Previous reviews of TTA PRESS publications HERE.
Stories by Ralph Robert Moore, Simon Avery, Mike O’Driscoll, Aliya Whiteley, Sean McMullen, Tim Akers, Richard E. Gropp, Christien Gholson and Steve Rasnic Tem.
When I real-time revioew these stories, my comments will appar in the thought stream below…
Possible inadvertent plot spoilers…
WILL YOU ACCEPT THESE FLOWERS FROM ME?
by Ralph Robert Moore
“Which helped with the pacing.”
I have been ill-paced by this story’s staccato shortish paragraphs, am rather bemused by a pathetic narrative of a magician trying to establish himself as a successful magic act, in interaction with his audience, and his female monkey assistant in a pink swimming suit, with him testing the magic top hat to see if intentions plucked out different objects, by magic or whatever synchronicity. This follows a failed relationship with a woman whom he was unsuccessful in protecting from a drunken man’s harassment. This woman witnesses his last failing magic act….
This is a strange experiment in pathos, plain spoken, incantatory, obsessively unobsessive. And by dint of any literary experiment, whether it works or not, and it takes time to judge, by after-resonance, not to judge it until some future hindsight. Meanwhile, he pisses into his top hat. And the brave pathetic nature of animals that mix loyalty with affront if not dealt with properly by their human owners.
This story is itself perhaps a magical top hat, where authorial intentions regarding what is put into it and its eventual contents are deliberately ill-paced out of kilter with one another and, later, what things we the readers pluck out of it are also uncannily out of kilter between each of us, and them. Including a WF Harvey type ‘hand’. The writer’s? Gesticulating at his audience? A bouquet of fingers pacing towards us.
“Everyone makes decisions in life.
SUNFLOWER JUNCTION by Simon Avery
“The dream was on my pillow when I woke.”
A forty-something narrator whose gestalt backstory is a Fibonacci sequence of relentlessly tidal frontstories, usually involving death, the death of others, lovers, old fogey friends, musicians, including an endemic nonsense TV watching woman lover, whose hand one holds throughout an often stoned life, pragmatic existence, blind infatuations, the caught impulse of transcendent sunflower music, with tangible seeded sunflower pods as if pulled from RRM’s top hat of unweighable dreams, a fusion of, one moment inspired, the next moment vanished, jazz and folk, one musician in particular, and a faddish return to vinyl in near squalid pads of a downtrod seaside Hastings that I knew well as a youth, a place also perhaps like Clacton whereabouts I live now.
The art of self-indulgence creating the breaking patterns of existence that no artists or even musicians could have reproduced, but only possible perhaps from a writer with blind words (as all words ultimately are until magically joined together in a reader’s mind) here made darkly visionary by this writer of such words toppling upon each other, sadly but easily lugubrious, full of not so much ebbing earworms but more a seaside’s squalid pad full of heaven’s garden brought down to Earth as planted and irrigated with constructive awkwardness ….?
“Absorbing, rather than being absorbed,…”
— from the Bight poem by Elizabeth Bishop
SHADOWS ON PARADE by Mike O’Driscoll
“A new shot faded in, film of James at the centre, performing a card trick for Gillian…”
One’s eclectic past is in RRM’s ‘top hat” I guess, judging by this welcome new substantive story by MO’D. To o/d on a new MO’D is always a welcome pick from the hat of possibilities. And this is to o/d on an attritionally long story, necessarily so, at one moment a modern, mainstream, plainly dialogued, woman-man relationship plot, with modern artefacts like easy selfies and videos and electronic preservation of such memories of one’s past, in an attempt to make that past real. Except this is not mainstream at all but a gestalt of different tributaries from that mainstream of Gillian’s past that she needs to solidify as a sense of identity to dissolve the fearful shadows of eventually inevitable death of that identity. The results from the ‘centre’ where she met James are frightening as well as affirming to absolve the ‘red dress’ syndrome that James imposes. But that is not all. It will make us all look around at the shadows and for us to people them with people we might once have known. Worth transcending this story’s lengthy attrition to reach this disturbing, yet possibly affirming, conclusion. And I have left many things out not only to prevent plot spoilage but also because I am now not sure they were in that hat of possibilities at all from where to pick and choose.
My previous reviews of this author –
https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/393-2/ (Rare Promise)
https://horroranthology.wordpress.com/editors-story-by-story-commentary/ (The Rediscovery of Death)
Cf Avery’s Fibonacci sequence of destinies.
THE CHAMBERMAID by Aliya Whiteley
“People are strange. Every single one is a mystery.”
A short inadvertent coda to the previous three novelettes, but perfectly formed in itself. Reflecting the seaside atmosphere of Avery, the magic tricks, and the victim assistant, the chambermaid, like RRM’s monkey, in such magic. A beautiful genius loci of a seaside hotel, the chambermaid, in rooms she cleans that are empty early when the sun is out, and she pilfers trivial things from these rooms for another guest, a semi-permanent one, called Xania, to scry futures from such objects like fortune-telling, one a Polaroid used as a bookmark, an image of an Ex, as in O’Driscoll, a shadow from the past to help the book’s reader make her present partner in the hotel room constructively jealous. If jealousy can be constructive?
Xania produces her own object to be scried for the chambermaid herself who is ambitious to go to university, a feather duster as a cruel future that, if a magic trick, we hope, was null and void as it was given her by the ‘magician’ and not fully OWNED before then. Seems significant in the full context of this Black Static quartet. Like magic from the top hat of gestalt real-time reviewing?
On to Interzone, next. And a new gestalt? Or the same one?
THE INFLUENCE MACHINE by Sean McMullen
“Thanks to Wells, Verne and the like, people were having trouble distinguishing fictional science from real science. One of my duties was to separate the two.”
Any story with St Paul’s Cathedral in it starts as a winner. An engaging and imaginative story of a police inspector in 1899 London – an inspector with scientific qualifications, but a sidekick cleverer than him as a detective, unlike Watson was to Sherlock – who arrests a woman scientist for what appears to be an anarchist bomb but turns out to be a method to tap into an alternate world with far greater scientific powers than ours. The machinations within the underbelly to politics in those days, and the plot that is deduced becomes fascinating, including gender issues in science. Believable characterisation, too. Descriptive alternate vistas to die for. And a glancing kiss possibly more powerful than any passionate one in literature.
Science as a magic top hat, to cohere with Black Static? Think about it. But who is the monkey assistant here? Lord Salisbury? (I wonder if he only PRETENDS to be able to read?)
The terrorist implications, after this week in London, are also relevant, including the beer bottle or “waggon” syndrome and an investigation that “…had produced nothing more deadly than a carving knife.”
A DEATH IN THE WAYWARD DRIFT by Tim Akers
“…the world filling with the foam-laced blackness of one wave after another.”
This is possibly the most rarefied rhapsodic experience in text and, short of abstractions and art installations, this is the business, a story of water, machine, birds, sister and brother, bereavement, mourning and nirvana. Nothing I say here about the canoe, the characters, the descant of Deskan, the rituals, and the sometimes noodly tangibility of moving water and of machine mouths. It goes over the head, but somehow you still understand it all. Like magic.
As an side, I am often bemused by the serendipity of overlapping gestalt real-time reviews, either inadvertent or preternatural, and here we have the scryable patterns of birds (as strikingly from yesterday’s review of the Seanan McGuire story in ‘Black Feathers’ now comparable to the emissary birds in the Akers) and with my chance choice of the Black Static image above for an Avery a few days ago.
“…an impatient boy who had not yet learned to read the birds for himself.”
STILL LIFE WITH FALLING MAN by Richard E. Gropp
“Rumours. An analyst in London told me you were guided by ghosts. Others suggest visions of the future, demonic possession, or an etheric form of divination, something like the ‘I Ching’.”
On one level, this is an enthralling and literal countdown towards a nirvanic revelation of the secrets of the universe, and the sheer terror for those in the know, a frozen tableau or nexus for which competing organisations vie to exploit those secrets for themselves. The gestalt of a split second and millions of years is beautifully done, including the implications of such a gestalt, from the point of view of the protagonist narrator who is faced with such terrors and the eventual intimacy with those at the currently discovered nexus. Is this terror Lovecraftian or constructively inspirational, I ask myself, as I see into this story’s hidden secrets as the protagonist does within the nexus of the story itself, as he counts it down number by number. Which brings me to another level, one that seems to crystallise some of my own thoughts about gestalt real-time reviewing as a ‘window’ into hyper-imaginative literature such as this story within a labyrinth of growing connections, affecting a nexus within my brain the more that I have immersed myself in such a process since 2008, my own countdown, my own imminent pulling of something (but what?) from some gestalt’s magical top hat. Like some of those competing with me for this nugget or nexus, I demand what this story calls “bragging rights”. Maybe a “ridiculous ego”, but one I now need to live with. Whatever terror emerges. people should not be given this strength to SEE, perhaps? A “ragdoll shape” frozen in mid-fall, mid-fugue or mid-explosion. “Maybe there was a spider frozen mid-wall…”
(Cf the visionary waggon in the INFLUENCE MACHINE.)
A STRANGE KIND OF BEAUTY by Christien Gholson
“‘Everything shares beauty,’…”
This has that aura of the Akers I mentioned above, something you absorb and feel rather than read and understand. Or all those? And slowly here I realise this aura is not “this or that”, as Roh-Kin (nephew and apprentice) thinks, but “this AND that”… a story of oxymorons, rhapsodic verse, an audit trail of water-seeking, water-sculpture via slab and pyramid, a journey via competing and/or synergistic prophecies – and translations and/or links with the shadows of the dead in the ghost realm. Silent Peaks and/or ‘sleint’ piques. Old woman narrator in cahoots with whom she sees as the author. The author of this story and/or ‘the author’ of the scrolls. “The pull of words.” “We are the journey.” Striving rather than solving that striving. More a life’s challenge and satisfaction, though, not a life’s challenge or satisfaction, I guess? Striving AND solving.
“Then I will merge with the author and we will leave here.”
A day late – I forgot to mention yesterday an important point. The scoryax bird in the Gholson leading from water point to water point and the homing Pelican in the Tem below.
“‘It is either lying,’ the pelican said, ‘or then, even worse, it is telling the truth.’”
– from ‘The Pelican’s New Clothes’ by Leena Krohn
THE COMMON SEA by Steve Rasnic Tem
“; but there were always stubborn people, and people who were both stubborn and stupid. […] And dying out here in the flood, which was a stupid, stupid thing.”
“He looked up to find the stars again and they were clearly the wrong stars.”
This is a near(?) future Florida where Tom lives in his house on piles, the area around catering for the global flooding, with boats and a bar barge and so forth, and waterway signs etc, living with his wife Jenny who is suffering from senile dementia, their daughter and grandchildren, including, eventually tellingly, Charlie who is a child late speaking…
I could have decorated at least four or five of the stories subject to this review with the conjoined waves of the discrete Kanagawa painting that was first explicitly mentioned in the Avery.
Here the bird is a homing Pelican skewered by a coat hanger. I thought of Leena Krohn’s Pelican in this context, reviewed here.
There is too much to mention, including the nature of Tom, with arguably his own version of dementia with which he has lived all his life. And his touching love for Jenny. The electronic screens in the vicinity. The paucity of electricity in his own abode. His arthritis, as if he lives inside a shrinking body. And this story’s “emotional tide”, a gestalt that this review has hopefully mapped, even though the mapping of Tom’s vicinity itself is a bit hit and miss, only helped by fitful fires and stars. Not dementia OR sanity as a distinction of normality and abnormality, but dementia AND sanity as a palimpsest for truth, to factor into Gholson’s ‘and/or’ syndrome.
There is much else in BLACK STATIC or INTERZONE respectively for the Horror genre and SF enthusiast in addition to the fiction, for example, an interview with Steve Rasnic Tem.