29 thoughts on “In Concert – Melanie Tem & Steve Rasnic Tem

  1. All stories by Melanie and Steve Tem.


    “All I have to worry about is keeping up the inventory.”

    An amazing alien-contact story to start this book. Where has this work been all my life? How often have I said that about Tem works in my recent orgy of reading them? This one has all manner of body parts to wear, to add as appendages to my bare reading, I follow Celia Candelaria (by the way, I once wrote a short short called Candelaria: http://www.ligotti.net/showthread.php?p=38732) into the alien planet’s emporium for human body parts. She wants to write a commissioned article about this emporium and its purveyor Gordon Simms. There is so much toing and froing of contact-appendages here, I am agog with the sheer energy of this story. Mad, but it works! Then leading to a romantic skein of attachment. Flayed and flensed to the bottom bone one minute, and donned and decked with a multifarious array of vestigials the next!

    “‘Why this fascination with human body parts?’
    ‘I think it has something to do with an obsessive need to make contact.’”


    “I have no way of knowing what the Cleer see when they Sing; we can’t talk that precisely or poetically to each other, after all this time, and when they touch me I don’t know for sure what it means.”

    This is a wonderful story and I imagine Melanie (Rae) and Steve writing it, part of the Sing, in concert, part of the Cleer, and part of Planet Matchhead’s mining of ore or what I would call hawling. It is where Pathetic Fallacy becomes neither Pathetic nor Fallacious. It is honest love as transfigured by supreme SF. Or so I humbly infer. The ultimate gestalt…

    “Then the Song reached us. A deep sound, liquid, translucent, like a collective recollection of which Rae and I shared only a tiny piece.”


    “, it was now abruptly clear to her that she didn’t understand human nature, that no one did, that human nature was not accessible to human understanding.”

    …except by means of literature such as this? Unquestionably, this is a classic story, and should not be missed by any fan of the Tems (prevailing iTems in their own optimum inventory?) — and it MAY even be THE great overweening Tem work of works.
    A story of a house on a hill that, despite being a near replica of another more airy house further down the hill, has its own different, seemingly darker qualities of will-power and resistance, yet one where Hannah yearned to live with her painter husband Perry and their young daughter Ashley she dearly loves. Hannah worked as a social worker for the ‘difficult’ people in our world (mostly difficult to themselves) and “She saw now that the characteristic common to all these people was disappointment: Having gotten exactly what they’d wanted, it was not what they wanted anymore.” The effect the house has on Hannah’s nuclear family is diverse and insidiously crafted, moving towards a more open airy culmination for one of them, beyond the house’s trapdoors and other secret corridors. It really works, but I defy you to know how it works. But having read it, you may not in hindsight want to become again the person who had wanted to read it in the first place and who then seemed to relish being inside it while in the process of reading it. I seem meanwhile to have been left with the impression that I have ever been working upon the house, and altering it, like Perry. Or, rather, perhaps, like the Tems.

    “…there had been far more slams than there were doors in the house.”

  4. KITE

    “It occurred to Stuart that Eliahedron would know about snakes and bats and spiders, that probably he’d seen the real things, that maybe he’d know names for other creatures the kite was turning into.”

    At first I thought: another Tem classic – later I thought: this is going on too long, getting too outlandish – yet it retained its power, the story of Stuart on the brink of puberty as age 11, meeting a ‘friend’ called Eliahedron (sounds almost like an eleven sided geometronome) and his parent’s kite they bought him turns from an acceptable lovable bird to a dragon. F8F54666-D5D8-4C2E-9765-C4F9F2104358A dragon that morphed darkly. In a commune situation where the father’s job is to make war on war, kept the commune safe and joyful, the mother with a rangefinder and pills to keep Stuart ‘right’, to keep the idyllic bell of life shaped like her apron, and vice versa. But it is the children like Stuart who need to process the dark imaginings of the parents, keep them at bay in the boy’s way. A Paradox of a Parable. This work may be destined to seem diffuse forever, or it may focus with the range-finder to the perfect geometry of taut forces of line and tether.
    Paying it out, pulling it in, by turns.


    “I would turn seventeen soon.”

    As if the parallel with that infamous interview only just yesterday with Prince Andrew, this girl who is the same 17 year old, taken by that sweating Dracula. Who took scholars by the double-handful.

    Except, the parallel fails — as it is her baby with which she is already pregnant who is the tenth scholar, not her.

    “Out on the streets it was important to look tougher than you were, and talk dumber than you were.”

    A thickening, extensible pronunciation of Tepes, impaled upon the tongue of women! And this seems to be a prophetic theme-and-variations upon more modern fiction that stemmed from that of Caitlín R. Kiernan, later Livia Llewellyn or Kristi DeMeester or Farah Rose Smith? Melanie must be the mother figure of the whole scholomance of them, I guess.

    “He was straddling me on all fours, and under the huge mound of my belly his penis entered me easily. It thrilled me to think of his penis pushing back and forth past the fetus like a fang.”


    I am sure this ‘Imagination’ (with a capital I) is as beautiful as it seems on the surface of what little of it I have read, but I somehow could not appreciate this theme and variations on the Shelleys and Frankenstein. My heart was not in it.


    “…both the mask in his hand and his hand on the mask showed themselves to be made of small bits and pieces, building blocks, he supposed they were molecules–smaller hands, smaller and smaller masks.”


    A gradual crescendo of a story about a bicycle-messenger and his view of everyone else in masks, eventually on himself, some masks tiny, some in fragments like jigsaw pieces, some so huge they overlap the face, one in particular with all manner of dire appendages. Words or pictures as codes and masks, too. I think this must have been written many years ago, but I immediately thought of a Ligottian Trump. But what of the Queen that eventually seemed to be the fount of all such masks?

    “Because if you do not,” they screeched and sang, “if the enemy wins, nobody will ever be anything but a mask and nothing will ever be what it seems to be.”


    Read up to:
    “All her life there, Mary had felt lost. Hating the vastness of the prairie, she’d yearned for the vastness of the stars. She recognized every detail in the crude painting, but none of it felt like home.”

    I had to stop there, captivated by possibly a candidate to becoming, in due course, the greatest beginning to a fiction work, one involving planetary systems and Kansas farmland, and the beautiful strangers Mary (whose home the farmland once was) sees in the spaces between, and a painting in an unlikely bar in a downtrodden star system called Wheat, she sees what to her is a beautiful man who captivates her in turn, a man who the bar attendant says is not there! Or did I dream all that? Or forgot what was in some of its spaces between? Hardly begun.

    • Read up to…
      “He wasn’t looking at her yet; he still faced forward, looking at nothing as far as she could tell, face devoid of any expression she could read.”

      Also Mary’s memories, including spores in her pores, the poor whore, as she is now?

    • Read up to:
      “; if she went outside alone, she’d have to travel from one building to another by dreamlike memory, as though sleepwalking or making her way through someone else’s imagination.”

      Exquisite portrait of Mary and her yearnings in this world of acclimatisation to various worlds in space, including a concept that you should cherish: subspace. And you will never forget her approach to this ‘beautiful man’ in the bar…

    • Read up to…
      “Other things happened then, but she forgot them even as they occurred. She slept, but without sleeping.”

      But you won’t forget such occurrences. The travelling from there to here, and the plants that danced with them. And penetration from UNDER her skin. This stuff is quite astonishing. How could I possibly not have read this before? How could YOU not?

    • Read up to end…

      I am glad I left the end till today — until after I happened to watch by chance last night a new film called EARTHQUAKE BIRD, with such mutual synergy with this Tem work, “that the alien had made her more alien.” The equivalent alien land, to her, the same enticement by enticing strangers or stranger, the same grappling with that enticement still within herself as the ground here explicitly moves. Though there are many differences, too, that constitute such synergy. Without the differences, paradoxically it would not have been so synergistic. Meanwhile, all that I have already said about this classic Tem work prevailed till its end.

  9. 33EA7D4D-B936-47D3-9798-496BC89C989BSAFE AT HOME

    “She tried hard not to imagine the spaghetti in his mouth. For some reason it scared her.”

    An over-powerful, but surely necessary, tale of a girl and the conversations of abuse from a family member, and when a woman the resultant tactile monsters that beset her own bodily parts. Can she be safe, even at home?


    “’Everybody’s dying,’ she said softly to the wall, as though she knew he was there.”

    If the previous story was over-powerful, could it be possible, but this one is even more so! The marriage bed in old age, and did he mention his wife is aged 100, and he recounts how, poignantly, marital sex progresses, the feeding to and fro of what each needs, as it has done for years, but equally he recounts his needs from and offerings to strangers, even to the extent, for example, of seducing young daughters of patients in Accident and Emergency wards of hospitals… but did I understand that properly and about him not being transgender as such but a regular gendershifter akin to shapeshifting? All in all, it is a significant reading experience and I came away with a greater knowledge of the human condition by dint of absorbing inwardly and yielding outwardly an intrinsic supra-imagination between the story and myself, such greater knowledge that surely must be the purpose of all good literature.


    “An old joke that was killing him. […] But to say that Jake was never an easy child was the grimmest of jokes.”

    Jake the joke, but just another example of parental fallibility? A boy who severely plagued his parents with behavioural conditions that probably have formal medical names these days!

    “Being a father changes you, whether you want to be changed or not. It transforms you into another person.”

    My own parents said they could never face another child after me.

    “They never dared have another child because of Jake.”

    And the end is rushed but brilliant!
    The whole work is a perfect complement for Book of Days…

    “Being a parent is more than should be asked of any human being.”

    My own son was never easy. 🙂
    We had a second child, though. Never easy, either! 🙂

  12. MAMA

    “Before anybody in the family did anything they first had to figure out how it might affect Mama. There was no telling what might make her mad, or make her depressed. Everybody got exhausted trying to figure out what Mama wanted, until finally they didn’t have any life left for themselves.”

    Gumdrops or algebra, this is a disturbing story of a 14 year old girl’s point of view of her mother dying of cancer but after six months the mother reappears as if nothing unusual has happened. It makes you question the dependability of reality, whether the people we think we know and love are really who we think they are. One minute avid for fresh air, the next trying to avoid windows, and this is substantive Tem stuff about parents and children, and the deadpan rush for a sense of sense too far, as in the previous story above, a plain-spoken narration suddenly and cruelly chopped off at the waist. There is nothing else like it literature, I suggest. If you love it at all, you begin to love it above most else. If you hate it, you would never have read it in the first place. I wouldn’t be surprised if it keeps on trying to come back to be read, though. Or to be written again, if its writers deem it weren’t even written once. The Tems make you think about things differently like this, somehow.

  13. NVUMBI

    “Nvumbi. People with weak and sickly souls, souls that cannot carry their weight through the world. The world is full of them. Nearly empty eyes, blank faces blankly animated, voices thin and skittering, hands sliding away from handshake or caress; they are easily identified while alive and easily turned after death.”

    Has anyone actually reviewed or commented on this story before?
    I am despairing of being able to convey to you the nature of some of such special rarefied Temmery, here the Miller women (after those earlier Miller moths or noctuidae?) and their need for Jamie as nvumbi. A sort of jerking circle of love and abuse. Unless I got that wrong. Beyond disturbing. Yet importantly meaningful, far more than even I can judge.
    Suffice to say if Dr. Ligotti rides his horse backwards into a prestigious Penguin Classics book, so do the Drs. Tem deserve to do so, too, I genuinely believe. Streams of silhouette cut-outs to depict the interaction of Memory and Now.

    For Chris

    “Sometime during one of those half-asleep days or half-awake nights,…”

    And, on this day, we meet one of many denizens (some quite grotesque, some he purports to love, and including his adopted father), denizens in Christopher’s story, this particular denizen in it on this half-awake, half-asleep day reminding me of a half-freak and half a nvumbi. And, what is more, this is a perfect fable, even if with another chopped-off feel to its ending. I wonder who was to blame or to credit for that? Chris leaves prison and almost like Pilgrim’s Progress needs to handle his fragile life as well as the diamond we are told he has owned from time immemorial, a diamond as if from a red cardinal bird (later a red flower?), possibly from his parents. That parental thing again. Now at half a distance removed by adoption. Chris with a diamond with a seemingly permanent scratch in it that he tries to expunge but eventually finds it runs right through it. Perhaps only the second time he’d looked right inside it.

    “Once he’d looked inside it to find warm rooms with fireplaces, a lazy dog that slept with him every night, a mother who held him with arms that were magical in the way they wrapped around him, a father who read him stories like his dreams.”

    “We all got diamonds, son, and one way or another they all get ruined.”

  15. LOST

    “He’d never been out west before, knew it only from movies and gaudy paperbacks his dad had left him in a battered suitcase. He’d been amazed and amused to discover that the desert was exactly what he’d been led to expect: growth and destruction masquerading as nothing.”

    Another undoubted Tem Classic that should be anthologised galore. The story of Frank going from East to West in America. I travelled with him, despite my never having been to America. (Reading and reviewing the way I happen to do are akin to travelling and ending up where they take me.) How things themselves were blurred and were absorbed by the ambiance, including memories and childhood toys. He reaches as far as his car can reach, a life to be restarted but can anything really be restarted? Another of the Lost, appropriately ends up in a place called Los Perdidos. And we share his visions. Visions to which I can do no justice here. Think – a river of toys. Ask – what came first, the wolf or the door? Meet – the naked boy holding my own toy… “Now, in Los Perdidos, Frank thought about how much he’d loved his Granna and that doll she made for him; he wrote unmailable letters to them both.” My reviews for me are unmailable letters – that someone may find one day in their own desert of the soul?

  16. NORTH

    “Coincidences did not happen, at least not for the likes of him. His life had always had a direction. There had always been a pull.”

    …a pull to horror literature’s magnetic north, ineluctable, irresistible, as we follow Jay generally northward after his divorce, filled with the sweltering gory memories of an erstwhile Viet Nam, his Eskimo guide called George who ended up telling this story … damn! I just let the Yeti out of the bag, spoiled the worst spoiler of all, or at least the archetypal Dracula where the women he must once have sucked now suck out themselves through his giant skin, head first, themselves hungry for Jay. The ice worms coring glaciers, notwithstanding. This story outrageously outdoes anything I can say about it. So I’ll leave it there. It is a new archetype itself, one that has not yet caught on. But it will, if enough people read it as literature rather than as gore stuff. Optimally, both.


    “Almost immediately he was seized by the sharp cough that lately beset him in the London streets. A hack driver cursed at him, the horses kicking rubble against his shins.”

    Although I am currently out of favour with classic horror such as the book Dracula, I am mightily impressed by this theme and variation upon it in a turn of the century London as Katharine Harker (a relative of Lucy?) seeks some sort of post-Dracula closure and necessary corners where blood may lurk while tracking down a drug-absinthed, senile Van Helsing. A perfectly pitched rich and genuinely horrific text, where even his cat is resorted to for blood, a text that far exceeds that of Stoker, poignant, too, with its final empty morning’s musical ‘dying fall’, as if the well-trod traditional cosiness of the text-accustomed classic book by Stoker has by now morphed into the maw of our own era’s empty morning. When only coughing and hacking may sound out?

    “But now approaching his dodder age, and mere weeks away from that most anticipated event, he saw little evidence of it. England was at war once again,…”


    “Terrible as it was, maybe it was better than staying at home. Yet he yearned to be at home, and was afraid of that yearning, and was also afraid to be out here.”

    “That was, in fact, one of the worst aspects of this–what? Plague? Moral decay? Invasion? Alan found any metaphor unspeakably coy, but there seemed no words capable of directly naming or describing the change that had swept through the world.
    Except that it wasn’t really change at all. Things were as they had always been. Only more so.”

    A seminal work published in 2006 for our times now. A man, as husband and father, trying to save his family from the slippage, from their own mindless accretions, from Trump’s New Normal, from Trump’s Climate Change Pit and its hawling-crane…

    “Fathers needed to warn, caution, elucidate, but by now it was obvious to everyone that fathers didn’t have a clue.”

    But Fathers don’t want to see their own daughter’s breasts. Whatever the ineluctable bites that tempt Trump himself to give. My take on the story, not necessarily the story’s own take on itself. Yet we all have a duty to factor each work into the eventual Tem gestalt. Together or separately.


    “But she stopped whistling and her mind was spattered with residue like a cold white comet trail, a few disconnected words and random images (rope), music all beat and no melody.”

    This is a most moving story of a woman called Inez suffering in her dotage from Parkinson’s. She has random telepathy. A patchwork of words and coloured streams. Still sporadically talks to her late husband, as this story’s collaborators surely do through their everlasting story. Beautifully conveyed throughout this substantive work, and, in the end, by cello. A chain of connections, perhaps via her great grandson, to some lost astronaut… a Southern Reach by being in tune with South Pacific…
    It seems highly significant and far-fetched, but absolutely true, that I received about an hour before reading this story a book entitled DEAD ASTRONAUTS, for which I have now already set up a review page and also timed by my mention of it on Facebook here.

    “They call him the Dead—” She stopped. “He is the lost astronaut, the one the media is so obsessed with.”

  20. Pingback: Synchronicity rampant… | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews: A LITERARY PARHELION


    “No sense of where he is in space. Or if he’s in space at all.”

    That Dead Astronaut again. Crazee stuff, as if someone who died before he knew he was a literary writing genius became the authorial committee for this story of Xavier. It is as if a work of fiction becomes abstract or sculptural or conceptual art without the senses needed to become a human being. From a nine year old boy onward, Xavier is taken over by strong-willed, sporadically-dying-several-deaths Molly (name vaguely assonant with Melanie for a purpose?) and she told him, “well, actually, she said if you want to know God–you have to go inside and not be distracted by stuff from the outside,” …and accretively his senses are stripped one by one, like a child taking the legs off insects. “He is aware, now, of the stuffed, swollen feeling of his nose, as if his face has been taken away from him and she’s grafted random meat to the underlying muscle.” So he can retrieve his out-borne bees back to the hive of his inner ear, inner earth, and see God. Or Aesthetic Truth. Less than random letters making the names like the woman in the previous story did, but now he’s crucified upon his own X of death, like a lost astronaut in his own mind. The X now pronounced.


    The last work in this book – THE MAN ON THE CEILING – I understand forms part of this book: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/11/28/man-on-the-ceiling-melanie-tem-and-steve-rasnic-tem/ and, in due course, I shall read and review it from there.


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