Friday, September 30, 2016

Interzone 266 - Black Static 54

Interzone266 BlackStatic54

My previous reviews of INTERZONE and BLACK STATIC as published by TTA PRESS are linked from HERE.
Fiction by Tade Thompson, Georgina Bruce, Ray Cluley, Malcolm Devlin (X 2), Aliya Whiteley, Steven J Dines, Ralph Robert Moore, Julie C. Day…
I intend to review the above fiction during October and my comments will eventually appear in the thought stream below.

11 thoughts on “Interzone266 BlackStatic54

  1. img_2509BLACK STATIC 54
    I reviewed SJD’s story in Black Static #48 on 26 September 2015 HERE, showing a photograph of me in front of Salisbury Cathedral…which brings me aptly to –
    PERSPECTIVE by Steven J. Dines
    …which also features Salisbury Cathedral.
    “But if those letters were an anagram of a revelation meant only for you…”
    A powerful point-of-view collage triangulated between the man and his youthfully rape-scarred fifty something wife, now blind through stress, feeling her way in the dangerous field of life like a kitchen and in her field of dreams with its sky-river and poppy-like daisies and rotten apples holed by worms, both fields artfully conveyed. Hauntingly and disturbingly so. Triangulated with the man who raped her, the man come back now to stalk her…the words say so, the numbers say so, read them, count them up and see it all, see the things he leaves, the things her husband does in his mind with mirrors and imaginary gloryholes echoed by her own “hole inside her” and the letterbox he pokes to get at the stalking rapist, fingers straight through a magazine paper image, a paper page a bit like that Salisbury Cathedral one, if a different image, an image implicitly like the Origin of the World painting by Gustave Courbet…
    This stuff is worrying stuff, it gets at you, and I guessed the ending, but even guessing it right, as I think I did, made it seem even more surprising, even more shocking. And that is an amazing perspective,
  2. A PINHOLE OF LIGHT by Julie C. Day
    “Digital images all have the same basic limitation. They’re incapable of connecting us to the dead.”
    A moving, often poetically expressed story about a photographer, a darkroom one, not digital, who uses it to seek his deceased wife, in touching unacknowledged visionary collaboration with his well-characterised small daughter (and her teddy bears) and with his cousin friend of the family called Pete… the latter pair are in cahoots painting a mural as part of this inferred project. A mural with a red borderline between what they have painted and what they haven’t yet painted, reminding me of the dreamfield in the previous story and its poppies and rotting apples (explicit “field” and “poppy” in the Day)… The words somehow, for me, become stitched to the brain rather than passing through it, like the photographs are developed more and more by the photographer on his skin, as I learn more and more of his widowering backstory.
  3. NOT EVERYTHING HAS A NAME by Ralph Robert Moore
    “I lost track pretty early on how many hands I let grasp mine as they shuddered and went lifeless.”
    You MAY be pleased to know that this is up to the high RRM benchmark of disturbing fiction that lingers afterwards with you and continues to grow increasingly disturbing for possibly years afterward. This work has a last line that is something else – one, with its implicit meaning, exceeding even THAT benchmark.
    Without giving away spoilers, this is a tale of an 18 year old girl, a virgin in two out of the three ways, and a 30 year old swaggerer in a bar who wins her in a bet over pool play from her young diffident boy friend…
    She has four tests for him, the fourth one being a bit like coming out of this work’s closet, if fiction CAN have a closet to come out of, a closet perhaps more powerful than what the closet-leaver alreaady is. Like she has her own Dines gloryhole from earlier in this magazine’s fiction, built in as a portable voyeur. You won’t get it from that, and if you do get it before reading this RRM, you may wish you hadn’t EVER got it, depending on who or what you think you are or who or what you see yourself becoming.
    I think now that I must have seen, relatively recently, RRM’s thin things retreating while I was in a hospital at the point when I finally let go of someone’s newly lifeless hand…
  4. DOGSBODY by Malcolm Devlin
    “They fell to silence for a moment and the argument at the pool table, violence brewing, filled the gap.”
    This novelette (the third such in this magazine) has violence brewing not only at RRM’s pool table but also in the ‘rapture’ of his visions, here now delivering unto ‘grace’. For me, these are darkroom-processed – not digital – word-photographs of the fifth anniversary of a recurrently auto-correctable werewolf plague that affects a select number of the population, a new select group like ‘gays’ used to be, out of their own closet, and begun to be accepted in a deadpan way, almost a masque or a slowly pent up dance between social groups, our hero here being part of both such dances, social and wolfish, now in a workaday painter’s bib, coincidentally (?) meeting the woman, shedding her own skin of business civility, in a were-pub, having been interviewed by her for his old professional well-suited, well-garbed advertising job he had before the initial plague. That dogsbody or blue collar masque, that method-acting, that mannered interchange of mores and moods and brewing violence (and a once wolffish transmogrification that may never happen again), that masque, that lugubrious dance of social waltzing as one gets drinks in two kinds of pubs, is a whole panoply of low-key spiritual-GPS manoeuvres between, inter alia, a barroom brawl and a flirting exchange. The whole two-pubs thing In this work and the two bars’ socially acceptable miming emotions takes up a huge mind-boring (‘bore’ in two senses) chunks of this mesmerically downbeat text. The conversational machinations are like initially Feldman-like, then speeded-up, minimalist music with complex glimpses of what monsters they might turn into – or like RRM’s thin things, I imagine. A strange work, not only weird-strange, but also attritional-strange in good and bad ways of a reading experience. Intentionally so, successfully so, and more! And dare I wonder in which direction the transmute-filter works between both public sides of the above by-line? A diffident work. A disarmingly major work.
  5. img_2508INTERZONE #266
    THE APOLOGISTS by Tade Thompson
    “I ramble on, because Nico has encouraged me to free-associate,…”
    I apologise in advance for taking this advice, something that is my wont anyway, as I try to fabricate at least an impression of this story, now it has been read and vanished somewhere between the enforced ‘”variability” and the “Proustian fugue” of my mental sump. Let me tell you that I loved it, loved its hilarious vision of an Earth taken over by aliens who then apologise profusely, if with the odd word out of place, for destroying our world and helping the five surviving humans rebuild it, that is to rebuild a remembered London and its population, with a go-between alien called Nico who tries to have a Tom Jones image (Welsh singer not Fielding). I can’t go into all this work’s conceitful gems, but it starts with a pub-world bar-ethos called the Cock and Bull synchronously in tune with that in the above Devlin work. A line of expletives given to make any human simulants more realistic is another highlight. Where do I start, where do I end, in failing to do justice to this provocative (sometimes poignant) streaming of proto-empathic Tadery? I think I should perhaps consult one of its “prayer-points.”
    “Whilst I have no objection to creative interpretation, no matter how whimsical,…”
    …But I can’t help but draw synchronous connection BETWEEN the alien’s need for language perfectibility as a transmitted human facsimile AND the Tadery above, as I ponder the intriguing Sapphic triangle here of Alien Jane (Alien only in name), Mariel of media studies and Susan the exolinguist. One of them writes a love letter to another of the trio with the more restrained, but fundamentally similar, “chemical reaction”, similar to the “suppurating” love letter sent to her by a real life alien who in humanity’s real-time is spatially-temporally extinct. Full of social satire and inter-professional tweaks of reaction and reference, and I can’t help but admire the internal “fatal paradox” of this work as well as its attitude to piano music played by Lang Lang. Still echoing in my mind, as all good literary works should.
    (And the alien’s sexual slime of the tentacles — that turn up in the transmission from an extinct world, written as if not written by anyone, the fact of being writerless making it even more evocative as a non-language sensitivity of sexual body instead of straitened mind — becomes Jane’s apricot yoghurt that also turned to slime?)
    [It seems poignant and perhaps relevant to report that as I finished writing the above, I have since been watching news reports of Rosetta’s deliberately induced crash upon the comet, still broadcasting to us even though, in its own 40 minutes’ earlier real-time, it has already crashed.]
  7. [But perhaps the Rosetta ‘delayed’ synchronicity of crashing mentioned above was really one for this story’s review….?]
    SIDEWAYS by Ray Cluley
    “There’s a big gap where I lived for a while, where my life went sideways.”
    This seems like a well-researched but marvellously extrapolative portrait of test pilots in the 1950s. It is a substantive work that I can easily imagine being recurrently anthologised; very well-characterised with the plot’s earliest backstory flying with the the near future and with a further future’s present day by turns, with believable descriptions of the new aircraft being flown, prefiguring some version of the stealth of the future, I guess, and the men who flew them, and their families, and the deeply touching aftermath of certain events, and what is seen as an unforgettable vision during the flights in one particular aircraft.
    There are here more barroom intermissions that add to this review’s treatment of such an accreting ethos with these occasions’ manoeuvres being of equal importance to the actual flights of imagination and truth that the fictions otherwise deploy.
    “But our love is not sticky, and it does not drag me down, it elevates me. It gives me wings to rise above the slime.”
    A significant reference, there, preternaturally coincidental to the Georgina Bruce story and the Ray Cluley one!
    Here are more love letters for this magazine’s fiction, seen and read from one side of the correspondence between disparate souls, with regard to a mass sought-after flower’s bloom and its scent, and the bloom’s propensity to wilt upon each person’s inhalation of that scent. A constructively oblique poetic work that manages to have a fey, even effete, sportsman boxer as part of its concept of an ultimate tontine. Today’s SF magazine as the new fin de siècle Go-Between?
    “…the sweetest moment is the unrepeatable moment. Gardeners live for each bloom…”
  9. THE END OF HOPE STREET by Malcolm Devlin
    “…she planted it as close to the house as she dared. It didn’t block the view. Its scent was too subtle to mask the smell of bodies as they turned, but it was a gesture, and sometimes that was all that was possible, sometimes that was enough.”
    This novelette (the third such in this Interzone) is probably one of the most difficult works of fiction I have ever had to comment upon, not difficult however in understanding the plot, but only in commenting upon it, giving it a context within this Interzone’s fiction as well as alongside this author’s other novelette I read in the last few days as reviewed above. I tried to find the painting it mentions of a woman slightly disturbed to be found in her cluttered kitchen. I think I found it, but not sure enough to reproduce if here, a painting that seems to seal this book like the pre-Raphaelite painting did in Brian Aldiss’s Report on Probability A. This Devlin is a significant work, accretive, attritional, an insidious account of a row of detached houses that gradually become ‘unliveable’ in and the inhabitants have to move to other houses in the row. It has the darkness holes, stealth geometries and gaps of the Cluley. The scent of the bloom quoted above reminding me of the Whiteley. A pre-fabricated stage- or film-set as if housing simulants from the Tade Thompson. The extinct star to real-time world type of communication between discrete abodes, their propensity to drop off and become temporally extinct one by one towards some ultimate tontine, here the tontine prize being Christmas and Boxing Day (not the sport of Boxing, but surely a resonance there with an earlier work in this Interzone?)
    It is more method acting, another masque or mannered drama of events, reminding me also of Alan Ayckbourn theatre and Brian Aldiss’s novel ‘Report on Probability A.’ And more I can’t yet nail down. The work is undeniably something really special. A pattern perhaps of today’s alienation and housing crisis or a satire of residential committees? Another One End Street? A template for Brexit? Still accruing its effect upon me, even though I have finished reading it.
    There is much more in Black Static and Interzone in addition to their fiction – and, meanwhile, this is another gestalt of these magazines’ fiction that has never disappointed me since I started real-time reviewing it a number of years ago,

Brown is the New Black – by David Rix

4 thoughts on “Brown is the New Black – by David Rix

  1. Pages 7 – 21
    “‘It’s using fake shadows,’ he said. ‘Breaking up the shape.'”
    A gradually involving scenario where you soon become camouflaged as a reader – from yourself, unaware perhaps you’re reading. This is a post-holocaust London scenario, beautifully, yet somehow sparely, evoked, the girl and boy couple failing to exploit black as their own camouflage from the slightly or potentially aggressive (so far) hunters and the noble naked wanderers… moths, bones etc., all seems naturally to fall into this genius-loci of situation and place. Even the potential provision of electricity, that I questioned about to myself earlier, but perhaps I couldn’t find myself to ask. So, it is good to break off as part of a real-time review, to think of these things. Like also asking why scissors are not mentioned when the girl starts making clothes from fabrics in various shades of brown, designs without a belt line etc., as what now seems to be an alarmingly efficient camouflage.
    A delightfully oblique conjuration of an obliquity of dress.
  2. Pages 21 – 40
    img_2507“It is hard to grasp how high railway platforms are until you are on the tracks below them.”
    …like looking up from between the lines of this text, looking at its slowly revealing meaning of how the world used to be before these railways became derelict and open to a walking (or even biking?) improvisation. The couple, sexually aware as well as naive, when parading sometimes half-naked, half-camouflaged, as the girl does, in front of the tall and noble slow-motion real-time fully naked wanderers, with, also, a brush against a hunter and his gun, and a brush against art in bookish and painterly form, while missing music amid the silence. This is a hypnotic journey, half mindless, half deliberate, a sleight of mind that prestidigitates the ‘group consciousness’ that at least this book contains as some sort of bridge between then and now. I have woken from the journey, having felt I dreamt it, not read it. And I mean that as a significant compliment.
    By tear, rip or meticulously unpicked seam, a flash of flesh shows that white is the new moon…


    The Hauntings at Tankerton Park – by Reggie Oliver

    7 thoughts on “The Hauntings at Tankerton Park – by Reggie Oliver

    1. This is a picture book of constructively old-fashioned drawings, often off-the-wall and haunting tableaux, led into letter by letter, passing TWICE through the alphabet, starting with “A was an armpit that loomed in the fog.” And ending with “Z is for Zadok, the Butler’s young son / Who burned the poor Zombie to ashes for fun.” For children and the child-like alike.
      I dare not photograph any of the pages as that would destroy their initial effect, intricately drawn as they are, beautifully stylised into another world that can exist only in special magic books like this one. Witty, charming, often literary-aristocratic, and grotesque, with cast spells beyond words. Each alphabetic letter is also separately illuminated. Highly concentrated representational designs, but ones in which you will spend whole lifetimes finding new curlicues and intaglios.
      I am not an expert on artwork, but I think you will be entranced – and I confidently predict it will be highly sought after and praised by those cleverer about such things than I am.
        It must have been a real labour of love and taken just forever to do.
        The second alphabet shows how they tried to deal with the monsters and hauntings in the first alphabet. But that might be a spoiler. I shall get rid of the spoiler by cutting it out with scissors later.😉
          • The M.R. Jamesian Heath Robinson. Whatever the case, wonderful stuff. (Some may believe that I have cut out all the pages in fear of their having hidden spoilers. But in truth, I am still poring over them, turning the large, luxurious pages so as to reveal sprites and friendly spirits.)

      Sunday, September 18, 2016

      Uncertainties Vols. 1 & 2


      Edited by Brian J. Showers MMXVI
      One Foreword by John Connolly
      My previous reviews of SWAN RIVER PRESS books are linked from HERE.
      Stories by John Reppion, Derek John, Martin Hayes, Robert Neilson, John Kenny, Reggie Chamberlain-King, Maura McHugh, Sarah LeFanu, Timothy J. Jarvis, Mark Valentine, Lynda E. Rucker, Peter Bell, R.B. Russell, John Howard, Steve Duffy, Emma Darwin, Rosalie Parker, Steve Rasnic Tem, Mat Joiner, Helen Grant, Mark Samuels, Gary McMahon, Adam Golaski, V.H. Leslie, Reggie Oliver.
      When I review these anthologies, my comments will appear in the thought stream below….

      28 thoughts on “UNCERTAINTIES Vols. I & II

      1. THE FAERIE RING by John Reppion
        “Decades of teaching experience showed in the way the firm and distinct full stop hung in the air transforming an ordinary, polite sentence into a definitive ‘No’.”
        I went to a Junior and Infants school called St. George’s in the 1950s, and although an email was mentioned in this story, I am filled with that very English time and place. A time when, in hindsight’s triangulation, complex beliefs were made simple and thus handleable. Here, a young woman painter visits the school’s turf maze or labyrinth or faerie ring, and her painting of it subsequently becomes obsessive, and she returns to the school during its Summer Fayre, to triangulate the ring from all perspectives. A genuine sense of genius loci is transmuted by the woman’s own aftermath of vision and mutated vision, later blamed on a physical condition. Ultimately chilling, and highly memorable, I predict… (Three full stops there, not an ellipsis…)
      2. Any links attached to authors’ names in this review are to my previous reviews of their works.
        “How can we ever begin to understand the infinite complexity of a life lived backwards and forwards in eternity?”
        A series of newspaper fossickings, the results of which from 1889 to 2015 are here shown about Rathsheehy House. Drawing a gestalt from these, their Irish history references, and patterns of fox hunting, and connected scions, one derives a sense of the ‘ghost’ or embued darkness trope of that building.
        I have often referred in my real-time reviews to the power of ‘retrocausality’, and when you read these texts in the order printed, you will gain a sense of this power, one that thus builds its ghost or trope more strongly than I have ever before recorded by what I call a hawling process.
      3. WELLAWAY by Martin Hayes
        “Not too long, but I don’t mind travelli–”
        An engaging old-fashionedness of style depicts Loralie travelling from Liverpool Street to Ipswich (a line I know well, where trains sometimes halt all too unexpectedly) – to the Suffolk coast and a hotel run by a friendly woman and her middle-aged son. Loralie is recovering from a traumatic loss of a partner, of whom she thinks she sees the naked resemblance in the bedroom’s framed photograph of a woman and an oak tree. The eventual outcome is one of recurrency by onanism and magic … and etched into the tree is the word WELLA–
      4. ON A CLEAR DAY by Robert Neilson
        “I guessed that if you stared long enough you might see just about anything.”
        A highly atmospheric, gentle, well-characterised story of a bookshop-café in a resort on the west coast of Ireland. Its owner, and the customer in possession of a large range of walking-sticks, one of which he shows the owner each day. But that does not do full justice to this story that I imagine eminently anthologisable into the future with ghost story or visionary proclivities. What they together see through the mist on a tantalising stretch of coast elsewhere is built up immaculately, as far as anything depicted within mist can be picked out immaculately at all. A vision that achingly attaches to the customer’s backstory and the café owner’s aftermath of future memories about this encounter.
        (Yesterday, I happened to write this very short short of which a staring out at the sea was part. An approximate co-imbuing with the Neilson story (first read today) by a French Lieutentant’s Woman feel…?)
      5. LAST LOVE by John Kenny
        “…that in the last moment in extremis lay the greatest expression of life.”
        When I first saw the title ‘Uncertainties’ for these two anthologies, I assumed a sense of the traditional supernatural, the uneasy, the questionable nature of ghosts, even an arguable homeliness or comfort of the odd MR Jamesian pastiche/tribute or quiet horror. Indeed I am already sure there are fine examples of such sensitive weird and atmospheric fictions within these anthologies, but I now realise that the ‘Uncertainty’ possesses also a more serious, dangerous, challenging or brave quality.
        This story about Gerry, at first, I thought seemed arguably an expanded examination of the rationale I inferred above at the end of the Hayes story but now with someone being used in the ritual who, I guess, might have appeared in a Spielberg film with a red coat or wearing a red mackintosh in ‘Don’t Look Now’, and in many ways it may involve that rationale, but a rationale with the proviso of the protagonist’s various denials about what he is doing or feeling, influenced as he seems to be by the backstory of his very negative parents, and his own search for the tipping-point of existence, by chasing the noumenon of self. A catharsis, a purging. An adumbration of condemnable acts – but without live people involved in such acts by their becoming Gerry’s own self-fiction about them? There are some scenes in this remarkable story that you will never forget, I suggest, the ‘sculpted’ burial and unburial of a surrogate ‘objective correlative’ in the wilds of nature, the glimpses of this ‘objective correlative’ with its mother, discrete drops of rain (or seconds of time as a discrete entity) into a well-defined area of paranoia, “the greatest jolt of connection”, “It made the eyes appear almost completely black, at odds with the ghostly skin surrounding them, otherworldly in an intense, erotic way.” Desire and thirst for knowledge as two sides of the same coin. A fisherman with a tug on the line – like this rambling attempt at dreamcatching this story? A “grasping imagination.” A “vast oblivion.” “…no revealing of the irises.” The crowding in of Gerry’s mother and father.
        I keep my powder dry about this remarkable work.
      6. A LETTER FROM MCHENRY by Reggie Chamberlain-King
        “It took two sticks to carry him now and we both — Louisa and I — had to hoist him from his seat.”
        A meticulously woven story with a texture and traction that threaten to hang about like an unopened letter you might, one day, dare open fully to sense its full implications, such as the eventual, as yet inscrutable, fate of Louisa here, as I wondered, still wonder, about the girl’s fate in the previous story. And McHenry’s sticks, just two of them untangled from the whole clutch of walking-sticks in the Neilson story…
        This story has a constructive Dickensian feel but further enhanced by the feeling that letters, the letters within the letters, are cloying and reaching out like those sticks to entrap you. Who wrote which letters, which slope or characterised swirl create different implications or messages, and how do they interface with the childhood backstory when McHenry and the narrator were boys and the grandmother was a catalyst for what happens later, almost a Dorian Gray revelation perhaps as the narrator takes to manly work on the ships again?
        I can easily imagine this text working at several levels, most levels, I suspect, working their magic upon those who choose at whichever level to read it, or all levels working subliminally together in gestalt, even while one also senses that an inimical force — under cover of the Intentional Fallacy as literary theory — has sent this text to you to read by opening this book.
      7. THE LIGHT AT THE CENTRE by Maura McHugh
        “It’s baltic out.”
        A workmanlike, well-written scary-party scenario in a housing estate in the middle of nowhere, where three guests, primed with hubris and backstory, arrive together in a car, then separate to otherwise share spliffs, expletives, frights – and a nemesis (that seems to me to be a premonitory metaphor for Brexit potentially touching Ireland with specific mention of “EU Money”…)
        I don’t think this story was written for the likes of me. My fault and my loss.
      8. FRAN’S NAN’S STORY by Sarah LeFanu
        “…between two deep rhynes,…”
        A quietly enjoyable tale as told, in the tradition of most hairdressing establishment’s endemic small talk, by a young girl hairdresser to a new customer as she gives her tantamount to what I almost imagined to be a sheep dip!
        Although it was sometimes difficult to picture such a tale being so well told in these circumstances, I did appreciate the ambiance of the telling and of the tale itself. The tale concerned an old man shepherd and his three-legged dog during the foot and mouth epidemic. A poignant tale with a haunting finale.
      9. FLYBLOWN by Timothy J. Jarvis
        “…Silvina jabbing her thumbs at the keys, like she was putting out eyes.”
        This text, in its own way, is a text of a text, like a secondhand transcription of insectoid terror, thus feeling to me as if it was written in the same way as Silvina was texting in that quote from it… On the surface, a tale of Kate who abandons Silvina for Jade, the latter pregnant, and we learn of S’s hatred of babies or small children, and K tells us of S’s old-fashioned mobile phone, but, after S vanishes, K finds a smartphone inside S’s book of stories by Silvina Ocampo (after whom S was named by her mother), a smartphone with a password based on Machen’s ‘N’… And the transcribed terrors continue, insects and drones, a dead lamb, a strange photo studio, and a small girl who I think is a dark caricature of each of the girls in the Kenny and Chamberlain-King stories … all disturbingly head-scratching. Genuinely disturbing, too, if only because I am not really worried for the characters in the plot of my suspended disbelief, but because I am actually worried about my perception of the author himself, worried for him, someone who has actually sat down and acted as conduit for this mind-sapping transcription of text, by planting his fingers one by one with purposeful venom on each letter of the manual typewriter as if in a killing-pattern of bloated insectoid letters, one by one – dead flies in the shape of small human beings…
        (My earlier detailed real-time review of over forty stories written by Silvina Ocampo is here:
      10. TO THE ETERNAL ONE By Mark Valentine
        “‘In the whitest marble,’ I continued, ‘there are always veins of black: in the darkest basalt there are always sheens of light.'”
        ….as with all Valentine’s works.
        I am a big fan of his works. Are you? Then this one is unmissable. A prime example of his style and ethos. To be added to the Ex Occidente canon as well as to his many equivalently wonderful ex-Ex Occidente works. imageMy reviews of nearly one hundred Ex Occidente Press books – Valentine and non-Valentine works alike – are linked from HERE. All my reviews of Valentine’s works Ex or ex-Ex are linked from HERE (as well as of the works of John Howard, who, I notice, has a new story appearing in UNCERTAINTIES Vol. 2).
        This story is generic ex-occidente, in the sense of an elaborate fakery of the ex-oriental, for example the Ottoman Empire or a para-Palmyra vision, also a generic, eventually spurned, valentine’s card to a gamine waif called Felice who is “wasteless” and I assume wasted or waistless, a creature as enticement to calligraphy and the stamps-and-banknotes collages across history’s blurred frontiers of nationalism and/or religion.
        There is no way I can do justice to this work in a review nor yet fit it into this whole book’s possible gestalt. It just is, sitting alone in a Wicker chair amid a Mid-Eastern mock-up of a Gentleman’s club… It is both an importantly genuine currency of literature as well as a forged one, the genuine and the forged taking it in turns to be the lead partner in the collage- or palimpsest-dance, and your ticket to becoming a titled person reigning over one of the world’s Biblical locations or of other religious-cultural oubliettes of ancient history. (Above image by PF Jeffery)
      11. THE SÉANCE by Lynda E. Rucker
        “‘That doesn’t look like the tree.’ I pointed at her sketch pad. “Only it does. It looks more like the tree than — than the tree does!'”
        This story is not about a séance, or perhaps it’s in the sense of the synonymous word ‘sitting’, in the way an artist’s subject sits for the artist – but here somehow the sitting’s in the sense of a woman’s self-portrait… as well as in the sense of her Sapphic loved one’s own portrait (at the distance of a childhood’s crush) of that self-portrait being worked from a gestalt of sketches and other posthumous works left behind or hoarded, with some really haunting implications, one of which is the ambiance of Pickman’s Model.
        It is genuinely disturbing, as well as poignant.
        This story ends the book with an obsessively artistic triangulation of the subject, as the Reppion story started the book with another artist character’s similar obsessive triangulation of her subject. A neat bracketing for this set of mostly remarkable stories…great in vastly different ways within this tentatively new genre of Uncertainty, and these stories often seeping through at the edges with their own versions of Rucker’s sketched artist’s sketched homunculi…
      12. VOLUME TWO

        THE SWING by Peter Bell
        “I remain, moreover, mindful, indeed wary, of the beguiling logic of coincidence, which can lend spurious significance to random events. Nevertheless, I conclude, for what it’s worth with a coda,…”
        Swing one way, then swing the other?
        A fiction story in the mood of true ghost reportage, or true ghost reportage disguised as a fiction story? I swing both ways about it, in the genteel non-modern sense of that expression, almost both ways at once, or as a swing twirling out of control in neither direction, somehow, in reading about this group of young teenage people – soon to grow up into adults within the parameters of this text – and their youthful experience of the man with a Borgward and his photograph of a tree with a ghastly ghostly shape of a girl hanging from it. And, now between the swings of the Catholic censer and in its more modern sense of suspicion, why would young children have thus hung themselves, and continue to do so, as if in a dreadfully recurrent coda oscillating between truth and fiction…?
      13. THE MIGHTY MR. GODBOLT by R. B. Russell
        An impulsive journey by Tonya on a train to the half-hour seaside. While Michael goes to see someone in Warrigg about buying a stamp collection, collecting stamps on a one-in one-out basis (for budget housekeeping purposes).
        It’s not a long story, but it is a delightfully full plot. But to cut a full plot thin, she gets mixed up on a special private journey – a slow motion last train journey, even as slow as Zeno’s Paradox, by the well-respected, now deceased Mr Godbolt, owner of the railway with its railway smuts and stamps, not a bolt for God but more like a dawdle to death!image
        A trackside landscape impermanent as a forsaken caravan, with a blockish, vaguely industrial building on the horizon; she needs to abort her trip by jumping and then walk back along the track to Warrigg to find Michael where, apparently, Godbolt’s journey was so slow it had not even started!
        All sounds daft when told back to you. But when actually reading it, it makes more and more delightful sense.
        (As an irrelevant aside, Cyprus was noted for its railway stamps and the above otherwise plot-assonant image is from PF Jeffery.)
      14. THEN AND NOW by John Howard
        “I opened the door to the balcony, letting in gusts of wind and an odd tear offered by the sky over Berlin.”
        An earthquake is a tear, too. And this story is, for me, an everlasting slow-motion earthquake of modern history and that history’s individuals. Amid (a) the highly word-honed atmosphere of Berlin today and in 1945, via the palimpsest of photographs (the architecture of people as well as buildings), and the subtle innuendos between them, as if, say, a changed glance — between one person and another photo just a few moments later of the same person — is the real ghost. And amid (b) the emotions and love today of three men for each other, in ways of acceptance and sacrifice, one of them now dead, the other two remaining as the dignified two ends of the triangle left alive. Very subtle, very sensitive, with the triangulated coordinates of the photographs and of those three men being a new ‘then and now’, but which is which?
        This story takes my gestalt real-time reviewing in reverse, not leitmotifs to gestalt but gestalt to leitmotifs, perhaps for the first time –
        “The pedestrians had all come from the same place, the same event, and had been photographed just at the point when the unity of an audience leaving a performance starts to break down into its constituent parts. The larger body, psychically as well as physically, begins to resolve itself back into smaller groups and individuals making their way to their separate homes.”
        The event was a concert of Bruckner, Beethoven and Wagner, not Elgar and Vaughan Williams…
        This work is classic vintage John Howard – and I also recommend, as supplementary reading, these two books from Ex Occidente Press deploying Howard’s Berlin – books that I reviewed a few years ago here and here.
      15. THE ICE BENEATH US by Steve Duffy
        “He’s determined to haul it on out like the biggest goddamnedest fish that was ever pulled out of an ice-hole on Bent Iron,…”
        This is a good, well-characterised, genius-localised, old-fashioned, Tem-synergous Tale of Terror…
        About two ‘old farts’ not exactly in love with each other’s company, but necessarily steeped in seasoned friendship, as they return to their fishing cabin, with all manner of hooks and lures, after, the last time when they were, experiencing a bloodily, stenchily cataclysmic meeting (now recounted in italics) with an intrusive native Indian and that native’s conjurings of a capital letter for the word ‘crow’ and somehow summoning, too, I guess, the “no-see-ums” of 9/11…?
      16. CLOSING TIME by Emma Darwin
        “The last of the city daylight prints itself through the big, metal-squared windows onto the studio floor, in a pattern I know as well as I know my own hands.”
        To need to say she knows her own hands tells me a lot about this narrator, yet I believe every word this retiring lady says in this absolutely wonderful account of leaving her work studio for the last time, after many years. The day is today. She is uncomfortable with modern contraptions. It all rings so true, and if it’s not true, I would hide my own hands from sight.
        She originally bought the studio from a painter who had trained under Burne-Jones, and, long ago, in 1963 (a year I remember so well myself), there was much snow, historical, life-endangering amounts of it, and her studio started leaking and she needed to investigate the leaks through an otherwise permanently blocked doorway which leads…
        Now if I told you where it leads, it would completely spoil this story. I found it a great experience to be led in there, and into where it further led, and what or whom she found there, alongside perhaps disconnected memories of wartime days, utility decoration, war-work, and when she was present in times of London’s Elizabeth-Bowenesque blitz, I guess, and memories of her sister and boyfriends, the Light Programme, and more.
        This account is magical as well as believable, but when I was actually present in 1963, it did not seem magical to me then, as it does now having read this work. And when she was present, investigating leaks, in 1963, she began to believe that her earlier wartime experiences magical from that new vantage point. Which makes me think, with a rush of elation, that 2016 will be magical sooner or later, as I return to it in some shape or form, from some departure point in the future. At closing time.
        Meantime, I shall follow this lovely lady to the pub, to watch her give the keys to the studio’s new owner. And it suddenly seems logical that if I do not believe what she described in this work, I may not even exist at all.
      17. Possible plot spoiler here? I generally try to avoid plot spoilers in my reviews. Meanwhile, most of my feedback indicates that readers read my reviews alongside me, after each story or after finishing the book, i.e. as a genuine accompanying REview not as a PREview which most other ‘reviews’ tend to be.
        HOMECRAFT by Rosalie Parker
        “Jonathan shone the torch under Sylvie’s chin.
        ‘You look like a zombie!’
        ‘How would you know what zombies look Iike?”
        ‘They look like you.'”
        This is an engaging, seemingly gentle, slowly accretive story of two children (brother and sister, I assume) who have run away from their Aunt and Uncle, and now making do in a derelict, downtrodden house – with little money, but with the nous to survive, and careful not to be seen together in case that gives them away. The characterisation — of the boy as an imaginative soul pretending he’s a ship’s captain, as well as a practical carpenter, always fearful that his sister will not return from her forays on the outside, and the girl’s building part of the house as a shrine, the soul of the house, as it were, answering their wishes — is perfectly conveyed. As is the worrying ‘overlap’ between the pawnbroker or jeweller she visits and the uncle she has fled…
        The throwaway ‘dying fall’ ending is also perfect.
        (My previous Parker reviews are HERE and HERE.)
      18. HALF-LIGHT by Steve Rasnic Tem
        “The blinds were down as she’d requested. She hated seeing outside when she couldn’t be there.”
        A moving, nay, devastating vision from the point of view of an old woman in hospital, her perceptions of the behaviour of the doctors and nurses, her own out of the body experience seen straightforwardly, and the single sentence she heard (or what she thought she heard) a doctor say towards the end of page 87, a sentence that seems to crystallise more about the nature of death than a million other books, especially when said in such a deadpan manner in such a context.
        The content of this woman’s experience, as seen by her, is exactly how I empathically perceived another old woman in hospital dying recently. The whole relatively short work is a powerful experience to withstand, but worth every single word and every item of its adept wordplay, too.
      19. IMAGO by Mat Joiner
        “Beat seven shades out of me.”
        “…she felt joy and cold and nothing.”
        I think it is relevant to report that I have not read much before as written by this author (except one collaborative story), but I find myself today reading and real-time reviewing two separate stories by him from two separate books (in the on-going pre-set course of my reading).
        One story seems to be the shadow of the other one, but which cast which?
        They are otherwise quite different; this one is about a boy who was bullied by other boys (all such boys with “narrow eyes and thick arms”) and he has lived with a memory of escaping from them into a derelict house and seeing…
        Seeing what? Something you half-saw, you recall, along with him? Now, grown-up, with his girl friend, he persuades her to drive to that house so that he can break in again…
        But this story itself is like seeing something in it, something the title yields, seeing a meaning that you cannot quite remember but you need to remember it, assuming you crystallised it anyway as a meaning, but only re-reading might serve to disclose it or serve to compare its shadows.
        The contents compared with the form. Or within the form.
        All I will say is that meanings often need to mature.
        (Just discovered another story by this author that I reviewed (in 2010): ‘South of Autumn’ here. The other works are shown by the by-line link above.)
      20. THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Helen Grant
        “the maelstrom of uncertainty”
        Uncertainty as a male-sturm und drang – Blakean, Byronic, Wagnerian, John-Cowper-Powysian, as this story taps into an archaeological worker’s chequered modern-style love life, his existence as part of an inchoately eternal-infinite tapestry’s “hem” and “seam” (then his self as “splintering mosaic”) as well as, literally, at the edge of the world that he can see from his Scottish coast vantage point, handling, with petulant destructive intent, the petrosphere artefact as Platonic solid, his study of which is a career move; he is due to blog about it, a perfect carved stone sphere from ancient times, showing its own contrastive ‘intent’ and ‘order’, while today mankind merely lets hang a computer mouse as if upon a gibbet.
      21. THE COURT OF MIDNIGHT by Mark Samuels
        “new quests for nothing”
        Adding to the uncertain menu of this book’s Uncertainties, this tale is more fanatistical than realistic, less a ghost story or psychoreality or a brush with the supernatural than a sickly dark fantasy, a mad Chambersanity, a petulant Poesy, a moribund masque, the writer Melchior having lost “a position of great respect and status in society” and beset, along with other artists and writers, by lunar fever… come to the Court of Midnight with his English gin so as to follow up the promise of a doctor called Dr Prozess. Including a striking scene with Melchior’s friend Santon finally falling by the wayside, and we realise the dreadful diminuendo involved, as, one by one, the residue of us thinkers and artists and poets wanes…
        My extrapolation of this provoking work –
        But we sense that our own preciously mannered masque alongside these gifted words is one of realising that the process is of a tontine not of a deadly attrition. And the writing here is writer Melchior’s pitch for such a prize. While the rest of us wait in great suspense for our own telegrams of a hopeful process of procession or a doomful moon’s precession (sic).
        “repeated but forgotten”
      22. WHAT’S OUT THERE? by Gary McMahon
        “He can’t bear to see her face, not unless it is real. A photo isn’t enough;”
        The uncertainty of ‘Uncertainties’ is also the uncertainty of not knowing how dangerously scary any of its stories is going to be, so if I say this story is VERY scary, that might be a spoiler. So, I’ll say it is a pussy-cat of a story. Well, it is that, too. One with a cat-flap and something or someone outside beyond that cat-flap once the cat has struggled in through it. And I can’t lie. It is a plainly-spoken tale of a man who works as a building surveyor, with a cat that used to belong to his deceased wife, and remembering other past events concerning animals – and now meeting someone again he used to know, the chance woman vet he now needs, all of which you expect to cohere into a sane meaningful denouement with a message to impart. If I now say ‘cohere’ is not the right word at all to describe your relationship with the ending, that may be a lie, as the cohesion here is making you regroup in face of the challenge of this story, almost a fast sudden adhesion as cohesion with the ending, as you struggle through a cat-flap of revelation to get at a meaning you know is simply there … unless it hasn’t already got your own meaning first as its own.
      23. RUBY by Adam Golaski
        “The woman who’s interested in me is distracted by the joint that’s making its way around the circle, though she touches my arm and says, ‘Stay.’
        ‘You stay,’ I say.
        I go.”
        I really like how UNCERTAINTIES Volumes 1 and 2 are presenting all the various distinct varieties of weird fiction that I love, and not only that, with some future classics of this distinctly constituted as well as multi-palimpsest genre.
        Golaski is a case in point, my having recently real-time reviewed 84 separate items in the last two books of his that I read. (See link above).
        RUBY is a fine example of his work, as I follow this man in blurred interface between distinct places and people of his life, listening to music on reel to reels, watching joints passed if not shared, but there is no way of describing this story’s Ruby other than by reading about it in it.
        Believe me, this is class.
      24. THE MURKY by V.H. Leslie
        “; it would be easy to imagine things hauling themselves out…”
        The mökki, the löyly, an accretively and hauntingly objectified then subjectified vision by outsider Ben of this Finnish scenario of lake and summer cottage, triangulated or hawled along with his Finnish friend Simo and Simo’s woman Liris having invited him here, with unself-conscious nudity, sauna, steam, swimming, apparently forbidden mucky murky marshland, and then hawling out of perhaps the appropriately named Heta, a woman Ben fetches from the marsh back to the mökki… A paradoxically blended homogeneity and heterogeneity (heatgeneity) spiked through with switches of nature applied to scald as well as subsume. The sacred löyly – steam, as it explicitly is, or something far more intrinsic between human beings?
      25. LOVE AT SECOND SIGHT by Reggie Oliver
        “We were in the middle of September…”
        For those who love the work of Reggie Oliver, this is unquestionably a real treat. I could inadvertently give you many spoilers; all I will say is that I strongly sense the presence here of the personal as well as of the creatively extrapolative – not that “bleak no-man’s-land between tonality and modern atonalism”, but a memory of your past with a certain place and person (since mostly forgotten), a memory experienced before life directed you to another more pre-destined place and person (if pre-destined CAN have a less or more?)
        Certainly the regretful, as well as the assured, and the perceived ‘avant garde’, the characterfulness of various parties of the past extrapolated into the future, even beyond their own capacity to subsist, eventually towards the ghostly, as if the ghostly can also have a ‘more’ or ‘less’ attached to it. A musical comparativeness. A performance still to be perfected. All possible paths of pre-destination equally to have been loved and responsibly exploited, whichever path it had turned out to be.
        The feelings of this deceptively powerful work continue to resonate… It is the apotheosis of Uncertainty, or a Certainty that Uncertainty is the optimum Certainty. I have a feeling that these two volumes of stories are full of things where the authors have truly given of their best, these being some of my genuinely favourite writers in what I see as the genre I was always pre-destined to love, but now seen, in sudden memory, as this genre of Uncertainty, a pre-destiny now clinched to house them. Tomorrow, I might have forgotten what I thought. But not now, having written it down here.
        I shall now read the volumes’ two forewords for the first time.