on “Interzone #267

  1. ALTS by Harmony Neal
    “Her mandatory support group was meeting in Ballroom A. A conference room would have been much more comfortable…”
    Yes, a sort of A.A. Group (akin to Alcoholics Anonymous?) for those affected by the future tinkering that has caused people to have partially morphed into different animals. The skill here of evoking such morphing is exemplary and often funny as well as frighteningmy disruptive as today’s changing world politics, and this work also serves as a mutual complementarity with the Animal Farm theme-and-variations entitled ‘Pigskin’ (reviewed here a couple of days ago) in the Black Static edition that arrived in the same post as this Interzone. Both stories with that yearning, I sense, for philosophical quietness and calm beyond such goings-on!
  2. From harmony to a tone row…
    “The shell of his head is cracking. He’s breaking out of it like a baby bird.”
    img_2626This wondrous word-vision is like having sex among patchwork tissuey clouds over a planet and fighting other nippy craft of different makes and styles; some of which you later join and fight between, just like a mercenary moving through a vast space of the quilt alongside that AMAZINGLY my wife brought into the room just as I finished this Row story, saying she had just finished sewing it. I had seen it before at various stages. But now complete. Her latest patchwork of many.
    It brought tears to my eyes at such synchronicity, especially with the interweaving in the story of the protagonist’s wife and beloved daughter whose name Ariel he etched on his craft, as well as notches for those craft he had hit and shot down …his wife gradually growing older between his missions and his daughter growing up.
    Even without the quilt, this literally virtual experience of a text is breath-taking as well as an eventual gut punch with the agonising implications of what might have happened. Any blind spots, notwithstanding.
    “Stories aren’t true, we’ve learnt that by now. But my voice has gone thin and high and it’s not convincing anyone.”
    An engaging , and I already sense, memorable, Chinese-feel of a tale, slightly morphing into the animal morphing of the first story, as indeed it does with the second story’s morphing into the dogfights themselves, and here we follow slightly abandoned older young adults at the edge of the city, where I sense long-since abandoned arrivals in spacecraft (now absences?) had settled the modernistic city, a city now going to abandoned seed, and the characters have this story of Auntie Tiger, that they play out in their ‘games’ that entail fake human entrails, an older woman, too, who keeps an eye on them, until a sandstorm like a wave and the finding of tiger fur and reaches of the city they have never reached before…
  4. YOU MAKE PATTAYA by Rich Larson
    “…through a lurid smear of discos and dopamine bars, from green-lit Insomnia to Tyger Tyger’s tectonic dance floor…”
    In spite or because of –
    this story’s high-leveraged technical smart-objects like a smart glasswall and surveillance bugs and tablets as well as pills and private clouds – even an old woman selling coconut milk – and sex tricks and sex selling and lady boys et al – the act of wearing a blur – and all manner of blackmail and retribution and unsmart security lads and high celebs and an array of this genius loci Thai resort called Pattaya of clubs and bars and hotels, and beaches –
    it, the story, flows like a Row dogfight and with swift ease its plot passes through the smart mind of the reader, hardly touching the sides, and its ending is as sweet as anything, even though the protagonist needs to be philosophical to recover from the quickblur of his stuttering machinations of life. A delight.
  5. ROCK, PAPER, INCISORS by David Cleden
    “Nine out of ten killing moves are done with teeth.”
    This is an extremely driven, plain-spoken, evocative story where you as reader learn to FEEL as if you are morphing into an animal, like those thus already morphed in this Interzone’s first story and in the accompanying ‘Black Static 55’, not so much amorphous twins as complements in battle. img_2606
    Here a female is incubated claustrophobically, chosen as a cast-off from the other tribe, but connected by birth to that tribe, incubated to become the optimal rock or paper or knife as complementary battle-destiny, her new tribe’s representative in the semi-symbolic battle between tribes in the two respective duellists’ shapes.
    Her incubation within an oubliette entails sometimes sharing it with her male mentor who has freedom to feel her all over to ensure that her bodily morphing into the optimal animal shape is working. And there are various permutations of this process going forward and in the the fight itself. And its poignant outcome between the two fighters, a realisation akin to the earlier Row etched-craft-daughter realisation with the implications of not only what they are but also who they are, and against whom their combined ‘fight’ eventually prevails. Yes, this is a great story, standalone as its own beast, AND in the pattern of our reading experience of the complementary publications artfully unfolding.
  6. From tone row to death row…
    MY GENERATIONS SHALL PRAISE by Samantha Henderson
    “A thing connected to a thing connected to a thing. How can you say what ends where?”
    Like the court case of Jarndyce & Jarndyce? Those gene rations…
    This is an ingenious, highly emotional standalone story of a woman on death row tempted into the legal documents of signing away her brain and by means of an invented process for another woman (dying of pancreatic cancer) to ride it with her own mind as parasite after having dissolved the host’s mind, except for the hopeful suspicion by the host that she can stay around inside… humans morphing into other humans, perhaps, like the earlier morphing into animals? And in further context with the possible over-arching gestalt, this story being its coda, the price of the legal contract between the two women is for the dying ‘parasite’ to donate her fortune to the host’s pregnant daughter. There is a whole inferred concertina of motives of everlasting life being inadvertently granted or foregone, like the circumstances of the complementary battle in the previous story and also like the potentially eventual destruction caused between humans of the same genes as inferred at the end of the Row story, but here in the Henderson more deliberate….if the word ‘deliberate’ CAN be preceded by the comparatives ‘more’ or ‘less’.

  7. There is much else in INTERZONE to entertain the SF enthusiast in addition to its fiction.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Black Static #55

Black Static #55


My previous reviews of TTA PRESS publications HERE.

Stories by Stephen Hargadon, Lisa Tuttle, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Simon Avery, David Hartley, Jeff Bowles.

When I review the fiction in this magazine, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…

6 thoughts on “Black Static #55

  1. McMARA’S ROCK by Stephen Hargadon
    “You’re wise not to have a television, Michael. The news is just murder and more murder and greed and war and one sick perversion after another. The make-believe stuff is no better, it’s more of the same, with an extra dose of perversion.”
    So says Mrs Dolan, a honest-to-goodness Irish woman, now creaking with age, hoping to get her daughter hitched to Michael. Michael and Jerome are brothers and they …damn, how can I rehearse this plot for you? Just believe me, when I say it is a classic worthy of your attention as a horror story lover and worthy of the consideration of any awards organisations in ANY fiction genre, well not ALL, but most! It as if John Cowper Powys translated all his Dorset and Somerset mystic madness and human hyper-eccentricities to the wilds of Ireland, and let it be recast by another author at least half-Irish and born in Canvey Island! But that does not do justice to its originality, ironic hilarity, and sheer brazen shocking events, its mighty image of a split rock, and a gestalt of cats and thoughts and a brain that is that rock, or a brain that is the earth we live in or the dreamcatcher itself… or a brain that is simply Michael’s. And the characterisation of the two brothers is to die for. The myths and legends behind the rock, too.
  2. A HOME IN THE SKY by Lisa Tuttle
    “It was like being in hospital, she thought, where existence could be concentrated on the span of a single bed, screened off by curtains beyond which other dramas played out on and around other beds, unseen but not unheard.”
    Cara, because of the housing crisis, returns to her parents, to help herself save more for a deposit. The family house has shrunk in her adult hindsight, but her parents somehow increased in size. Some effective claustrophobic touches in this relatively brief account of her later seeing – then, on an impulse, visiting – an advertising showhome seemingly erected in the sky on a new development… like the possible mixed blessings of spending time within the split of McMara’s Rock? The difference between a quick passage through or a longer sojourn?
  3. PIGSKIN by David Hartley
    “The farm is blasted and hell-blown. The farm is rusted and gut-sown.”
    A literary revelation of a down-to-earth prose-poetic theme-and-variations on Animal Farm – at first reminding me of what was done to the goat by a human in McMara’s Rock, but it takes off into a scenario of ready-dressed culinary animals, who interact with pot-bellies as morphed men and with actual men, women and children (being taught where their bacon comes from!)
    Not so much a fable about the way we treat animals (but it may be that as well) as an atonal gratuitousness of a feast of words.
    (It also makes me think of Tuttle’s dark-shrinking home in the sky as a pre-slaughter cell in a battery-farm for humans.)
  4. SOMETHING DEADLY, SOMETHING DARK by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
    “It was the sort of creature you can’t see well if you look at it. The kind that requires you to look away, to see it from the corner of your eye.”
    Like this is a cousin to a story. A well-characterised music trio on a gig tour visits one of their cousins, too, in the Land of the Dead, a corner-of-the-eye type genius loci that has grown up since the so-called Encroachment, and it echoes the previous story’s animals, and the symbiosis of goat and man in the first one, but here the morphing between humans and pets is via trees being planted above their dead bodies. The treefruit yearning of the characters for some sort of life’s meaning, and don’t inhale when you pass the cemetery. And don’t take any of the fruit of the dead with you, when you leave. The story will stay with you nevertheless, but it’s only a few minutes since I finished it, so what do I know? I failed to understand the encroachment of Trump and Brexit.
    “It was being chipped away from him gradually;”
    A very Lanely one, too. But that does not mean this work is unoriginal; it is highly original within the parameters of connecting into the rich seam of lonely, Lanely Birmingham and its seasoned Diaspora of yearning souls (as I call it) who have been conjured like sculptural memory-filled scintillations of our “Soon it would be December” as it is in this story and as it is In my own real-time. Tom misses his friend Julian, now dead, but who is it answered the phone in his empty house?
    Tom misses his wife and daughter, now a family with a different man. He follows up clues and follows the path of Julian into a realm of bandaged figures – after all who really needs to be healed, the presumptuous healers or the ones who simply feel they need healing?
    There is something positive towards the end as if that death of Julian has allowed Tom to seek out all our constituents of the Diaspora (of which his own wishful-thinking memory-filled scintillant was part), a Diaspora to become its own gestalt, a gestalt of personal gestalts.
    There feels to be something important about this work. Beyond the desperation of just humans as animals, but something they can create if only they can transcend the artificial shallow yearnings, with which this set of fiction so far is pervaded and promises to transcend. Even if you have only so far got a broken off part of it to go on.
    “And all the love will come gushing out. It’ll splash over the whole world like oceans of cow gore.”
    A serendipitous coda for this symphony of fiction works as well as a fine ostensibly Powysian madcap standalone story telling of a man who seems to be on the edge of becoming a stigmatised saviour, but if I tell you the exact circumstances it would be like telling you this brief story myself and spoil the effect. Meanwhile, his feet are his pets, his fused appendages of his thoughts like Michael’s cats, whose cross was a split rock, the scintillants of Avery, the gratuitous animal words like Hartley’s. Hard to explain, but read all these stories and see them fused here like Stufflebeam’s trees. Mad-mystic, the only way to face out the something deadly and dark of our days, our morphing world. And women in the cupboard as if in a Tuttle home.

  7. There is much else in Black Static to entertain the Horror genre enthusiasts….

The Stones Are Singing – R.B. Russell

9 thoughts on “The Stones Are Singing – R.B. Russell”

    Chapters 1 & 2
    “Being empty it felt like any other old set of draughty, cold rooms with high ceilings and a tendency to damp.”
    An involving start, as the narrator (film music composer) gives us his backstory on how he lives in this inherited apartment in Venice, with a subtly infused ambiance of that city, and his wife in New York as actress. And it takes an accidental fall, and a visit from an old friend from college days not seen for two decades who is clever but on the autistic spectrum, to find out that the narrator is estranged from his wife rather than temporarily apart for professional reasons. And what is it that has fallen or been left so mysteriously on his balcony?
    I am trapped. I shall eke this book out slowly.

  2. Chapter 3
    “It showed a man walking into a café, taking off his coat and sitting at a table.”
    Trapped and grabbed, but resisting reading this book too quickly; I am not a cinema buff but my favourite film EVER has long publicly been ‘Death in Venice’ with Dirk Bogarde, where the film music is Mahler’s, not Part’s nor this narrator’s, but I am intrigued by the music he is composing for a commission described to us in this chapter, by his view of a canal bridge from his apartment, the nature of the apartment above his and below, the rain above and the waters below, the email exchange with his estranged wife, and his rediscovered strangely behaved friend from college, Rolfe, Byron, Pound, Stravinsky, Diaghilev …
    The book’s actual mechanics of the plot itself, though, I will not re-rehearse in this review.

  3. Chapter 4
    “‘I’m waiting to see what patterns emerge.’
    ‘And if there are no patterns?’
    ‘I hope to find them. My previous, personal work was all about making sense of things that might have otherwise appeared to be unrelated.'”
    …as I say to myself, as I work with this ever increasingly promising book.
    Amid being harassed by his new old friend from college and being asked in emails by his wife for money and an interview by someone writing about a previous film of his – our narrator meets the current film director for whom he is composing music, a man who can only name Nyman as his favourite composer and whose only previous film is one anonymously shown as a collage of stolen excerpts from other films into a gestalt work of ‘found art’…
    Not only trapped by the captivation of this book, but diced apart into the separates of the gestalt reviewer I used to be – for the narrator’s lamb stew? I don’t know why I thought that or even why when I first saw the title of this book, I thought of the song 19th Nervous Breakdown.

  4. Chapter 5
    “It was too much of a coincidence.”
    But by saying that, I somehow know it isn’t a coincidence at all. The narrator’s rediscovered friend from college who shouts an impoliteness in public and then regrets it when told about it and then goes over the top in rectifying the faux-pas seems now somehow to fit in with the so-called coincidence of what was earlier found on the narrator’s balcony. Coincidences here seem claustrophobically amassing as well as somehow cancelling each other out! No mean literary feat.
    Like a number like 19 nervous breakdowns having a spurious accuracy?
    Like having too many ‘ups’ in a clause on page 56?

  5. Chapter 6
    “Sitting in front of the computer working ’til six, eating a defrosted dinner, watching a film online, going to bed, day in, day out, seemed suddenly pointless.”
    Read this book, instead, I suggest as it really is something special (about halfway at the moment) and I can easily imagine it may one day be successfully adapted as one of those films you watch as part of your routine. With fine film music to complement its action.
    The coincidences start to seem like a chilling ghost story, and it is a wonderful evocation of different parts of Venice.

  6. Chapter 7
    “Suddenly there was no such number . . .”
    But there are other spurious numbers here, detailing the stressful lengths needed to be gone to in Venice to find one of its buildings that is recognisable from someone’s Facebook page…
    “Are you sure you shouldn’t see a doctor?”
    I think the narrator should see a doctor, however, about the tinnitus he’s suffered since his fall. Especially a music composer.
    We now reach a second moment in this book where there is the implied feeling that music can lead rather than follow a film?
    The woman due to interview our narrator is brilliantly described on page 85. I think this book is the first i.e. where the sense of coincidence is not quite how it is expected to be in normal life. Meetings between people and arranged engagements and other uncanny implications that can’t quite be pinned down in the way numbers can be pinned down, if spuriously. Or the spaces between music notes. Or the gaps between the cells of a graphic novel?

  7. Chapters 8 & 9
    “‘Right wing politics and the occult are natural bedfellows,’ she observed. ‘Both offer the elitist idea that a chosen few deserve dominion over others.’
    ‘Rubbish!’ spluttered Stephen.”
    As much as the narrator now has a shocking change of perspective out of the blue (shocking to him and also to the reader, let me say, a literary moment to cherish), the people he had met separately now meet in his company, as if this is a new perspective, too, if far less shocking. But now I have been shocked again.
    POSSIBLE ACCIDENTAL SPOILER FOLLOWS (please omit the passage below if you have not yet read the book.)

    Looking ahead cursorily in the book to see how many chapters remain to be read, I have just noted there seems to be no Chapter 11 before Chapter 12, unless I am mistaken! Perhaps that will change when I pick up the book again? I now somehow know how the narrator feels in his own change of perspective! Either a very clever ruse or something VERY strange is going on comparable to what has just happened in the plot.

  8. Chapter 10 till end…
    “…momentary, attenuated silhouette, and then the door was closed.”
    The world seems to have changed these days, and not only with recent earth tremors in Italy. This ending, at first, I thought was a sell-out, but then I knew it was the perfect ending, an ineluctable resolution, a wonderful sense of the backing music of my life, but what were the stones singing? A far superior resolution to its being a nervous breakdown, whatever its spurious number. (Only one minor typo, in the middle of page 136).
    A splendid book that has aleatorically affected me in more ways than one.
    It also seemed appropriate that the random choice of the resolution’s venue was a Roman Catholic Church, as coincidentally, yes, that word again, I have been real-time reviewing another book here alongside this one, and this morning I also finished it by reading its chapters 10, 11 and 12 in one fell sitting.

The Face of Twilight – Mark Samuels

9 thoughts on “The Face of Twilight – Mark Samuels”

  1. First published in 2006 by PS Publishing, now out of print. This edition, I gather, is self-republished in 2016. I have not read this work before.
    I intend the review below to have no spoilers.
    “These fragments simply could not be fitted together to make a whole.”
    An engaging start introducing characters, inter alios, Gilman, Stymm and Mund. The first-named is the main protagonist, a writer who brainstorms his writing by pen and notebook in his new local, the North London Freehouse pub, with its own landlord’s loyal ‘tribe’ of drinkers… He has had to move to this area, following an unfortunate gas explosion. He seems to write about the urban wastelands and their rather absurdist type images that come to his head such as pretending the city is a circus, an idea he discards while still in the pub. And he has a political discussion with Mund. And listens to two locals in the new pub solve their crossword puzzle with some word relating to a name of God (
    Stymm, meanwhile, is spiritually stymied, I guess, but allowed to wander and stare through windows, within the same apartments where Gilman now lives. I do not intend to rehearse the plot much further, having just given you an inkling as to the tenor in its opening gambit to gain my attention, as it does. Further entries by me here will be more a personal reaction rather than a description of the plot’s audit trail, should it have one.
    “He had no time to waste thinking about weirdos.”

    “…a psychometropolitan process whereby one is prepared for the revelation, where the very streets that lead to the final destination facilitate the necessary mental state.”
    …where you can also add to the destination your own graffiti as part of that processs or ritual, as you are led, in a striking sense of actually being there, by the author evocatively writing about another author actually doing it, wandering in that sort of process amid the genius loci of North London, Archway, ursurped Romanic churches, a time and place when it is always twilight, written no doubt in 2004 (for publication in 2006) when FACEbook itself was being launched (?), reaching a derelict experimental TV broadcasting studio from the 1920s, that probably, for me, fed its still lingering static into the air, now, today, in 2016, filled with competing wi-fi. There is a naive rapture to these scenes that I admire very much, also touching on hospitalised Ligottian characters who consider all consciousness cursed
    …and Tennents Super.
    It is as if I am adding my own graffiti to the process (or Prozess) of this book, as part of my ramblings here for this web labyrinth of personal dreamcatching, having travelled already a little into this book’s own byways, like Dick Whittington, or at least hopefully.

    The underground train system and its tunnels, transporting the dead and living, have some wonderful passages devoted. Then another pub’s culture is cleverly built up for us in Holborn, a place Gilman visits once a week to meet a few of his cronies. I won’t go into the genuinely hilarious details, and one of them is me (top passage of page 30)!
    Gilman is on the brink of resuming his cigarette habit, and I feel in the mood to tear pages from this Amazon book, and reconfigure them into a gestalt like found art or like Burroughs might have done, or Gilman seems to like doing himself. The aftermath, of that pub meet and the blonde pick-up, who picked him up more like, turns serious, with police involvement ….and Stymm is involved somehow.

    “…drew a packet of tobacco from his pocket and began to hand-roll himself a cigarette. Funny how that skill had not deserted him.”
    The actual or imagined constymmacy around Gilman accretes, entailing his return to the Holborn pub, actually experiencing static on an old portable TV as some threat potentially bigger than just a plot against him personally, together with a synaesthesia where he can even hear someone “unbutton his flies” a room away. Meanwhile, his novel INSANITY LAUGHS has taken a backseat.
    There is something going on here, either ludicrous, or something that such ludicrousness is intended to hide, something that those earlier found art graffiti and paper fragments betoken. A reader may suspect he or she is in an avant garde masterpiece or a writer’s early traditional weird novella. I suspect it is somewhere between.
    “Snape waved limply at Gilman, patches of oily sweat drooling across his egg-like pate.”

    “‘He was merely an extra anyway; an author with the soul of a businessman,’ Stymm said with a dismissive grin,…”
    From the earlier “deranged tableau” to the city’s inhabitants in “a grotesque play”, Gilman suffers his seemingly justified paranoia of the world’s new conspiratorial takeover by the dead, with many deftly described cataclysmic and gory scenes, sometimes involving people we met earlier in the book. (I am glad Snape kept writing to the very end.) And a world of continual twilight, and mad scientists, and other Necromorphs…and much else. But even in extremis, Gilman continues to roll his own.
    But the core scene is a woman about to tear apart her man’s books with his name on the spine but discovers them turning, even as she turns them, into the tail-end likeness of Nemonymous Two – info for those readers with the look of spoilers about them or those other readers in the know.

    “The number of cars and other vehicles was far less than before and they were driven as if stuck in first gear.”
    A telling image that is included in a masterful treatment of this North London land into one of Twilight, a running down, with people Gilman had met before, such as the earlier blonde pick-up and the locals in the ‘tribe and crossword’ pub, have turned into death-cloying spoilers and nightmares, dogging him slowly, but surely. Good to see the ambiance of the pub itself is tellingly untouched, including its old-fashioned clock. But the nature of the crossword they are now solving in there is very striking in the context of this accretively haunting novella, mixing the avant garde with the weird, pulp with an inspiration beyond pulp.
    I was wondering whether Stymm’s name synchronously derives from the sound and meaning of STIMMUNG, one of my favourite music works, where the composer also stated that he was inspired in writing it while visiting Mexico. (Was the author’s own strongest indefinable influence from Mexico around the time he wrote this novella?)

    “The well-practised ritual of rolling the tobacco and papers into a thin tube, of standing at the bar, with a ten-pound note on the counter indicating that he wished to be served: he’d done these things a thousand times in the old world, Did he hope that by repeating such actions all would become as it was back then?”
    There was something driving me on to read these last three chapters in one fell sitting, something pitiful, something truly horrific in a great genre sense that horror genre lovers should NOT miss (it is brilliant) and something even more powerful beyond both those things that I think I may have encapsulated in a word I hardly noticed using and used automatically earlier in this review: ‘constymmacy’, not avant garde so much as a deliberate ritual scribbling to see what pattern of self-identity emerges, as, when kids, we scribbled with our pencils and then pareidoliacally found monsters… but that gives no real sense of what can be found in this book below the naivety. (Just as Snape is now in one of these chapters pasting up his future real-time reviews as fragments all over the pub walls, pre-figuring a later vision in this novella of the Kindle as a real book inserted into a computer just as that FACEbook spreads its tendrils of twilit living by insidious oldTVdisguised wi-fi static (like self-inflicted cigarette smoke?)).
    The scenes in Highgate Cemetery, the sheer horror, the Nemonymity-type fears, the ultimate punch in the gut of a final plot-twist, become better and better as you think about them. And there is much more I can’t cover here, because they are still hidden in the text or in its exhaled air – and emerging accretively even as I write this. In other words, it is not just a zombie flashmob fiction (and on that level, the descriptions are brilliant), but something arguably far more significant.

    This review significantly cross-referenced here: HERE.