22 thoughts on “The Very Best Of Caitlín R. Kiernan

  1. I reviewed the first two stories last year, and below is what I wrote about them in their original context…



    “The sea to take the entire world apart one gritty speck at a time, the sea that was here first and would be here long after the continents had finally been weathered down to so much slime and sand.”

    This fraught and rapturous novelette NOT ONLY makes the final Fortean connection to the BOOK OF THE SEA (earlier concurrently reviewed here by happenstance) and with other synchronous happenstance reviews of THE FEATHERED BOUGH here (with one of its own characters also explicitly called Old Man Machen and a ferryman and a catharsis of healing and madness in some far place of dream and nightmare) and THE DUMMY (here earlier this morning with my then writing about it, through serendipity of news stories or history: “A fiction dummy for reality itself. Perhaps ironically inducing that elusive cure for ills.”) and THE FALLEN WEST here (with its own mad scientist CERN ZOO retrocausality example of the BIRD BRAINS story as an endgame of Fossils as part of a reverse evolution!) BUT ALSO a connection of rationale to the same house’s backstory which Julia and Anna visited in the previous Kiernan story in this book, that deep place beneath the house with a portal near the sea, an overall SACRIFICTION to obviate wars and history, here a father called Old Man Machen (Machen Dandridge), his daughter Meredith and son Avery, all part of this hopefully healing simultaneity of sacrifices (to which cause his wife and their mother, too, already sacrificed herself) to the Deep Ones so as to obviate the First World War cause and effects in history all tied up with some astrological glitch in COMA BERENICES (my own daughter’s name, after a Poe story or a Queen of Egypt or a Handel opera or that very constellation) — perhaps it is also a sacrifice to Lovecraft’s Azathoth at the core of the earth (here in Kiernan “hole in the world”) as I had it in Nemonymous Night? Waves as flames, all school poetry silly, black eyes as stigmata in the skin, that black book as a forerunner or scion of BOOK OF THE SEA, a tattered curtain to be drawn aside from such meaningful or meaningless connections, till the young woman Meredith Dandridge rhapsodically “made her fear a shield and a lance and held the line” for us all… as the new saviour? Possibly, from my personal point of view, this being a connection with DOWN TO THE BOOTS: “But Avery didn’t laugh, looked away from the sea and stared down instead at the scuffed toes of his boots dangling a few inches above the water.”

    25E5A563-D3D7-4C9C-AFA9-8CF723878DADLA PEAU VERTE

    “‘Me, I was always rooting for the wolf,’ Peter says, ‘or the wicked witch or the three bears or whatever. I never much saw the point in rooting for silly girls too thick not to go wandering about alone in the woods.’”

    I, too, study this story closely. And put myself in the shoes of the woman being dressed as the absinthe green fairy as a paid model for a private party. And, despite myself, am captivated, too. A collage of agonising, e.g. the death of her sister as a child, and her possible part in it, her father’s well, her older chess playing mentor, her shrink, mouse or fairy, stones with words etched, the names of various famous painters including Perrault, and Maignan’s Green Muse that I just took a look at, a mention of Charles Fort, a convergence of music, the history of absinthe, fireflies, Verlaine, Rimbaud … all couched in some transcendent language to die for — towards a growing gestalt and a stag before whom she self-revealingly bows under absinthe’s gaze? “The one, and the other.” Follow or fall, I think it answers my question above about the Sargent painting, unless even mentors are as fallible as those they mentor? Or words scratched on stone just as a reminder of some intrinsic truth? We are all perhaps “a race of tiny beings.”


    “, ‘Draw a circle around a stone and the stone will become an incarnation of mystery.’”

    I have similarly drawn a circle around this story. Not just for what it says that someone said above. It is not just another ‘Drowning Girl.’ But because each time I do read it, it is different. I thought by putting it in a circle would stop that. But it doesn’t work. It is something I do not understand but equally, until now, I claimed to understand it each time. The story is narrated by a journalist, been in – and writing about – the Middle or Far East or something I gather, and is arguably in love with all tranches of the girl/woman about whom this story has evolved, and about the suicide cult, the Lovecraftian deep ones, the roving eye above a sea bed that this story has also cast upon my own lower levels, the father of the woman whose novels happen to have keys to this story, and the story’s critical self referentiality TO the text BY the text…its perfect reflection of the Gestalt real-time reviewer who has today applied such a roving-eye process to its sea-bed of meaning for the first time. And still, I do not understand it. But it now seems to understand me. That seems to be a victory of sorts. Play the VCR again, one last time, I suggest.

    “All these divided moments, disconnected, or connected so many different ways, that I’ll never be able to pull them apart and find a coherent narrative.”


    “…the disassembled rusting skeletons of harvesters and harrow rigs. They loomed around us and hung from ceiling hoists, broken, forgotten beasts with sickle teeth.”

    I have just been hawled by this astonishing, hyper-imaginatively landscaped, mind-splittingly expressed, far future , woman-only novelette on Mars, one that genuinely inspired me this afternoon. Not that I really got to the bottom of it as the woman narrator Dorry (thankfully?) refused to properly tell it to me, as she herself more or less admits at its non-beginning and non-ending, by dint of monkish proverb. Yet, I gathered much from the peep stick she let me have about her tracking down her woman lover Sailor Li whom she had earlier physically abused, and about the Fenrir contagion cult, the madness of a wind shrake, obligate parasites, organismal, if not orgasmal, integrity, the whores of Mars, and the sexual/ bodily machinations of desire, and what I perceived as gynogenetic birth by diseased or grafted vestigial penis, by Fenrirate means. Judging by the preserved afterbirth. Not got to the bottom of it as I said above but by “Mars”, “asshole”, “skinny ass”, “Arsia Mons” and “Herschel City”, I sure got a good idea of the way the narrator said “I cherished my ability to hate.”

    “The blood from Heaven is black and hisses when it strikes the hard dusty ground.”

  4. I reviewed the next two stories last year, and below is what I wrote about them in their original context…



    “There is no need of time when despair would serve so well as the past and all possible futures.”

    More richly textured than Clark Ashton Smith, these sinuousities, as a parallel is made by the mutually mirrored pecking-order in the previous story with now a faerie girl and the Queen of Decay, the former lambasted by the latter for turning over a stone when following a green lizard. The girl’s wings clipped off and virginity pierced by the Queen. Then through ‘scat shat’ as scatology of some abyssal eschatology, being passed through the Queen’s metabolic system as some form of reverse rebirth. Told like that, in my trials of summary, seems mind-cratering and also takes no account of the various creatures lurking in the margins of the text and of the scat itself. Rarefied text that needs sipping and resipping, not resisting, if you can.

    “There is always farther to fall.”

    67460333-594C-4029-805B-E82362478853THE AMMONITE VIOLIN

    “He lives in a small house in a small town near the sea,”

    In that much, I am similar to this story’s Collector, but the resemblance stops there, although I empathise with him about the sea’s “gray eyes” and about collecting things. Images of the sea and sand for my own music of thought. Górecki and Glass, included. But it’s not a Glass Violin, here, but a violin combining his two otherwise separate collecting obsessions, one of which obsessions you can tell from the title. It is a compelling story, important enough to be recurrently collected itself, not so richly textured as some others so far in this book, and indeed it conveys a breath of sea air between the words to make the pages turn over. The air he took from others is now yours. And the implications are indeed grim, but ultimately satisfying for those who want closure to what men do full stop or what men can do to safeguard those left behind when all men are gone. The world is now “hers and hers alone.” Yours and yours alone. Perrault willing. That voice in Górecki’s symphony no. 3. Not a fat man’s gar-goyle violin, but the sound of “a goddess who has cradled them all, each and every one.” Even though a man, beer-bellied, I am still this story’s go-between phantom with its message in a new language of gestalt… “And sometimes one must look closely to even begin to understand how one thing connects with another.”

  5. CCE309DF-0F26-4656-A971-A2E7600FEE40A SEASON OF BROKEN DOLLS
    “Missed the extended DL tonight, no copy,…” whether #17 or XVII, this story is its own art installation, an engaging, if sweary, @ & ampersand stream w/ consciousness, a blend of Beat Poetry, James Joyce and Francis Bacon art, as we are led ineluctably by another angry-Sapphic couple in relationship, one where hitting goes on again, and sweary ampersands and art world gatherings, towards a world in 2027 where our tattooing, stitching and piercing in 2019 can become the whole person, the Gestalt sculpture. Writerly self-referential frustrations, too, all spliced to the gradually perceived audit trail of what is happening in the plot as a happening.


    “, just a very old man reading a paperback novel.”

    …except she was wrong; it was a paperback collection of stories that I was reading, with this written on page 180 of the edition I am reading: “I return to page 177, then proceed to 178, then on to 179.” And the chapter numbers are in the wrong order, yet I have read it in the order intended by the printed version, correctly numbered page by page, without recourse to the chapter numbers. Also, I am not the old man, when younger, printed time and time again in various photographs in the scrapbook, given to the narrator woman waking in her own Kafkaesque world, a Beckettian room in a city she merely thinks is Kyoto, plied with a dildo by a white woman (albino rather than simply non-black), aching breasts, leaky ceiling, leaky head, a stunning vista outside the room, Bakelite cradle inside, and hauled by contraptions, “biotech and genetic alchemy”, and parts of herself manipulated separately, but what of the mule for a pilfered load, who knows? I simply woke into this captivating story, too. A mistresspiece by a master. “…the folds and creases of the sheets are ridges and valleys, and I am the slain giant of some creation myth. My cerebrospinal fluid will forms lakes and rivers and seas,…”


    “History is a steamroller. History is a litany of war.”

    Including those two suns upon Japan, then Korea, and the Beauty and the Beast, the building of Trump’s wall, one with large enough gate for killing’s bait, Satan and God, angels in Milton and Blake. This incredible work, another vision for my mind’s still living tapestry of others’ discrete visions. It is of Ann Darrow and King Kong, including our archetypal images from the Fay Wray film. And various alternate paths Ann could have taken as stemming from that. The island itself a primordial orphan. The Art-Deco Calvary of Empire’s State. The beast “…hauled away in the rusty hold of that evil-smelling ship.” The beauty “hauled free of the morass of her own nightmares.” To that “All-At-Once time”, and become the girl as well as the ‘Golden Mother’. “Once I built a tower up to the sun,” not a wall of division hugging the land.

  8. THE STEAM DANCER (1896)

    “, and there’s no more of her fiery, undreamt dreams or his glib comebacks.”

    Her lover mechanic’s glib comebacks, not mine, mind. This is the story of the orphan Missouri Banks and the man who helped patch up the ravages of bodily disease. Its first sentence beautifully tells you where she lives and the nature of the ambiance. Flannery O’Connor, eat your heart out. And replace your arm and leg with cyborg manipulation. Her job is to dance for Chinamen immigrants from the Opium Wars, with a small group of musicians, that you learn more about. And Verdi. And her undreamt dreams, that this story becomes? This is where beauty and beast becomes parts of a single human body, where a booby trap burn makes a further patching up — and, I infer, a Yellow Wallpaper containment — necessary. A self-manipulated labia, too? The mechanic wrote this as her own undreamt dream?

  9. “These fragments I have shored against my ruins
    Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.
    Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
                      Shantih     shantih     shantih”
    — TS Eliot


    “They get everything relayed in real-time, directly from my cerebral cortex and hippocampus…”

    Fragments I have shored against my ruins, Dylan Thomas, Joseph Conrad, and more. This suspenseful piecemeal struggle to write down on a surveilled ‘pad’ a confession of a pre-VanderMeer vision in outer space and what was seen, written down by Miss Merrick, about what she finally saw on the PILGRIMAGE ship, with a word of Gs not completely different from the eponymous name of Islands, and “I gag reflexively.” All this factored into by the characterful psychiatrists whom she is trying to satisfy with writing down what she actually SAW on that investigative or rescue mission to a ship that ended up near Mars instead of Jupiter, I infer. And it is indeed suspenseful. About the woman her lover on that ship, and another woman lover who helped her. What she writes down, I read here disguised as this story. And, perhaps typical of Kiernan, the struggle to reach the final vision is tantamount to the struggle of the creative writer herself. And this is a magnificent struggle seen in the raw. With much else I can’t cover here. A piecemeal revelation I myself angrily struggle to sift, “What I saw. What it means. What she said to me. What I think it means.” The Gestalt real-time reviewer versus the Gestalt real-time writer. Only storms allowed to soothe my nerves, “etcetera, etcetera and fucking etcetera. […] It’s fucking crazy. No, it’s whatever comes after fucking crazy.” I Kyd you not.

  10. FISH BRIDE (1970)

    “But, what I heard said, if you were to take all the stuff gets pulled up in trawler nets — all the hauls of cod and flounder and eel, the dogfish and the skates, the squids and jellyfish and crabs, all of it and whatever else you can conjure — if you took those things, still alive and wriggling, and could mush them up together into the shapes of men and women, that’s exactly what walked out of the bay that night.”

    I hope I will be forgiven for taking such a hefty haul of text there, but it seems perfect in itself, and is also symptomatic of my whole Gestalt real-time reviewing, as well as the man in this story regularly ‘seeing’ the eponymous bride and her apostles amid their shanties, a man who, like me, can’t do do-it-yourself, like mending windows properly, and has dreams dreamt by others about him, of journeys abroad to Africa, just like one of my writer friends has been writing about a real such journey, simultaneously real-time reviewed by me here. As if I am on the journey, too. Another of those undreamt dreams.

  11. I originally reviewed the next story in the context of The Drowning Girl novel, as follows:

    Leonora Carrington, Sueño de Sirenas (Dream of Sirens), 1963

    Last night, serendipitously, I saw the new BBC televised documentary upon the life of Leonora Carrington, that I have already today mentioned on Facebook and Twitter.

    By India Morgan Phelps

    A compelling, not factual, but true, story within a story, a story by Imp from the POV of a magazine interviewer interviewing an aged woman in a wheelchair who had once modelled for a famous male painter, an interview conducted in front of one of that painter’s paintings. Not transgender so much as trans something else? Trans-surreal? A central objective-correlative for this book?
    My grandmother always had perilously long cigarette ash intact upon the cigarette in her mouth as she treadled her Singer…


    “He’s smoking a Parliament, and in front of him there’s a half-eaten corned-beef sandwich cradled in a white butcher’s paper.”

    My Parliament is smoking me! This is a free-wheeling, star-strewn sky of high theme and variations upon silver or mercury trails in the body politic of the human, where gangster-deals in various versions of dope and SF-tending dream, a pair of men as lovers, and others of motley characterisation in a cutthroat trade, where fuck this fuck that is the usual strew of talk. It as if this is where the body politic is now. I have never done actual illegal dope myself but this story is the next best thing or even better thing of what illegal literary dope does to me. Kiernan is the silver dope I peddle here. Call it the heart of darkness’ Nostromo. Parts of me at least need its fix from time to time. As the text itself says – “So, take this as the amalgam or composite that it is.”
    Gestalt it. Or suck it up.


    “‘From a unicorn,’ I cut in, ‘So we believe in those now, do we?’”

    Do we believe in fiction like this, then, let alone the unicorns of Brexit? A novelette so well written, it shrieks with black dildo pleasure, and I played Coil’s Constant Shallowness song in my ears real loud as accompaniment to my reading. The narrator gulled to duplicate the dildo in various demonic shenanigans with her yen for a beautiful woman – setting her on a mission, via foul Fong murder, and an ornamental box with a unicorn’s horn inside, mythological backstory, rituals of feminine jealousies and oppressions and much more. So well written, I read it all in one sitting, despite its blatant pulpish story line of adventure and rite of cinematic passage… so well written its valuable legendary dildo was felt to be inside my brain… “Why waste your time wondering if someone’s feeding you a load of baloney when all you gotta do is reach inside his brain and help yourself to whatever you need?”


    “‘A meaningful coincidence,’ I suggest. ‘A sort of synchronicity.’”

    Two women lovers, the narrator Em or more simply me, and Charlotte, the latter having been accidentally shot when a child by her brother with a sort of air gun? Today, a shadow of a shadow across the sea, one I call a Tench, creates a new hole by her hip, a hole that slowly expands as if by Zeno’s paradox, if not by Jungian synchronicity or Alice’s looking glass world or days known by playing card names or those lost worlds in fiction fantasy of the past, now no longer lost? Em, after their love-making, puts hee hand in to discover a lost world of self, a sort of mutual cure, and touches something more fleeting than a cosmic blench or flinch? I put my own now dildo hand (after the previous story in this book) into THIS story and feel something similar, a new revelation for the art of hawling literature, literature like this Kiernan and many other books I carefully choose. And I am enraptured by the thought of such a mere glimpse so far of some truth I have been seeking.


    “We do not see the Countess’ sexual congress with the wolves.”

    But we see a lot else! A real-time review of a film, for private purposes, by someone of the second person singular, one with a weak bladder, prior to writing a formal review of it for which payment will be received, although, ironically, we read: “As always, you’ve made no notes, preferring to rely on your memories.” A pattern that I, too, follow, when real-time reviewing. Between toilet breaks. Meanwhile, much of the screenplay script and actor actions are shown baldly in this substantive work. But we have the atmosphere of the majestic cinema in which you are watching it, dolby speakers et al, an atmosphere given to us via the words not the pictures. A sense that this is a fictional film about non-fiction events from centuries ago, of Countess Báthory and Anna Darvulia (a cross between Dracula and a vulva?). It has a red-riding hood erotic ambiance, and much else, taxidermy, torture, murder, Sapphic love. A fictional film, yes, but it is done in such a way, that you begin to believe in the film and filmography, to such an extent, I would compare it with the classic nemonymous Emmanuel Escobada story. I can give it no greater compliment. SPOILER (“This scene has been cut from most prints.”) And the cats never come. But you know that already.

    “a proper joyance for any chiaroscurist.”

    Sometimes, Joycean, too.


    “, it occurs to me I may read too much. Or only read too much into what I read.”

    …being thoughts, as it happens, that often pass through my head. This story, meanwhile, is one narrated by a journalist about a mission to write about a past Fortean event on the eponymous hill, its ‘positive’ lightning-riven tree and the house situated there above The Village. And what happened to the house and the people in that house, as the journalist slides from the universe’s unknowable to its unrational. There is something here that seems to resonate with the rest of the book, including excuses for melodrama or cliché, and for not knowing certain things to complete the picture or gestalt. Me, too, with my reviews. The journalist, do I infer or simply know is a woman? And the ex she rings in extremis, he does not have anything but anger for her, and, what is more, ‘spite’ is driven into her by the thing on the hill, another woman, I infer, a sort of medusa who warns her away, and then ‘fucks’ her with that spite, as it were, be it dream or real, not sure which. And cause-and-effect as a ‘tyrant’. This story and whole book has a tyranny over me, it seems, ‘bolts from the blue’. Fiction as self-flagellation? Or someone reading and – heaven forfend! – trying to review it, understand it, as a form of reflected self-flagellation, or turning its dildo inward like a dagger. Reading it too much – or reading into it too much.


    “As are we; as are we.”

    The joyance of the Joycean. Huge meaty paragraphs that fill me with joyance. A road movie, a severe Sefira of a journey ‘cross America, as I imagine, with its cafe diets, and two women, surrogate twins, I infer, laying rampage sexual and visceral on Thin Man and Philip with one L, to differentiate from HPhillipsL, despite the sea monsters. And screwing women and each other, and flaying, flensing Catfish’s boy friend, then Catfish, like Tench, turning back on them, heaven forfend, till the big explosion. And much more. This is me, not devouring a sobby tale, but laying myself open to it without anger or spite, the Biblical old testament reverentiality/ referentiality, crossed with the best of our genre and other ground-breaking literature.

  18. The final story I reviewed recently as part of the Dinosaur Tourist context, where lorries in the previous story above are dinosaurs, I guess…my review now copy and pasted here:



    “I have no idea that’s what her dress is called, a dirndl. I’ll only find that out later on, by checking with Wikipedia,…”

    A haunting and magnificently disarming take on coincidence and/or synchronicity, where a cinema film trailer and a lady’s perceived tail (a lady as perceived by another lady as her lover) are mentioned in the same paragraph. A tail that trails behind and in hindsight from the film she witnesses or thinks she witnesses when standing at the back of the cinema auditorium having made a momentous, yes, momentous visit to the Ladies loo and the visions therein, having left her lover in the cinema seat (next to the seat left empty by her upon her loo visit), the lady watching the supposedly same film, one described to us by the lady at the back, yes, described from the back. Very telling, very powerful, but I have no idea why or how. Have you? A dirndl of a tale.


  19. Pingback: Wonderful, strange, horrid, and lovely, THE VERY BEST OF CAITLÍN R. KIERNAN is a rollercoaster of unexpected beauty - Tachyon Publications

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