SENSORAMA March 2015
I have just received from Eibonvale Press my purchased copy of this anthology edited by Allen Ashley:
Cover by David Rix
The stories are written by Gary Budgen, Richard Mosses, Ian Hunter, Christine Morgan, Aliya Whiteley, Adam Craig, Mark Patrick Lynch, Rhys Hughes, E. Lillith McDermott, Douglas Thompson, David McGroarty, David Gullen, Kelda Crich, Ralph Robert Moore, Jon Michael Kelley, Terry Grimwood, David Turnbull, David Buchan, T.J. Berg, Stanley B. Webb, Tim Nickels.
My previous reviews of books published by Eibonvale Press HERE and books involving Allen Ashley HERE.
When I happen to read this book, I intend to real-time review it in the comment stream below…
Blinding a Few Dogs by Gary Budgen
“The room in his eye was drenched, as though beyond a wet car window screen.”
Some Defeated Dogs in the blackened Wells of ‘The Country of the Blind’, although there is a different work by Wells quoted at the beginning of this Morality Tale. But it didn’t fool me. This is crack eyecaine for stalkers, not a morality tale at all, especially if to see one’s sexual prey as a form of ‘sin’aesthesia via the optic fuse is good enough, until the fuse blows, of course. Provocative stuff.
Just referenced this Budgen story here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/the-devils-detective/#comment-4128
Sensorama’s cover seems also to resemble an eyeball with the growing smudge within it…
Stone by Richard Mosses
This is an Avant Garde sculpture of a story that still manages to tell a compelling story. No mean feat. It combines narrative undependability with dependable structures of self beneath the veil of appearance. It seems obliquely to reflect the HG Wells quote appended to the previous story: “…it may be possible to live visually in one part of the world, while one lives bodily in another.”
Stain by Ian Hunter
And so from Mosses on Stone, we reach Hunter of Stain. This is a taste-symphony of the bathroom dampness we all know, bad enough for us to have a useless fan installed, a dampness of growing stains, probably created by one’s own children almost spending long enough in there to shower off their skin…but such pro-fungal accretion eventually reaches tastelessly tasty heights, almost to anti-natalist proportions that you will just not credit anyone could have wanted to write about!
Little Fingers by Christine Morgan
“She didn’t deserve Hell! / She was a good person!”
There seem to be some resonances with the book about Hell that I am concurrently reviewing. There I am touching Hell for real. Here I am more distantly touching a bewitched twist in this tale’s tail of a children’s Hallowe’en party where they are enticed, by a flaunting female dressed as Snow White, to feel inside boxes and guess the nature of that twist, as we all do a few pages before the end when we are given a premature look actually inside the plotbox. A staccato affair, mixed with smoother narration. Some good gloppy moments, but not an outstanding example of a Pan Book of Horrors type story.
A photo I took today in Clacton…
Good Old Dirt by Aliya Whiteley
Amazingly, I just read a chapter in the other book I’m concurrently reviewing where some characters are eating dirt, and that idea is indeed part of this near-future story’s intriguing concept of uploading, via a nostalgia Tasterama mask, into the Internet ‘cloud’ for all of us to download, where not only past good food occasions are chosen for re-tasting but the vital qualities of one’s loved ones for recreation. In its own terms, short, but sweet. Not enough was made of this potentially ingenious idea, in my book. And should it have been ‘palate’ not ‘palette’ at one point? Meanwhile, Hunter licking his bathroom stains wins in the ‘yuk!’ stakes.
[Aliya Whiteley had a story in Horror Without Victims and another astonishing story entitled ‘Songs for Dead Children’ in ‘First Book of Classical Music Horror.]
Graft by Adam Craig
“Russell opened his eyes. Seeing fleshsight and eyesight overlay. Merge.”
…which reminds me again of the Wells quote at the beginning of this series of stories. There seems something staccato about this book so far, to which effect this story adds. It as if a fictional brainstorming treatment of the bodily senses separately as well as a gestalt is autonomously staccato, a short flailing of each attempt to use a sense or a combination of senses. Although I didn’t really get to know Russell as a person, the effect of the text about him is an envelopingly striking, sometimes neologistically word-creative, experience for the reader of a complete skin graft after an accident (a near-future skin cloning, as it were), a combined psychological and bodily trauma in inter-relationships with the various surfaces of the world, including people like his surface girl-friend. Including engagements with Hunter’s ‘mould-remover’, Morgan’s fingers, Whiteley’s taste masks.
Making See by Mark Patrick Lynch
HG Wells also wrote ‘The Invisible Man’ – and, for me, this story deals with invisibility in a completely original way, a sudden invisibility of one of two young lovers, evoking poignant subtlety and including a deeply felt unrequited love in visibility’s accretive return… This story’s growing on me, in the same way as its tone of invisibility and visibility grew on me. It is a genuine star turn in this book so far.
The Taste of Turtle Tears by Rhys Hughes
Only one person could have written this story, extrapolating as it does upon a light-heartedly described symbiosis between butterflies and turtles so as to reflect that between authors and readers. Well, that is my sense of it.
Going Dark by E. Lillith McDermott
“They’d been home nine months and the causalities continued.”
It is interesting there is a resonance between ‘causality’ and ‘casualty’, a fact that gives some sort of added meaning to this gradually but not completely meaningful SF tale of intriguing cyber-implanted soldiers that fight without all their senses, although military fighting doesn’t really need, say, taste, does it? I did not really ‘get’ all of this tale, but it didn’t seem to matter; it was satisfying. We see the workings from within the mind of one of these ‘tech-jockeys’, her domestic, emotional as well as cyber needs, and her perceived endgame or ‘going dark’. Poignant and mind-stretching, with enveloping echoes of Lynch’s form of ‘invisibility’, Whiteley’s cyber-tasting and Craig’s skin-cloning.
Musk by Douglas Thompson
“It was like listening like to a deafening orchestra of rats playing an avant-garde twelve-tone symphony at top volume on all their hellish little rat instruments in rat hell.”
…and that could well be a quote from the novel I am concurrently reviewing alongside this anthology. In fact, again, it is uncannily so. Meanwhile, this story is a hypnotic monologue to an addressed reader, becoming a symphony of smell, a digression of marital transgression and its accompanying lust as pre-emptively musk-triggered memory, awakening one’s own body smell even to oneself, and its lure to others. Musk as Musak. Till a world’s apocalypse adds the atonal. Intriguing. Dwellable upon.
The Impression of Craig Shee by David McGroarty
“It’s perceptual ambiguity. There wasn’t enough information to tell you what you were seeing, so your brain made it up.”
…or what I was reading at the ‘dying fall’ of this story’s open-ended ending, so I made it up. An interesting story in a finely evoked Scottish isthmus, where a biological daughter meets her dead mother, barely known in life, via the mother’s famous optical illusion painting of part of that isthmus, all made very believable by quotations from the daughter’s books on Escher-like perceptions, cognitive dissonances etc. The scene in the pub with the beer mats reminded me somehow of the flensed ‘beer mat’ on the book’s cover, that I earlier saw as a bloodshot eye with a darkly optical opening for illusion. Lynch’s brand of invisibility, too.
Maneater by David Gullen
“And he’s got a DF laser.”
I am afraid I could not get a handle on this story’s style or plot, although I recognised deft phrasing amid some of the more staccato dialogue and paragraphing. I do not think this story was written for me and it’s my loss. I particularly could not see past the er, em, eir, emself, eirself (Spivak?) pronouns that irritated me beyond measure.
Wide Shining in the Remote by Kelda Crich
I am not sure what to say about this story – in a good way.
At one moment it seems in tune with my long-term contention that the text in a realbook is enhanced, or at least different, from the same text in an electronic format. I have called this effect ‘preternatural’. However, this story poses further considerations of the telepathic virality — by, say, chakras and third eyes, now by electronic means, rather than left in esoteric realbooks — to a mass collective consciousness: leading to extreme resolutions of human conflict, here sexual harassment.
Is this a morally didactic story or is it a free-wheeling, thought-provoking fantasy? The fact that I need actually to ask that question makes this an interesting story.
Bang, Bang, Thud by Ralph Robert Moore
Another story of staccato paragraphs. I optimally prefer ones with huge word-blocks that interweave tentacles and claws of clause-structure. And, indeed, part of me thought this text was crude in both style and subject-matter. Another part of me thought it brave, an apolitically incorrect ‘bang, bang, thud’ of a bludgeoning point to be made about work, sex and race, putting a finger up at whoever attempts to interpret why it exists as a story at all. So I don’t.
A Mimicry of Night by Jon Michael Kelley
“Shall we call it a day, then?”
That cool, detached rejoinder makes this a perfect story, one starting with vivid descriptions – comparable to what I have previously experienced of Douglas Thompson’s synaesthetically textured style at his rarefied best. Descriptions of the protagonist’s ‘choreography’ of bugs, snakes etc. he collects and mounts. Then a frightening suspenseful story blending human emotion/hang-ups with an envisioned form of peripheral neuropathy and involving a frightening defence mechanism of one particular bug. But the genius of the story is to pose the question: whose the defence mechanism? The attacker’s or the victim’s? Then who the attacker, who the victim? Mother or child? Death or darkness as defence mechanism? Many such questions lingering on, some of which may not even have been intended by the author?
Space by Terry Grimwood
“The tunnel was small, tight. It touched him on all sides. The security and comfort of that contact released a hunger in him.”
Undergoing an alternately enveloping and unenveloping Kafkaesqueness as a clinging conglom of fabrics, textures, flowing water, derelict catacombs of industrialisation manufactured as new, plague-arks, far-spaces, close-spaces, claustrophobic agoraphobia, agoraphobic claustrophobia, tests by sexual want, tests by sickness contact…
Grappling with this story is like trying to negotiate its own rite of passage as described within it.
The Sound Cyclones by David Turnbull
“The musky scent of arousal filled the room.”
…as if Thompson’s earlier ‘mus(a)k’ transfigured into a form of deafness-warfare that was once ignited by the creation of self-breeding, cone-shaped, self-animated ‘sound cyclones’ that roam, here, in a futureworld Spain, in this story of two already deafened wardens who are lovers. I found the whole concept imaginative as well as believable, including the prospect of hope and mixed-fortune macroeconomics shown by a Chinese developed form of turning each cyclone to ‘cone zero’…
A View from a Crowded Street Corner by David Buchan
An enjoyable short short with a twist ending.
One of the earlier tech-jockeys ‘going dark’ or a high-rise window-cleaner escaped from Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang, Thud, enough to scare a brave fireman?
Watching the Ashbless Bloom by T.J. Berg
“Bang, clank in the vast echoing hall in front of us, filled with machinery that should have been defunct but was not.”
Thrust with a ‘piercing thunk and clatter’ as well as a puff of ash or ecstasy, in media res, into a world like Grimwood’s in this book earlier crossed with some ‘mimicry of night’ symbiosis vis-a-vis worms that seem discrete enemies as well as invasive within you. Crossed, too, with considerations of fostering and adoption, dead children like those songs by Mahler, and a world of protest, a mayhem blended with that Hellish novel I reviewed alongside this book and some of the rarefied fictions of Ursula Pflug, and things I sense to be uniquely Bergian, like a world of taxis on legs plus much I still need to learn about or be absorbed by. Quite an experience. A whirlwind of words, a sound cyclone with a magician’s slide whistle and tuba.
The Crystal Gazer by Stanley B. Webb
I am afraid this is another staccato story with which I could not get on with, one with too many too-obvious capitalised words and a plot that I just couldn’t scry whether it was worth trying to scry. It would be unfair of me to say more about it, as it was obviously not written for me. My loss.
The War Artist by Tim Nickels
“‘A real artist knows when to erase, when to wash the canvas clean.’ / ‘My God. You see the genocide as a work of art?'”
You know, I miss Tim Nickels. I haven’t read one of his stories for ages and I realise now how truly great they are, and this may well be his masterpiece. It certainly *feels* like that. It is the sort of fiction work that should be a book all on its own, a slim luxury Zagava / Ex Occidente one. Yet, it also needs to be in this book. A natural culmination of its gestalt. It is absolutely gorgeous. The longest, too.
If I tried to itemise its plot or characters, you would likely think me mad. But when you read the story, its flow of consciousness is not mad at all. It simply is. It fits itself perfectly. Its husks, golf buggies, baby buggies, snowmobiles. Its diet of custard, Marmite et al. Its echo of war machinations where people cross over and feed another side, or vice versa. The story’s backstory comes after its front story. Its sense comes after its nonsense is absorbed. You have to hang upside down in a tree to read it. It is as if Salvador Dali had written a novel (he did!) and condensed it into a story with the help of Marcel Proust. Art is when it is itself as well as everything else in art. But fundamentally it is a Tim Nickels story that could have been written by no-one (else). There is the explicit ‘Invisible Man’ (mentioned in this story) and ‘the invisible couple’ (also mentioned in this story) in some preternatural connection with the ‘senses’ of the rest of this book, senses that, when combined, erase each other…the ultimate ‘sensorama’…
When I said ‘I miss Tim Nickels’ above, I meant Tim Nickels’ work. I hope he writes a lot more soon!