17 thoughts on “A Saucerful of Secrets – Andrew Darlington

  1. The Strange Laudanum Dream of Branwell Brontë

    “You cannot touch a nightmare.”

    …unless the language is slice-subtle enough with chunky steampunk laced into it to tell of and be told by literary legends like Branwell and Andrew, as they both have been, since I started reading the latter’s slick and staccato SFslices in the late 1980s and it’s about time he became a legend again, if he ever stopped being one, which I doubt. This is a prose story about another ‘would-be’ and ‘was and will be again’ legend when the layers of reality reveal the true authorship of the Brontë classics, with all theories being right somewhere somewhen, starting with a steampunk giant bee and its metal sphere on a snowy Haworth day, then mixed with ‘War with the Newts’, an old-fashioned SF fantasy like a fable with Earth and its walking talking monsters that seem to transcend the substance that created this Visitor from Porlock of a Darlington story in your otherwise uninterruptible life, with the borogoves and slithy toves then giving a Swiftian modest proposal about literature and its legends; we are all each of us a legend somewhere along one of many timelines of “inconvenient truth”.

    Professor Moriarty’s last, and strangest adventure.

    “Yet the firm grasp of a knife in the hand can be as reassuring as a good cigar.”
    The British “pompous empire.”
    “afflictions of convenience.”
    “We are a pimple of reason riding a primeval mass of terrible instincts, fears and terrors.”
    I simply knew that I knew what I was doing when I decided to pick up this book as a needle from amidst the giant haystack of the internet’s wares. This story alone justifies the decision. It is an immaculate (immaculate except for arguably one minor thing: “Four discretely armed men,”) a stunning exercise in conjuring up — with a richly textured, para-Dickensisan style — a London with amended frogs and foxes, rats and bats, a fictional figure having been made real for real by bringing him back to life with an electro-magnetic heart, and amazing scenes of a bespoke chaotic chaos fighting a pragmatic inchoate chaos for the soul of Gaia. Loved it.
    “Yet an editing and reviewing process is essential.”
    The need to crystallise a whole book in real-time, as I hope to do in the coming days.


    “The spectral conversations of the dead, spoken with dead tongues from dead mouths.”

    They keep on coming, fulfilling my expectations, this one a sort of extrapolated continuation of this book so far and of the Alasdair Gray ethos of short story writing (and that from me is an enormous compliment to both writers by making this comparison of one to the other) – here a Leeds version of the other’s Glasgow, maybe semi-auto biographical, of a man’s lifetime, whereby intense present moments become shared backstories, from the nineteen fifties to an alternate NOW where exploding cats become exploding bombs. An unforgettable series of “drifting might-have-beens”, in a crisp but textured Darlington style that you will soon feel jiggling through your reading bones like old songs from your past, and future semantic scintillations you haven’t yet lived, romance, love or just Facebook friends…

    “The government panicked into sliding out of the European Union.”


    “…blurring the vista of rooftops, backyards and outside toilets into magical single-colour patterns.”

    This is, for me, a wonderful exercise in the 1950s kitchen sink (complete with lodger in the attic room and the Beano comic and the mysteriously named Yorkshire Tea) blending in and out of a boy’s imagination, starting with his pet cat Jingle (the same name as the cat that exploded in the previous story), and the cat’s prey that the boy saves – well, this is where the story veers into a truth of fantasy from the truth of reality, full of some of the most bizarre Swiftianisms and comic-strip extrapolations of rat-lizard and mutated Narnian contiguity… outdoing even Alasdair Gray – and mutually complementing the exquisite pair of novels by Michael Wyndham Thomas that I reviewed HERE a few years ago.


    “On the face of it, a dozen random facts can be spun in any number of ways to create a variant number of situations. […] So the task is just that, to find the one correct way in which the facts fall into alignment. A twist this way, and that, until the Rubik planes fall into alignment.”

    I call it Dreamcatching.
    This is another Sherlock Holmes derived extrapolation, but not a steampunk one like the first one. This is a serious and disturbing treatment of loss, self-doubt, fiction as a version of truth as in Derek Edge’s adventure in the previous story, tumours as psychological as well as physical entities, telling of a father, with the help of a man called Holly, rerehearsing the daughter’s loss from his benighted run-out-of-fuel car after he went off for petrol.
    And another attic, this time with more than just a lodger living there, but something else lodged in the brain. If the Rubik cube never lies?


    “Sometimes things connect. Sometime they don’t.”

    I think I should have that up in a my room as a motto!
    Meanwhile, this is a very engaging SF story, with elements, whether borrowed or ignored or pre-dated, of Flash Gordon, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Michael Wyndham Thomas, Stephen King’s Dome and, judging by the author’s own footnote, three names of which I am unaware: Frank S. Pepper, David R. Motton and Sydney Jordan.
    Abducted into outer space while within a motorway service station food hall, Derek and his friend Gordon who rather suffers Derek’s autonomous asparagers syndrome (my phrase, not the story’s) meet both romantic interest and fearsome aliens, time manipulation and a sucking sun, fearsome if it were not for the fact that Derek and Gordon are already familiar with such situations from the Twilight Zone, etc. The ending is genuinely touching when time’s remanipulation snatches away as well as gives.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this well-written romp, and I also have a theory about it that may even have by-passed the author himself in the true tradition of the Intentional Fallacy. There is a theory given earlier in this story about contact lenses, and in the light of this theory, the dome in question could well be a giant version, a wide shallow one…. Hmmm.
    “A dislodged eyeball lies on the floor like a glaucous slug.”


    “Migration lies in people’s souls. Until there is nowhere else else to go, and no possibility of ever leaving…”

    This book is remarkable for its eclectic moods, with a gestalt of a healing process through Poetic SF, be it inspired by its sheer imagination and genre-spunk or the blended archetypes of memories racial or personal (as here) and deep emotions buoyed above or beneath the surface.
    This powerful story takes the current facts and despairing hopes of today’s migrants, imbued with a network of memories, buoyed themselves, not upon a celebrity Titanic or Poseidon Adventure, but a lethal trek and voyage from deepest Africa towards Europe.
    Reaching some version of a Priestian archipelago?
    Richly honed and deeply affecting.


    “Some people call it the Blott, others just say the shit-hole. Some claim ‘Chernobyl-on-Tyne’ extends ten miles from end to end.”

    So how long the middle?
    A ten year old Asian girl runs away to the Blott after tipping over the furniture and lasaring her Dad. Encounters a man who wants to show her the wriggly caterpillar – on his shoulder.
    This book, despite its sporadic serious nature, is itself a mutancy from the radio-active waste in the Blott, a deadpan acceptance of the Francis Bacon like perversity of life. Perversity, not perversion. There is often indeed a counterintuitive healing, and this story is no exception, even if the words are threatening to grow appendages they shouldn’t have.


    “Have you ever been disappointed to discover the gender of a lover.”

    This is a remarkable and, dare I say, without putting you off, SOPHISTICATED story about a future or alternate world where gender is legislated as a spectrum rather than a polarity, a story expressed as the thoughts of the defence lawyer in a case against someone who had contravened that legislation with regard to ‘her’ son’.
    I simply loved this story and it deserves to become an SF classic.
    As an aside, this work’s smoothly prose-skittering style is in mutually complementary contrast to the radio-active style of some of the other works in this book so far.


    “An angular younger man with meat-cleaver nose and undernourished mouse-coloured moustache. His spectacles pushed up onto his forehead, where they perch precariously.”

    Often Darlington makes me want to take up my Stylistics studies again. For example, above, as well as the assonances of meaning and sound between words, the angular reaches out for the spectacles, the meat-cleaver for the nourished in undernourished and the mouse moustache perched, too, just as precariously as the spectacles. Darlington ever seems to have a knack of embracing you in a sense of stylistics that supplement his plots.
    Meanwhile, this engaging story of tourists in Scarborough, comparing earthquakes in California with fracking ones in this story, and the man — who helps out at the B&B and paints as a hobby, trying to sell his work to the guests — has an atmospheric painting trip to the countryside near some fracking structures and near a pub that shouldn’t be there, an adventure with Neanderthals, creatures who probably exist by inbreeding? Full of ripe deadpan absurdism as well as sharply satirising the artistic taste of tourists. I bet none of them would like to read this story, either. Too busy reading popular stuff.


    “The place is the image that’s already in my head.”

    Richly vintage Darlington, I suggest, with a place amid the synaptics of film-making and dream which amazingly ricochet with my concurrent review of Files’ “Experimental Film” HERE – a place where he meets his own darling sex Penny and other recurrencies of objective-correlative like the rooftop gardens of Moorcock, dragging something from the sea, meeting pre-Conan or post-Cornelius bruisers in machinations of a Vishnu statuette, and more. Beautiful stuff.
    “…and I decide that even too much sex with her couldn’t be enough.”
    And John Coltrane playing the Dartford tunnel – statistics, interballistics, movies – a dead budgerigar that involves a scene so poignant I nearly honestly wept – and even a prop used of an issue of the magazine INTERZONE the latest issue of which I reviewed HERE.
    Intentional disorientation. Mortgaging one’s soul for one’s art (I buy every book I review). “Someone else’s memory with squatter’s right to my head,…”


    “Cobalt and crimson illuminate the walls like high-tech lamination. It’s as if I’m sucking in screeds of hallucinatory prose, snapshots of the unconscious, the dreams and nightmares of the three people who’ve sat, eaten, slept, fucked, and dreamed here, in this impossible place. The artist. The wife. The mistress.”

    “Cobalt and crimson illuminate the walls like high-tech lamination. It’s as though I’m sucking in screeds of hallucinatory prose, snapshots of the unconscious, the dreams and nightmares secreted by other previous residents who’ve sat, eaten, slept, fucked, and dreamed in here, in this impossible place. Ghosts.”

    “Cobalt and crimson illumination washes the walls like some high-tech lamination. Glints of hard aquarium-green light. Shapes? Hallucinations?”

    This is another classic, I am sure. Keep them coming. Upon the edge of caricature, this is a stunning evocation of Art Aesthetics as seen through the life of a particular artist, Hannibal Mytholmridge: Avant Garde as well as effective in the public, even popular, arena, a life of art’s apotheosis through one’s own skill and that of those with whom one associates, described in a prose that itself pulses like sex and like Mythol Mbridge’s paintings, his happenings, installations, as portrayed by an art critic who visits his house and studio and his two women, all following the Mythol’s death.
    As my own book reviews hope to build an interactive gestalt from a text’s various leitmotifs, this literally happens in this story, then leading to a telling climax that blends Damien Hirst with the Pan Book of Horrors.
    I sense a tension between pretentious art and popular art. And a similar tension is inferred, too, within this book’s author himself as represented by the whole of this remarkable book so far. Self-mocking and self-preening, in Jungian self-immolating collusion with the archetypes of those who read him?
    Artist and critic. Author and reviewer.

    “…but to explain myself to myself, through him.”


    “Later academics and speculative researchers debate the likelihood of placing Otto Czibarovsk within the autism spectrum,…”

    Again that is another chance connection with the other book I am concurrently reviewing in the link above!

    “Print-literature consists of words arranged into sentences that build by a logical process, one step connecting to the next, into paragraphs and so into text.”

    This is a substantive SF story that deserves much attention and will no doubt receive it by the gritty attrition of literary criticism, a story that starts as a patchwork of real history and geography in the 19th century, stretching as a slow-motion quilted review, by means of an equation created by Otto actually changing things piecemeal into the 21st century, a vast extrapolation of disrupting the Toynbeean challenge-and-response theory of history – “a dialogue of thesis and antithesis into synthesis.”
    You will do well to study this story. It is crammed with vistas and visions, and parallel universe publications of itself. Horizons stretching to vanishing points. An infinite world that was once or would have been our own world, still recognisable as itself. Collective dreams and population pressure, H1N1 influenza virus, Russian Doll islands and inland seas, inhalable dreams, contagious insanity born of fear, all this and the equation actually altering the composition of the brain…
    This is more than just an alternate world vision, it is artfully blended with genuine ground-breaking weird literature, too, material that reminds me of much that has been published by Ex Occidente Press over the last few years…


    “What use is truth to your everyday life? What good does it do you to know truth if it sets you at odds with your fellows and makes you a lonely outsider? […] …belief is more useful than truth. Belief is a social thing, a belonging thIng. And because of that inter-connectivity, it creates and reinforces its own zone of truth.”

    Wow! That seems to sum up a mighty load of my thoughts in life and in gestalt real-time reviewing. This story has been saved until last for this remarkable book to pack its final punch, a coda to the whole reading experience as well as a specific sequel to the previous story about our world whose horizons have been believed to have become infinite, instead of the heliocentric truth of Copernicus. This perfectly posed, perfectly prosed story has its own special belief system, a painterly one like Mantegna or Bosch, a surreal one like Dali, even a Magritte one with briefcase and brolly. The text defies you to summarise its constituent tenets of philosophy or science, be it Berkeley or Einstein. You become the observer and by observing the text you can actually change the text you are reading, as well as the margins of the world within the text and in your own world outside the text. Well, at least, that is how I feel.
    This story’s pre-Copernican dome, with stars painted on its underside, is akin to that dome over a motorway service station in a previous story, a dome that I compared to a contact-lens or ‘saucer of secrets’ described in that earlier story. And now that comparison makes a perfect sense of belief, if not of truth.
    This final story is a Pilgrim’s Progress, a pilgrim with a toothache – or truthache?
    There are far too many staggeringly described visual images in this final story for me to itemise here, and I have only broadbrushed my thoughts, but I can assure you it’s a mighty experience at the end of a mighty book. I only hope I have done it all justice.

    without end

  15. Pingback: In The Time Of The Breaking – Andrew Darlington | DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS - established 2008

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