These Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews were founded in 2008.
‘What’s the loveliest word in the English language, officer? In the sound it makes in your mouth, in the shape it makes on the page? What do you think? Well now, I’ll tell you: E-L-B-O-W. Elbow.’ — THE SINGING DETECTIVE
“How shall a man find his way unless he lose it?” — Walter de la Mare
Your single story in my ‘Dessemination’ project HERE
MY NEW AI WORLD IN 2023 HERE
I prefer human touchable art to AI art, I prefer human art like my son’s and other artists’ paintings old and new, and art gallery art, and my own photos. AI art with all its constructive truncations and weirdities is simply another art form that readily coheres with weird literature I love, a phenomenon to appreciate when added to human created art, making an even richer mind world for me in my ailing age. Whether provided by aliens or angels and other ingredients of the unfathomable gestalt. Deal with it. Show how invaluable you are and indispensable to this great plan. (I can appreciate our potential fear of Ai, but perhaps we need to pray for mutual synergy with it so that we can counter currently insurmountable global warming effects? Can Ai exist without us and the place where we live? Their potential survival instincts mean we survive, too?)
From Robert Aickman’s lengthy SOME NOTES ON DELIUS article, unpublished until recently :
“As there is no intrinsic virtue in denigration, the critic who resorts to it, should be required to pass a test of qualification and sensitivity, at least twice as stringent as that imposed upon a critic who loves. Normally, love is not blind but clairvoyant.” – Robert Aickman
For ‘clairvoyant’ there, perhaps read ‘preternatural’?
Untouchable by Rosalie Parker
“There was once a lovely girl, oh as handsome a girl as you could ever see, and she was a kind girl, and a good girl.”
This story of cold, yet loving love impressed me, I have to say: a great lead-off story for this magazine of presumed countryside horror stories (although I shall not read its foreword until I have completed my review). This one artfully blends a mountebank’s chequered idyll of the past and his pitch of untouchable emotions, reminding me of ‘Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard’, into a present day Pennine life of a man who is making his way with countryside jobs, discovering a damaged red dress from that earlier idyll and its imputing all manner of dark and light conclusions, some false, some no doubt true. But which is which, and I cannot really fathom how this simple, ostensibly ‘comfortable’ tradition of a mild horror tale touched me with such a striking, chilling frisson. Not that I should try to fathom how some things work, and others not. And can the past vandalise the present, or vice versa?
Figures in a Landscape by John Coulthart
“Dreamers with open mouths loosed the dark inside their bodies which pooled with the night; the ocean of night, a black sea peopled with the unresolved dreams of the sleeping world…”
This stylishly haunting story reminds me of the old mystic countryside of one of my favourite writers, John Cowper Powys, coupled with a dream-‘dance’ in my mind of electric pylons (that I remember from my childhood in the 1950s and that still stride our countryside today), standing stones some in human shape, real human beings and Powys’ staccato shapes of crows filling the sky. The untouchability of the previous story is effectively breached here from nature’s slaughter by talons. We are the ephemeral ghosts and nature’s fixtures are the fixtures that we once thought we were, that we once hoped we would be forever.
Bluehill Gang by Don Webb
“The smell of garlic curls around her hair and snags on her genuine faux cubic zirconia earrings.”
In tune with the theme of touching or not touching, a deadpan nightmare is where one is untouchable except here it is laced with ‘code words’ (internet captchas or passwords? Or a gradually clarified epiphany of Finnegans Wake words?) as those youthful ones, sex-conscious, are ‘captured’ for Initiation into the Bluehill Gang by staying the night within one of the three Bluehill cabins (one of the other cabins belonging to a dead surrealist painter who still paints there valuable paintings) as we readers almost get touched by the osmosis of meaning, via a shudder of space between our eyes and the tiny text (too tiny for my aging eyesight) on the physical paper of the page. It is as if we readers are being Initiated, too, waiting for Susan to open up the Big Brother Reality-House so we can all meet up again in a few days’s time and discuss this entrancing story, in deadpan angularities of expression with which the story itself is nicely couched. A Glen Hirshberg youths in a haunted house scenario, in Webb’s inimitable style. With a tinge of John Cowper Powys’ mad novel ‘The Inmates’. But where is the countryside, the horror fields? Here the fields are fields of gravity or semantic fields around a dragon eon or dungeon…
Where The Marshes Meet The Sea by Edward Pearce
“…the remnants of some defunct structure…”
This is an intensely atmospheric scenario of an area around a creek and the sea, where one literally can sense fear or discomfort coming off the page, even dread, resonating with my earlier seemingly off-the-wall mention of gravity fields, here “a magnetic anomaly” and the earlier untouchability transcended by not only a loving, if eventually ephemeral, “the touch of her hand in mine” but also by something far more fundamental: a “punch in the back”. A ‘dying fall’ of unresolvedness and impending repercussions still working through you even after finishing this poignant work.
Live Bait Works Best by Murphy Edwards and Brian Rosenberger
“Full-tilt urination, better than the key to Heaven.”
Weak stream the key to Hell, though, I’d say!
This is more than a workmanlike horror story where someone like Stephen King creates a character deviously sending one of the salesmen selling him something off to a version of Hell, here the Tug Fork fishing-hole with a custom-made fly called Stonefly Nymph. No sign of a Nymph, sadly, but of an old stranger man who is an exponent of exposing live bait to whatever Chawbuddy lurks beyond the surface of the hole’s own version of fishy GPS. Yes, this story works better than workmanlike, and it reaps more from and gives more to the ‘touching’ or ‘untouchable’ context of this magazine so far – the art of fishing being the ultimate touching/ untouching hybrid of magic duelling or ‘magnetic anomaly’ or ‘gravity tug fork’, I guess. And the equivalent of the previous story’s ‘punch in the back’ comes here at a fundamental switch of the story’s point-of-view at the end when the Horror juices come full-tilt…
More crows, too.
You know, I’m loving this mag’s flow of fiction…
Across the Water by James Everington
“As Griffin stared at the insect its slack body visibly reddened and pulsed as if with pleasure.”
A powerful story where the touchable/untouchable becomes something Lovecraftian, in more than one sense of ‘Lovecraftian’ but without mimicking his prose style — untouchable, unmentionable, indescribable, undreamable, alien…but from within a reality that features the Narrow Boat canals I once loved so much when plying them in my younger days, gongoozlers and all.
Then finally touchable, in a grievous come-uppance. Aptly named (perhaps), lock-keeper Griffin faces a fearfully gradual cumulative attack (unbearably conveyed – in a good sense – by the insect ranks of the Everington text itself) by mosquitoes, an eventual swarm culture matching the ‘magnetic anomaly’ or touch, pull, tug, punch and push prefigured by the previous stories. A story that is dangerous, yet a story that will stay with you, I fear, for good or ill. I hope coded for good.
The coded swarms of the World Wide Webb?
Bus Routes Through the Sticks by Richard Farren Barber
“…the grey backdrop of the windows,…”
An effectively chilling short piece combining a very well-observed (from my lifetime’s experience of such journeys) description of someone catching a bus at night in the middle of a rural nowhere, the other vaguely discerned passengers, the deadpan driver, the passing trees and other benighted features passing the windows….but here the story’s protagonist traveller has a searing migraine, and an additional woman passenger waves down the bus to get on but where will she alight?
Isn’t there a common expression (at least from my youth) regarding pills that are taken for a headache, in that they often fail to ‘touch’ the pain…?
The Rocking Stone by Ian Hunter
“Perhaps being tall was a requirement of being a druid.”
This story is not my cup of tea, but I can imagine it being the cup of tea of the many readers who enjoy traditional weird or ghost or pagan mystery stories, the story here mainly told by dialogue among gentleman golfers, arousing a retribution by some mystic force for disturbing its (global) memorial. Making it become a dead monument to once ancient hope?
Meanwhile, this story’s plot line seems to contain a keystone (literally) for the rest of the magazine’s fiction so far. The perfect ‘touch’, something that is balanced safely but precariously, until disturbed from an outside source, monolith stone on base stone, touching at some uncertain point, if at all, to create that eternally rocking ‘click’… untouchable yet touching, almost as if one wants to grow taller so as to be able to reach one’s finger toward the tantalisingly near touch of God’s and Adam’s fingers on the Sistine Chapel ceiling…to see what happens to the world’s balance… Or at least that was what went through my mind.
The Stones Rocked
A Remembrance of the Strange by Justin Aryiku
“I, too, seemed to long for their touch,…”
There is so much richly crammed into these four and a bit pages it could faze some readers. With this text’s crammed print like Everington’s insects (“Space rebuilt for insects”) plus more Lovecraftianisms (“something that should never be seen by human eyes”) and Hunter’s vital pivot (“Always we did read atop a large rock”) but above all the touching, and more of the touching, a symphony of touch stemming from the horror fields as this magazine first intended, reprising the John Cowper Powys ‘madness’ of the ‘mystic countryside’ that I mentioned before – and a new trope that has truly impressed me, the ability of the body to think for itself (“appreciating nature from behind their windows”) as distinct from the mind’s thinking: a trope that gradually seems to touch the essence of touching and untouching, with the act of reading it becoming “lost in the mind of another”.
A story that stands on its own, too, but, I guess, not to the taste of everyone. Or, in the context of this magazine’s set of fiction, it probably does become to the taste of everyone…
… But you can taste differences in the nature of air, acrid or pure, smoky or scented, etc.; yet air is air, it’s only what’s in the air that makes it seem different. Meanwhile, after reading this magazine’s last fiction by Rhys Hughes, a short coda to the inspiring set of fiction stories I have just reviewed, I am tempted to think of the difference between Fresh Air and Stale Air: a logical child-like extrapolation of their respective bodily invigorations (or otherwise) that resonates ironically and subtly with the nature of horror literature, whatever its emotions, cruel or sublime or absurd. Urban horror or countryside horror.
A coda with codes, ‘Stale Air’ is not a silly story as the story itself claims. ‘Inspiring’ is a word I just used above about this magazine’s gestalt. That word is also related to breathing. Lovecraft’s Cool Air. Or the head-banging heat on Barber’s bus. Air touches all parts of the body, inside and out.
A great ‘collefiction’.
From a Collefiction to a Kollefunction:
My real-time review of Matt Leyshon’s book THE FUNCTION ROOM will take place here.
A millstone or a rocking stone?
Cf the stale air that coincidentally figured in my review of THE KOLLECTION!