NEWCON PRESS 2017
Edited by Andrew Hook
My previous reviews of Elastic Press books HERE
Stories by Andrew Humphrey, Brian Howell, Mike O’Driscoll, Neil Williamson, Jeff Gardiner, Gary Couzens, Marion Arnott, Antony Mann, Allen Ashley, Nick Jackson, Justina Robson, Andrew Tisbert, Maurice Suckling, Chris Beckett, Tim Nickels.
When I review this book, my thoughts will appear in my comments below….
GRIEF INC. by Andrew Humphrey
“Anyway, did you hear the news? They’re going to build a wall around London. […] To keep out the insurgents, the immigrants.”
Will you get Carter? I think I do – now. They say on phone-ins these days about ‘getting’ things while they simultaneously disagree with such things, it seems. Like Carter, this exponent of Grief Inc, hugging without commitment. An oblique premonitory vision – first published in 2003 – of the Brexit ethos. A stronger aptitude of nasty sound to that word that could not have been better chosen for it. A diffident country, seen here from Norwich, a dystopic near future that is NOW, every person for itself, every city, too.
Compelling and ironically embracing as a narrative and the dialogue between. A cold coming of it we had, a cold cure coming. Ersatz grief et al. An elastic sprung and then broken between us.
Horror without victims.
I previously reviewed the next story in its Elastic context in October 2014 as follows:
The Tower by Brian Howell
“The horizontal barrier came down softly, from perfect ninety degrees to wavering zero,…”
I sense that Howell is the master of the ‘wavering zero’, as this story, like the previous one, ends with what I see as one.
I decided to read this book, as I was very impressed with this author’s novels about Western painting, Vermeer in ‘The Dance of Geometry’ and Torrentius in ‘The Stream & The Torrent’, and I sense this is a British born author who is channelling his experience of Japan through such an artistic sensibility – but, perhaps more importantly, vice versa.
This story even exceeds all my hopes – about a Japanese woman whose husband’s job has taken him away from her and their two children to another city – but there is still a dream thread of ‘genius loci’ between them. Wonderful sense of deadpan dread. Words forming insects but in this story bicycles are also seen as insects…
“She liked the idea of reversing or fast-forwarding action, of sliding space back on itself, or pushing it through some other dimension.”
I previously reviewed the next story in its Elastic context as follows:
(20/03/09) Evelyn Is Not Real by Mike O’Driscoll
An absorbing story of identity … and paranoia (of being watched or a feeling of dread whenever the phone rings) reminding me of Paul Auster and that famous Nemonymous story ‘The Vanishing Life and Films of Emmanuel Escobada’, but essentially and predominantly (what I have learnt to be) Mike O’Driscollian. This story, like many of the stories in this book, has a definite ‘spirit of place’ and sinewily and satisfyingly prosed out for us. There is a long-lost (did it ever exist?) Lynch-like film that seems to change on each viewing and one of the story’s protagonists sort of becoming the message that was left on the film-print to ‘become’ the buried treasure yearned for by the person leaving the message there for later retrieval. Most intriguing. It is romantic and creepy … with feelings of hurt and grief working itself out by replacement therapy. One wonders, though, whether all happy endings ever stay like that. That’s what makes (I feel) all literature horror literature … or as I prefer to say: the Ominous Imagination. O’Minous O’Driscoll.
I previously reviewed this story in its Elastic context as follows:
Amber Rain by Neil Williamson
The canary seeds in ‘Cages’ were baked into a cake. Now they have become amber marbles. Also there seems to be some parallel between ‘Cages’ and ‘Amber Rain’ concerning a musical scale.
“She knew what she liked, and if she liked it, she loved it.” A wonderful insight.
A photographer’s girl friend returns after five years – changed. Subtly or more significantly? I did wonder if she had a bone doll with her? Alongside a highly leveraged underivative metaphor for the credit meltdown: i.e. an invasion by aliens that seems gradually to subsume belief in promisory notes for invisible stocks: “Even if the world wasn’t being visited, it was gripped by the idea of such an invasion. A quiet, nervous paralysis. Markets were down… […] How could any credit card company seriously offer him a free couple of grand and trust that he’d pay it back, plus interest?”
Outside the book and its few imponderables, the word for which the euonymist was looking he thought he found in ‘Amber Rain’. Having stared into the ‘sheet blue lightning’ of the TV screen he saw the word etched on his brain if not on his retina. He won’t tell me. I just know that the word ‘phare’ (the French for lighthouse and an acronym for East Europe’s attempts to join the EU now scotched by the credit crunch) appears in the letters of the book’s overall title.
This story has some beautiful moments. Particularly its ending. Very impressive as is also the still evolving gestalt of the whole book for me. (22/3/09 – 2 hours later)
351073 by Jeff Gardiner
“Obviously our definitions of who or what the ‘Absolute’ might be would probably differ greatly.”
As would be our views on the nature of book reviewing. The gestalt of serendipities and retrocausalities, something I have long called ‘the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction’ – and now a fiction work that seems to be complicit after all these years, throughout the elasticity of time and its causes and effects, its synchronicities… an endlessly provocative tale of a vicar (deeply imbued of course with the salvation and arguably suicidal sacrifice for us by Christ), a vicar whose daughter — by chance of her baby hospital-numbered tag when his wife, her mother, died in labour, almost pointing obliquely to a parthenogenetic miracle akin to the virgin birth — is called Eloise. I will leave you to relate her name eponymously by reading this landmark story.
Her tantamount-to-immanent direction of fate throughout her youthful years in the light of such numerology is towards a new religion, nay, a new cult (also suicidal), a spiritual path that seems inevitable, as is shown by this work (first published in 2005) with its explicit reference to ISIS (arguably the Daesh of today).
FOUR A.M. by Gary Couzens
“…her, her hair…”
Almost a short short, sharp and shocking, a young woman earning a few bob on nights at a motorway café, meeting a solitary, older young woman with a past that if I told you would be me telling this story instead of this story. I’d’ve my fingers burnt for telling you spoilers. It’s, meanwhile, memorable, visual and atmospherically steeped in a morning that is still night. Still a short short. And the odd passing truck.
WHEN WE WERE FIVE by Marion Arnott
“I lay there, unable to move, remembering what it felt like to die. No one alive should know what that’s like. It isn’t right.”
This is a literary classic of the first water. I cannot emphasise that enough. Where has it been all my life?
After the previous FOUR A.M., we now have FIVE, but here we also have “three in the morning”, but above all we have this English young man visiting Moscow in 1969, getting mumps in the hotel and unable to go to Leningrad with his co-travelers, and meets up with an old Russian woman, and like the woman in the Couzens, a woman with a real history, one whose English amusingly features old-fashioned phrases like “old boy”…and she shares old photos with him, and real dreams and real Bolshevik and Stalinist (Stalin who watched Tarzan films) history with him, like an all-consuming real-time role-playing vision, like experiencing her family history, its tragedies and sorrows, its cruelties and injustices, almost as if it is a reality programme in our own age. It is incredibly effective, with a miraculous prose style to match. And the eraserable parts of history in the photos is utterly haunting. I cannot do justice to it here. It should win awards, if it is not too late. Take me back to award it.
SHOPPING by Antony Mann
A series of shopping lists that tell a telling story.
I like it even more as an avant garde poem.
I previously reviewed the next story in its original Elastic context as follows:
Somme-Nambula by Allen Ashley
A substantial story of the Great War and Prestidigitation (Cf. ‘The Happy Gang’ by Neil Williamson in another Elastic collection and ‘Like a Slow-Motion War’ (Allen’s story collaboration with Andrew Hook)) – a highly original and harrowining story that combines a Magic Realist vision with the awfulness of war. There are some neat phrases and conceits (eg “Clover in the path of a scythe“) – mercy-killing and a precariousness paralleled by life in general, the music halls, magic tricks, illusions, ventriloquism, an actual dream reality that the act of sleep-walking seems somehow to rationalise and reconcile in an effective way…leading to a suspension of disbelief regarding an astonishing Wellsian, Jules-Vernian music hall theatricality.
The trenches have “falling props“, though…. A telling phrase. And a Romance that almost buds like a flower (for me) among the waste of war.
One story is not enough. I cannot yet rush to judgment about the whole book… but I hope to catch its magic bullet in my critical grasp during my rite of passage through it.
“Maybe we’re never really cured of anything; perhaps all we can ever hope for is an extended period of remission.” (25.3.09)
I previously reviewed the next story in its original Elastic context as follows:
Visits to the Flea Circus by Nick Jackson
This story is central eponymously as well as half-way positionally – and, unless I’m mistaken, central thematically, judging by the leit-motifs it captures from the first half of the book and deploys for its own use. It is, more importantly, also a very good story, crammed with intriguingly ‘laid’ symbols, false and real. I will leave you to differentiate the false from the real, when you read it – as read it you must. Nick Jackson, I have reminded myself, by this re-reading of the book so far, is a greatly underrated author. This story tells of a sort of arranged marriage in Mexico in 1899 between a young Mexican girl and an American – with a death (an accident or dive?) as a premature spoiler-climax at the story’s start, a scorpion, plankton, a lizard, a jellyfish, microscopic ticks on a bird’s wing, and a ‘circus’ of “flea-sized creatures” one of which wields an erection (I infer), a zoo, a Mr Eagle (Cf. Mr Fox), a sudden unexpected wedding by a widow in this case (cf: the stories concerning Ana and Aefa and the surprise marriages therein) … apparent motivelessness – and random shards of synchronised truth and fiction including an-eye-for-an-eye death and birth. It is not so much Magic Reality as Magic Fiction. The style is precise needlepoint, an embroidery of images – literally so, within the plot, too. Meanwhile, the words themselves move around in your memory like the ‘flea-creatures’. You do feel, however, as if the author has given you all the tools to be the story’s God. You make the decisions of meaning for the best outcome to suit you. SPOILER: But you, as gauche reader (an innocent abroad in the story), like me, will always choose the outcome that the story’s author-stranger (‘the intentional fallacy’ demands the ‘stranger’ bit) wanted from the start. You only think you have control. It is an arranged story of author and reader, as well as an arranged marriage. (19 May 09 – 4 hours later)
I previously reviewed the next story during 2009 in its original Elastic context as follows –
Alsiso – Justina Robson
This is a simply quite brilliant SF story of planetary exploration. Did it win awards in 2003? Serious question. Mimetic plague. Messiaen birdsong. Pantheism sublime. “I’ll see. So…” (25 Aug 09 – another 3 hours later)
The Robson story aliso has bowers or, in the terms of the story’s opening ‘Gaia Obasi Nsi’, ‘gaias’ of human forms in mimesis – physically (often perceived as mutation) and mentally / spiritually.
JASMINE by Andrew Tisbert
“Again and again I thought of RIAP and reality and ‘variable nexuses.’ I thought about the poor craftsman, the God of the flawed and the broken. And I thought about cheating Him.”
RIAP = Research Institute for Accessible Possibilities …. RIP our perception of the unswervable groove of miserabilist existence and Long Live a new perception of Alternate Elasticity? This is a very important anthology (whatever the nature of the remaining stories yet to be read), important in itself as a gestalt of quality hyper-imaginative short fictions in our world and also important to the Indie Press Golden Age of the Noughties during which Elastic Press has been a specific force in all conceivable Alternities.
This story seems to embody that contention. A very moving story of a man working with severely disabled people, including one called Jasmine, and the reader embarks with him on a constructively difficult journey, where one feels caged like some of these people, caged in their attritional and pitiful bodies. The protagonist (shall I call him Bernie?) meets a more able-bodied version of Jasmine in the alternate stream of reality upon which he embarks, and the outcome is powerfully portrayed, an outcome you can never, hand on heart, pretend that you ever predicted. Anything else I’m likely to tell you about this story would be a spoiler.
TELEVISIONISM by Maurice Suckling
“Now I think about it, I never once had an orgasm when she didn’t have one at the same time.”
This is an entertainingly absurdist extrapolation of here an explicitly mentioned “reality TV”, a device I perceived in the Arnott story where it was more emotionally serious and transcendentally historical. A story about a man who meets a stunningly beautiful woman called Ciara in a pub, a woman who increasingly is serendipitous with the solving of life’s problems and the creation of optima. To the extent of becoming famous as a magician, taken to the nth degree, but with a subtly dark innuendo at the end that seems to tune into the Alternities in the previous story…
The Jasmine Effect can be usefully compared to the Ciara Effect.
“…it was 4.32 am when we finished making love.”
THE MARRIAGE OF SEA AND SKY by Chris Beckett
“Annihilation was an external threat to be fought off, not an existential hole inside.”
This mind-elasticising story combines its own three types of Knowledge (Deep, Slow and Quick) and IN ITSELF it is a variously deep, slow and quick SF story about a world with a huge moon that, for me, makes astrology tenable, as well as the malleability of rocks exploitable at the interface of sea, sky and mud. A scenario visited by a historian called Clancy as an astronautical visitor in his own sphere, along with a hand-held egg, an egg as an amazingly quick, creative amanuensis called COM. A dotty com? Maybe.
The Fisher King whom Clancy visits in this scenario reminds me of Trump. And Clancy’s default suitoring of one of this King’s three beautifully optimal daughters reminds me of the previous story’s Ciara Effect, as well as arguably of the story previous to that with its Jasmine Effect. All tied up with the inevitability of fate as to what you are, where Free Will is no longer even malleable enough to make inroads into our takeover by each other via social media. At least the COM egg here is said to be vestigially diminishable by throwing it to that interface between Sea and Sky. And just because our own moon here on Earth is just a faint smear on the sky does not mean it does not have an optimal influence on our world. But optimal is not always best. Huge is not always most powerful.
“We’d howl at the moon if there was one.”
I reviewed the last story in its original Elastic context as follows –
fight Music – Tim Nickels
“Wall clocks created from viola carcasses.”
This review ought to be my first blank review. Here we have a story of novella-length that seems to be a prequel of my own novella ‘Agra Aska’ that I wrote in the eighties. No, how can that be? ‘fight Music’ has had a major effect on me, with its fluid interpenetration of plot, so much more effective than special effects, so much more musical than music. It tells of an institution that reminds me of the children in Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’, but so vastly different. It has music and is music. There are frogs and organ music and a post-holocaust that is the holocaust itself. I did leave this review blank at first to match my own interest in silent music. I vowed to come back and re-read and review it anew, and perhaps I shall. Review means to view again, after all. A moto perpetuo review. It will never let me go.
“We’d howl at the moon if there was one.” (5 Sep 09 – another seven hours later)
Indeed it did never let me go, nor did my view of Tim Nickels fiction let me go in particular.
And finally I return you to what I said above about this book in general while reviewing the Tisbert story.