Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Myth of Falling (Sinister Grin), by Charlee Jacob

It's everything you never wanted to hear or that perhaps you or somebody you knew suffered through, whether from the human misery of this universe or a criminality intruding from the supernatural.
-Essay I: The Myth of Falling

I've been known to mutter that one of the best reasons to create art, to spin the patently unreal out of vapors and dust, is to process the incongruities of reality. To reflect and refract this perpetually shifting blob of experience into something a bit more reasonable. But what do we do when the mechanism of collection itself becomes twisted, when the funhouse mirrors begin to buckle and shift like slow-pulled taffy, in unintended and unreasonable directions. What, then, becomes of the product, the art?

I ask because I'm having a particularly tough time reviewing this work in a coherent fashion. This product of a woman whose work has always moved and often changed me. If you don't know what I'm talking about, read Soma or Vectors. Even if you do, read them again. But, due to an abominable conglomeration of illnesses, I was sure I would not have the opportunity to travel through her mind again.

What does that have to do with The Myth of Falling? Nothing and everything, as the cliché goes. It is a collection that is inseparable from Charlee herself. From a past steeped in the types of things no one should have to even be aware of, let alone experience. From a present mired in alien flesh and misfiring nerves. The lens warped enough to show the fissures in the firmament we try so hard to tell ourselves is solid.

This isn't something that can be dealt with in the manner of most collections. There are stories here. Tight, concise bits of prose that do more in three pages than most writers can pull off in a series of thousand page novels. But there are more of what I would tentatively call prose poems, though they likely squirm their way free of that tidy cage. These beautiful and terrifying and heroically horrific tangles of words that would writhe and wrap and slink just out of the grasp of my feeble mind. Waves of emotion and sensation that I had to read three or four times just to begin to sense the outline of reason. Like walking on that putty you can make with cornstarch. And don't be fooled when you catch that “essay” epithet; those hold some of the slipperiest thoughts of the book.

On several occasions, I was brought to tears. On others, filled with elation. Quite a few times, I got angry and frustrated while overextending myself grasping at a meaning I was sure lurked just outside of my reach. Worse, all of these experiences have blurred into each other so that I can barely distinguish what pages brought about which emotion.

What that means for you, oh dear reader, is that you will likely either consider this a work of genius or absolute bullshit. I don't see any middle ground on that. It certainly is not a book that will engender apathy.

Cover art: Nick Gucker's work on this cover carried a rough texture that enhances the surreality of the content. Playing off of the cultural context of the Fall from Grace, using the simple guttural horror of nightmare to reflect this dichotomy. It's interesting that the Hellscape is wrought entirely in terms of flesh while the Heaven of the bed seems to use iconography of the unfettered mind and spirit. But this is something that is reflected in the torments present in the book, that what we see as our salvation is often what dumps us into damnation. The limited edition also contains an interior piece that further underscores this line between hope and hidden reality that is quite effective.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What Fates Impose (Aliteration Ink), edited by Nayad A Monroe

Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where we are all going. If I need to finish quoting our dear Criswell, then I weep for that same future. Dearly, do I weep. Yet, as cheesy as the line is, none of us can deny the draw of a bit of life spoilers. We want to know what will be, regardless of how little it boots to resist both wind and tide. What Fates Impose taps into that desire, presenting twenty-two tales of scrying, poking, prodding and delving into the mysteries of what will one day be.

Let me tell ye, bucko, there are some doozies in these pages. Some are no surprise. Alasdair Stuart opens the tome with all of the grace, intellect and pure geeky joy that makes his podcast so damn much fun. Maurice Broaddus delivers a short, smooth concoction of merged cultures, generational curses and self-determinism with prose so slick and self-assured that I kinda want to hit him. Lucy Snyder’s “Abandonment Option” is bizarre, grotesque and brutally honest while throwing a little bit of social commentary in the mix. Damien Angelica Walters broke my heart a bit with “When the Lady Speaks.” You really should be expecting this type of work from them by now.

But there are some incredibly fun surprises here as well. “One Tiny Misstep (in Bed)”, by Beth Wodzinski not only has a hell of a title, but it is the equivalent of a Choose Your Own Adventure Story that, through the nature of its construction, bears its own commentary on fate. Besides, I know I am not the only one who used to try to find a good ending and work backwards from it, which can be looked at as a kind of attempt at telling the future. Genius. Keffy R.M. Kehrli blew the doors off of my face with “Gazing into the Carnauba Wax Eyes of the Future”, a tale of obsession and addiction with one of the most absurd methods of looking into the future I have ever come across. I’ve been hearing about the superbly named Ferret Steinmetz for a little bit and “Black Swan Oracle” makes it very clear why. Predicting the future via complex algorithm that reduces lives to numbers and probability equations seems dry, but he infuses it with a sense of desperation tied to the search for something that both cannot be, yet already has been, found.

The big thing about What Fates Impose that will be either a huge draw or a repellent, depending on your tastes, is how hard it is to ascribe a genre to most of the stories presented. Sarah Hans’ “Charms” provides a great example of this. It carries a largely noirish feel in a somewhat detective tale occurring amidst urban fantasy magic but it’s kind of a romance as well, while dealing with issues of identity and the physical expression thereof. I really liked that aspect of it, but I know it isn’t for everyone.

What now remains for you to do, since London is a bit out of reach for most of us?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Irredeemable (Seventh Star), by Jason Sizemore

I had high hopes for Irredeemable. Sizemore has proven himself a man of impeccable taste as a publisher. He knows what works in literature and makes solid use of that knowledge. However, I have a tough time giving the categorical high five I expected to his first collection of short fiction.

The big problem that Irredeemable runs into is that it is incredibly uneven. There are some damn good stories here, to be sure, but there are just as many forgettable and bland bits as well. The first three stories came across as clunky, meandering and lacking in focus, with no real impact to them. To be honest, if not for the credit Jason’s reputation has built up, I would’ve stopped reading by then. That isn’t mentioning the overused Zombie-as-Divine-Retribution trope and a frigging Dream Ending in later stories. This was not the side of Sizemore I was hoping to read.

But, with “For the Sake of Pleasing”, the collection turns around a bit. The prose is every bit as personable, the characters as in depth and engaging and the ideas as complicated as I had every reason to expect from the man. It is, however, hampered by truncated novel idea syndrome. Aliens and psionics and other supernatural and superpowers with international spy conglomerates, beings who cannot feel emotions on their own and have to thrive on the pheromones and feelings of others and that huge history hinted at with the aliens are all too much to work in the slightly less than 40 pages given here. “Sonic Scarring” has the same advantages and problems, but if they are turned into novels that give them the room they need to build on what is introduced I will be throwing money at the man.

Then there are “Pranks”, which pleasantly reminded me of R.L. Stine, “Special Delivery”, a fun and painful approach to employee motivation, and “Ice Cream at the Falls”, that had the feel of an old time ghost story told on the porch at dusk. Damn good yarns, those. “Mr. Templar” really kicks the door off the hinges, though. Such a wonderful way of dealing with the desperate grasping for hope and religious truth that uses the androids to terrific effect. More so with “Yellow Warblers”, that really nails the feel of backwoods Kentucky while playing with the issues of anthropologists going into tribal areas in a way that socked me square in my dangly bits. Why the hell was this one buried all the way at the end?

Irredeemable shows a variety of interests, ranging from intimate gothic horror to grand science fiction, as well as some quite interesting ideas behind the stories. It’s too bad that it is hampered by far too many mediocre tales that fall so far below the level of talent and insight shown in the quality stories.

Cover Art: The art itself is simple and the implications of the masks are evocative. I’m intrigued by the slight tone difference between the two and that smudge of red in between. The muted colors give it a classical feel that many Speculative collections lack and the grainy quality gives it a sense of visual texture. I’m not quite so hot on the solid black title and author boxes.