Saturday, 7 September 2019

Editorial: Hello everyone. I'm pleased to announce that the latest Dark Lane Anthology, edited by Tim Jeffreys and featuring my uncanny tale, 'No-One Driving,' is out now. Here's Tim's official notice:

"Just to let you know, Volume 8 is now available for Kindle on Amazon.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Lane-Anthology-Tim-Jeffreys-ebook/dp/B07XCWNXTG/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=dark+lane+anthology&qid=1567763684&s=books&sr=1-3

The paperback is only available from Lulu at the moment, but it will be on Amazon within 1-2 weeks.
http://www.lulu.com/shop/tim-jeffreys/dark-lane-anthology-volume-eight/paperback/product-24236710.html"

I also have three new reviews for you. November should see the next Pan Review of the Arts with a couple of interesting Q & As' alongside a couple more interesting new titles. Enjoy...

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Sing Your Sadness Deep by Laura Mauro, Undertow Publications / Masterworks by Simon Jacobs, Instar Books / Pareidolia, Edited by James Everington & Dan Howarth, Black Shuck Books


Mauro’s debut collection follows on from her Dark Minds Press novella, shortlisted last year for a British Fantasy Award, Naming the Bones (2017). Impressive it is too, showing an accomplishment and a humane warmth rarely associated with the uncanny. On this evidence, it is enviable that she only wrote her first tale in 2012.
  'Obsidian' is the first of two real gems as an older sister strives to retain care for her younger who is epileptic and possibly autistic. One of the latter’s rituals is to submerge herself beneath the ice of the local lake in the belief she is being called by its aquatic denizen of amoral intent. The jeopardy the elder sister experiences is particularly well-realised as her fears for her younger sister grow. 'The Grey Men' sees the figures of the title hang in the sky above a nervous town like ominous clouds. Their significance remains a mystery until the end when the narrator‘s perspective on events suddenly shifts. 'In The Marrow' sees two young sisters play out their fairyland fantasy as regular visitors to 'the lough' after school. Later, as one lies ill, the other sister appears to bring their fantasy worldview home, convinced she has been exchanged by the little people and her 'real' sister is out their somewhere, healthy, just waiting to be found. A deceptively simple take on the oft-utilised Irish fable of the changeling, Mauro reveals her class in its very economy.
  Mauro won a British Fantasy Award in the ‘Best Short Story’ category for ‘Looking for Laika.’ A tale of considerable charm that never sells-out to cynical sentiment. After her Grandad briefly tells her about the dog the Russian space mission sent into space in the early Sixties, young Beverley asks her older brother – ignorant of the original story - to fill in the details. Adding the apocolyptic plot of the dog’s mission to find a new planet for humans to live on, fires the young girl’s imagination still further. When she later claims to have observed a miniature speceship, what else can the family do but humour her? 'Strange As Angels' is – literally - the one entry of full-bloodied horror, after a bizarre, tiny creature flies into the windscreen of the speeding car of a fractious young couple. As the naive woman begins caring for the wounded find, it inevitably grows into treating her as its mother – with macabre results. Finally, a quick word for 'The Pain-Eater's Daughter, ending the collection. I don't think I've ever read a tale on familial empathy and grief quite as moving; not in the last twenty years, at least, and neither in this genre.
  These six are favourites of the thirteen, only the half-formed 'Red Rabbit' leaving me unmoved. A superb debut then and, despite the inevitable commercial pull of the novel, I hope we don’t lose Mauro too soon as a short tale aficionado.

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Simon Jacobs is from Dayton, Ohio, and currently lives in New York City. This, his second collection. He is the author of the novel Palaces (Two Dollar Radio, 2018), and Saturn (Spork Press, 2016), his debut collection of David Bowie stories.
  Masterworks narratives‘ depracating wit are well balanced with a sense of impending jeopardy and disaster; one very much pertinent to our times. 'Let Me Take You To Olive Garden' sees couples upon the brink of coupling, so rudely interrupted by an unforseeable fate. In 'The Histories' two generations collide as a daughter reaching adulthood discovers – through the destritus of her parent’s past - the transient self-interest that informed her absent father’s own. Re-evaluation of past youth continues in 'Secret Message' as an image of one who died young is recalled by a grieving parent in darker terms. 'Partners' is as short and sweet as the second and third tales where, as with the first, cataclysmic fate arrives to deliver something otherwise closer to orgasm.
  'Masterworks' sees an actorly couple – Priam and Nell - re-create famous works of art from makeshift materials with themselves as characters. First up sees Priam as Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat, head towel-wrapped and reclining as if deceased in a bath. The tone swiftly turns comedic as both recreate a small portion of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights with Priam as Oedipus and Nell (alongside her cat) as the Sphinx. You get the idea. A further dozen classic paintings are reproduced and reflected upon in the form of their personal journals. These 'entries' are entertaining, with a wit just the right side of ribald, intimating an unholy alliance of Reggie Oliver with Michael Frayn.
  'Land' sees the narrator recount an increasingly metaphysical journey from a lakeside mountain cabin he’s been hired to act as temporary caretaker for, by a friend who’s offered him a roof in exchange for maintaining his two pet huskies. When one, which is ill, absconds, the narrator fears for its fate – and his own - as his attention is increasingly drawn to the lake itself inhabited by the 'group of narrow, pale shapes floating in the water' and the unseen world beneath its surface. (A serendipitous echo of Laura Mauro’s 'Obsidian' here). Increasingly Hope-Hodgsonesque in feel, this turns out to be an exemplary novella, a journey upon which I was glad to act as companion. Jacobs has a good comedic voice, bordering absurdist, while never descending to farce. 'Land' also shows him more than competent at the terror tale.

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Pareidolia, a term I was unfamiliar with, is defined on the back cover as 'the phenomenon where the mind perceives shapes, or hears voices, where none apparently exist.' What, I asked myself, could be a better definition of the uncanny? I’m less a fan of anthologies too contrived or proscriptive in their editors‘demand than I am of those – like here - with a broader mandate.

'I don’t know whether it was Thea who changed the house or the house who changed Thea, but I noticed the house first. The way the woodgrain noticed us back – a thousand faces staring out from narrow panels that warped away from the cabin walls. And when the wind slammed the side of the house, the place would rock and rock and rock and boards would bob and nod. Yes, they said, yes yes yes. Though I hadn’t been aware of asking any questions. Not at the time.'

Sure enough, Sarah Read’s 'Into The Wood' opens the book with real promise. I, too, said 'yes' on reading what could be defined as a prime example of the sub-genre, the reference to the house as a 'who,' a neatly unexpected touch.
  Eliza Chan, according to her website, likes 'to collect folk tales and modernise them with a twist,' and 'Joss Papers For Porcelain Ghosts' well utilises the East-Asian source of the former and setting of the latter. A generation gap is widened by the intimated presence of a familial ghost as a flesh, paper and porcelain observer of events, encroaching from the sidelines. The way the visions impinge upon the domestic scene are almost incidental and pleasingly credible. GV Anderson’s Jamesian 'The Butchery Tree' is an English-type folktale in a more traditional setting where 'legend (had) it the last warriors standing after a great battle met their deaths beneath the boughs. It grew in clay and in summer blossomed red.' In Charlotte Bond’s 'The Lens Of Dying,' a sick old man with a terrible hidden past linked to a warped sense of beauty’s transience, pays the ultimate price for his undiscovered worldview. Andrew David Barker’s 'House Of Faces' is, by just a nose, my favourite tale, featuring the last man on Earth; a classic apocalyptic subject where an increasing madness somehow morphs into a new normalcy at the last address shared with his (lost or deceased) wife.
  So far, this has been my favourite of Black Shuck’s multi-author anthologies, featuring – Chan’s surprising contribution aside – a traditional feel, suited to my own tastes, which never descends to the reactionary or overused.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Editorial: Firstly, it's great – and rare – for an indie writer's work to crossover, receiving public appreciation, and use, in another sphere. Therefore, huge congratulations to Eric Stener Carlson who's achieved this. Ray Russell of Tartarus Press, wrote: 'A metal band in Switzerland–Rorcal (they tour in Europe and Japan) are huge fans of books by Eric Stener Carlson. They have composed an album inspired by the seven scary stories from his excellent Muladona, (also on Tartarus) and invited the author to record some passages from the book. The result is the album Muladona.' Secondly, a personal plug. My first full collection of strange stories, No-One Driving, is due for publication in paperback and ebook this November. Ahead of this, in September, the sainted Tim Jeffreys is publishing the title tale in Dark Lane Anthology 8. http://darklanebooks.blogspot.com/


On Dark Wings by Stephen Gregory, Valancourt Books

Poor taste isn’t something which can be justifiably levelled at Valancourt; for, here again, we are presented with a seasoned, well-practised author whom I’d just recently discovered. Despite being labelled a ‘horror’ author, Gregory’s particular brand leans more toward the subtle and uncanny, where small, psychological breakdowns ultimately impinge. In prose, the antithesis of, say, Stephen King, in using as few words as possible to intimate so much. Bluntly; Gregory turns out to be very much my cup of tea.
  Featuring the original 1983 tale ‘The Cormorant,’ expanded into Gregory’s first novel three years later, consequently adapted for the big screen in ‘87 and reissued by Valancourt in ’13. Six further novels followed; most recently 2015’s Plague of Gulls. You will have gathered by now that Gregory’s field of interest is strictly avian; reflected in this long-awaited first collection of fourteen short tales. The prose is concise, polished, and a joy to the eye, describing encounters less supernatural than chilling in their ominous descriptions of small but scalding existential threats. Favourites include;
  ‘The Boys Who Wouldn’t Wake Up’ where an aged headmaster at a boys’ school – vacated for the Christmas holiday - feels the annual encroaching guilt from a wartime tragedy he believes he could’ve averted. By far, the most touching tale with an especially satisfying use of ghosts. In ‘The Theatre Moth’ an Am-Dram script-writer / actor is plagued by a phobia she’s unable to control.
  ‘The Drowning of Colin Henderson’ follows the ocean-driven journey of a crewman, swept off deck during a storm and described from a birds-eye perspective, beyond the death up to his discovery. ‘The Progress of John Arthur Crabbe’ features the harboured ‘gift’ of a disabled boy finally revealing itself as something rather less benevolent than darkly self-serving.
  A minority of the remainder feature no supernatural element at all, but still render a subtle serendipity. If you’re a fan of the taut approach of implication rather than lurid delineation, then you’ll find Gregory a master.


Children Of The Crimson Sun by Karim Ghahwagi, Egaeus Press (Keynote Edition V)

Karim Ghahwagi describes himself as a music video director, photographer and author of both Danish and Libyan descent, born in the United States, but spending most of his life in Europe. He divides his time between Copenhagen and Los Angeles. Basic biographical details, but perhaps useful in understanding the territory of his fiction.
  The title tale opens the fifth in Egaeus's occasional Keynote series, in 16th century Malta, where a young emissary is sent – on behalf of his Abbot – to investigate the unique and ‘distressing spiritual condition’ of a local fisherman’s daughter. Having recently turned Catholic penitent, a genuinely weird tale ensues of hidden motive and questioned faith as unforeseen forces conspire to expose personal revelations as to the emissary’s true purpose. A slow-burner of a tale that harbours depths that reward with re-reading. Some of the geographical and historical detail in the opening pages, perhaps more anticipatory of a full-length novel, eventually give way to a compelling tale of amoral purpose.
  This close-to-novella length title tale is paired with the slightly shorter, ‘A Haunting in Miniature.’ Posted to an obscure village in the Czech Republic, Izabel Jelinek – representative of the Moravian Church – seeks an interview with the local Commissioner to discover the cause of a series of alleged ghostly sightings in the area. Her researches lead her to the local Napoleonic Wargaming Society; a select club of historical re-enactments by painters of model soldiers. This scene is (also) beautifully rendered as we are introduced to its longest serving member, Maximillian Novak, and the silent commitment of its members and the club members’ room is delineated. Ultimately, it is the spirit of an abandoned soul, to which Jelinek can relate, that provides the denouement and quietly effective it is too.
  As with the protagonist of the previous tale, Jelinek’s true motive - and identity - at first appears ambiguous, until the relationship is – by the climax – joined. Again, local history has returned in the form of an unwitting victim and their harboured past.


Their Dark And Secret Alchemy, Edited by Robert Morgan, Sarob Press

Three longish short tales – Richard Gavin’s ‘Ten of Swords: Ruin,’ Colin Insole’s ‘The Dead of Maridunum’ and Damian Murphy’s ‘The Axis of the Lodestone’ – highlight three of my current favourite authors.
  Richard Gavin’s tale opens on two sisters’ – Desdemona and Celeste - waking in their temporarily abandoned, sprawling lakeside house to a day of what they perceive to be unpredictable, but inevitable, omens. When the younger, more curious, Celeste steals into their parents’ bedroom, she seeks, and finds, a hidden velvet pouch, shaking its contents onto their bed; a series of Tarot-type cards. Picking the cards ‘Ruin’ and ‘The Queen,’ Celeste, memorizing the ceremony once performed by her more expert mother, steals out alone to bury them in the family vault, much to her elder sister’s chagrin. Demanding she returns them before their parents’ get back, Desdemona fears the damage has already been done through her sister’s playful ignorance. Their absent parents – practising experts in the Occult – return to the house to arrange an evening meal as a particular ceremony requiring specific tenets. Unaware of Celeste’s earlier disturbing of fate, the family descend into the consequences of extreme horror.
  I particularly enjoyed the formative scenes with the ambiguity of era. Gavin clearly intended this, since its indefinability increases in significance towards the tale’s end as portals are disastrously breached. An impressive opener. Gavin’s sixth collection of ‘fear and sacred converging’ will be due 2020-21.
  Colin Insole needs no introduction from me. Having swiftly become one of the finest exponents of English folk horror he has, simultaneously, remained beneath its radar. This should – and must – soon change. Of his latest entry, suffice to say that it is so densely plotted – ranging in time from the 14th century to the 1960s’ - that if it were not for the sinister omnipresence of the ubiquitous trickster-clown, the reader could drown beneath the history. Since this ‘history’ is so knowledgeably utilised, you are ensured to remain afloat.
  Murphy’s first collection – Daughters of Apostasy, previously reviewed here – struck an excellent balance between the trajectory of plot, description and pace. With Murphy’s prose here, much product knowledge of his subject is on show, but – from midway - somewhat at the expense of the latter where description's the main focus. Its strongest suit is in the omnipresent enigma of the distant landed boat and the gradual revelation - to the discovery and unexpected significance - of the two-faced God. Greater forward momentum in its middle third may well have attained the tale a fifth star. On a personal note, it’s pleasing that, in a 2017 interview, Murphy cited Insole, John Howard and George Berguno as favourite authors, to which I wholeheartedly concur. You can’t go far wrong with such good taste.
  Collectively, Their Dark and Secret Alchemy showcases three of the best exponents of their genre.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Pan Review Of The Arts No. 11

Editorial: Welcome back to the latest PROTA, delayed due to an ailment that has also delayed research for other writing. But, enough about me. The latest collection by the enigmatic Thomas Phillips and a Q & A on translation with the necessary Brendan Connell feature this month. An 'Albertine's Wooers' round-up should - eventually - follow in time. (An intended Q & A with the effervescent Scott Nicolay has had to be delayed due to his own literary commitments, but I hope to follow this up in a future post). Til then...

 
And The Darkness Back Again by Thomas Phillips, Zagava Books

We have here – for this blog, at least - a different kind of writer; one who presents his subjects in the form of internal monologues; ruminations veering from mania-prompted obsession to remoter essay-like description. There are several 'Thomas Phillips' currently active in publishing. One first-timers might be most in danger of confusing him with is the mystery / suspense novelist of The Molech Prophecy, although that Thomas Phillips found God in 2003, including his worldview in his work from then. Despite one subtley amusing tale here bearing the title 'Christian Singles,' Zagava’s Thomas Phillips harbours more darkly astronomical concerns.

Phillips – born fifty years ago in Raleigh, NC – has an alter-ego as composer and musician, Tomas.
His biog states:

'Like most of his music, which draws on a range of electronic and modern composition genres, his fiction typically embraces a minimalist aesthetic not unlike certain contemporary French writers associated with Les Editions de Minuit.'

This is reflected in his writings emotional remoteness, prompting in the reader an almost fundamentalist sense of the uncanny. One might call him, Ligotti – with less blood. In one tale – 'First Light' – the importance of music is equal to that of the words, enabling us to catch a glimpse of his philosophy;

'....Light is consciousness requiring the dark milieu of abyssal black as juxtaposition, darkness for its own sake, given depth and pressure by the radiance of stars. Light first comes into being. The cosmic Dark Age brings light, space expansion, elements proliferating, the universe cools down until in one small quadrant it starts heating up again, forging illumined, grim ghosts, hauntings of dim minds and hearts.'

This follows a description of a jazzy CD playing as background to a Floridan family (the state in the grip of 'a lamentable inferno') congregating to prepare for dinner. Phillips had to have a second life in music, since his bias towards describing sounds is so prevalent. 'Pots clank, even the sound of words is jarring, though it’s always contained rather than a harsh meeting of metal.' (Opening line, Children of the Family). 'And it opened its mouth next to your ear...It sounded, starting low, low crackle fizz in the mouth...pitch-high noise that warbled thin wire, gravel guttural anger, and plateaued in volume as one long-drawn, cutting drone coursing into your canal...' ('Throatily').
  In other tales, such as 'Everything Was Explicable,' a character experiences and ill-translates an existential crisis. In their case, a well-healed couple play out their everyday routine, until she sees the shallow futility of her part in their relationship and what – rather than merely who - her husband is. In 'Firehouse,' strongest on narrative and jeopardy, a couple find themselves, late at night, unfathomably deadlocked in their bedroom, with no clues as to who, or what, might be prowling around the rest of their apartment. This could be a metaphor for the collection, which rewards patience with unnerving residues of alienation and quiet terror.

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Q & A 
with

Brendan Connell 
(Translator & Author) 

 Brendan Connell (born 1970) is an American author and translator. Though his work often falls into the horror and fantasy genres, it has also often been called unclassifiable and avant-garde. His style has been compared to that of J.K. Huysmans and Angela Carter. Some of his shorter fiction, such as that contained in his collection Metrophilias, has been referred to as prose poetry. His work as author is currently published by Snuggly Books, for whom he also translates both classic and obscure European Decadent texts in partnership with his wife, Anna.



How did you get into book translation?

BC: Originally, as a young man, my idea was to become a translator of Buddhist texts, so I did studies of Tibetan and some Sanskrit with that goal in mind; and my first published translations were of Chinese poetry that a Chinese friend and I did together. But, thrown off course by unexpected winds, I next found myself in Europe, on the Swiss-Italian border, where I was somewhat cut off from the former opportunities, but presented with new ones in that I was able to have access to a vast wealth of Italian literature, mostly unknown or little-known to the English-speaking world.

What are your prime considerations when you proceed with a text?

BC: Mainly it has to be a text that interests me. Some people start on texts without reading them first, and experience them as they translate them. Most of what I translate, however, I have read years before, and it has stuck with me enough to decide to proceed. This isn’t always the case, but it usually is. A secondary, and not always necessary consideration, is if it fills a gap in what is available in English. Sometimes marketability also comes into play, but usually this is more of an afterthought than any sort of principal motivation.

Are there temptations to overly modernise a centuries-old text for a new audience and how might you avoid this?

BC: For me at least, there is not much danger of overly modernising. My approach is to, for the most part, restrict myself to the language of the time the original work was composed. Probably the only case where some modernesation is a good thing is in very old texts, such as those written pre-1700s. In such cases, however, I still would avoid modern terminology, unless for some reason it was apt. The place most to avoid modernesation, I think, is in dialogue, as nothing is more annoying than to read Aristophenes translated into chatty dialogue of the Southern United States or the great heroes of Water Margin cursing like cabbies. Undoubtedly there is a place for such experiments, but then what one is reading is not really a translation.

Are certain genres harder to translate than others? (Absurdism, for example).

BC: I am not sure that any genre of fiction is more difficult than another to translate, but generally 19th-century texts are considerably more difficult than 20th-century. Sentences tend to be much longer and oftentimes references are more difficult to clarify. Humour is, of course, harder to translate, just as it is harder to write and overreaching attempts have surely sunk more translations than they have saved. A good translation of poetry is more difficult to pull off than one of fiction.

What do you think makes a successful – as opposed to an unsuccessful – translation?

BC: It depends somewhat on the type of text. For a technical work, for example, meaning is paramount. For a work of fiction, or poetry, though meaning is of course also important, an almost equally important aspect is conveying to the reader an experience as close as possible to that of reading the material in the original language. In the past I used to think that the goal was to translate under the dictum: “How would the writer write this if they were writing in English?” And this, to a large degree, still holds true for me. But it is also true that there are all sorts of things in texts that would never be written in English, and in order to convey those sensations, one needs to be more creative. The translation sometimes needs to carry with it aspects of the original text--aspects which would never normally occur had it been written in English.
  In looking at translations, and comparing them to the original, one will often see cases where the translator has dumbed the original down. In other cases, something that might or might not be an error in the original, the translator has decided to “fix”, though more often than not they are actually introducing errors into the text. At other times, difficult lines or obscure references are struck out, the translator either not understanding them themselves, or presuming that the readers would not understand them. Furthermore, there are translators who push themselves into what they are translating and, instead of delivering the style of the original author, give us their own. All of these things should be avoided. Avoiding them will go a long way to producing a good translation, while the opposite will have the opposite effect.

Who are your favourite translators – past and present – and why?

BC: There have been so many accomplished translators that to choose the best is difficult. From the Chinese, the groundbreaking work of James Legge stands out, in the past, while more recently the work of Thomas Cleary is noteworthy, especially his translation of The Flower Ornament Scripture. From Chinese and other languages into French, the Belgian priest Étienne Lamotte was a scholar of great profundity, and his translation of the Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa, from the Chinese, is an amazing work.
  For present day translators of fiction, I have enormous admiration for Brian Stableford, who has translated such a vast number of texts that it is quite amazing. His great command of the English language and deep scholarship make his work in the fields of Science Fiction, Symbolism, and Decadence of an importance that is inestimable.

I'd like to thank Brendan Connell for sparing his precious time.

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Albertine's Wooers


Sundial Press have reissued the MR James-inspired Ghost Gleams -Tales of the Uncanny (1921) by WJ Wintle; Swan River Press have collected Rosa Mulholland's equally forgotten tales for Not To Be Taken At Bedtime as well as Bending To Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women, co-edited with Maria Giakaniki; while coming soon from Valancourt will be a new translation of Felix Timmerman's Intimations Of Death (1910), described as 'psychological horror tales worthy of 
Edgar Allan Poe.'

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Blacker Against The Deep Dark by Alexander Zelenyj, Eibonvale Press / The Book Of Flowering – An Anthology, (Edited by Mark Beech), Egaeus Press

Editorial: Greetings all. PROTA 11 will be delayed until May's 'Pan' when - everything crossed - there should a Q & A with the talented author and translator of European texts, SCOTT NICOLAY (to actually justify it), alongside a first-time European release from Zagava. Meantime, a pair of seriously contrasting collections...

Incendiary is the adjective that best describes Zelenyj’s fifth collection, since, in so many of his tales, it is destruction which leads, in one form or another, to personal realisation for some, salvation for others. Some from a place of madness; others from love.
  In 'The Priests,' Siamese triplets approach a church seeking salvation from one willing to see beyond mere appearance and thirdhand reputation. Almost a John Carpenter-esque take on Frankenstein, 'their' story is told through key scene depictions of 'their' past treatment at the hands of others‘ that have led to this moment. Perhaps the most complete and satisfying tale here, since the contents could comfortably be expanded into a novella.
  Certain tales echo the feel, less of an 'R-rated Twilight Zone,' (as quoted on the cover) as episodes of The Outer Limits. 'We Are All Lightless Inside' is an example, where the sense of jeopardy holds you from an opening redolent of its pre-titles‘ sequences. A 'Science Research Division' in deep space traps and destroys rogue diseases of monstrous form in containment tanks. One capture proves as personal as it is impenetrable. Gripping stuff and an authentic sense of Sixties-era SF holds the attention throughout.
  Fans of both Blade Runner films should connect with the SF pulp-noir of 'Journey to the End of a Burning Girl.' A level of engagement between the characters, allied to intimations of a greater backstory, suggest a novel along similar lines wouldn’t be the author’s worst option. Elsewhere, 'The Terror Of Broken Places' sees an enigmatic portal beyond mortality offering hope of an afterlife in this short, but affecting, tale. 'Christ On The Sun' is one of the gentler tales where a dream-predicted ‚night of miracles‘ is faced with acceptance of the beauty delivered, rather than an unknown harboured. 'The Children Who Saw the Universe' – A childhood encounter of inexplicable alien activity within a forest joins two friends for life, influencing future life choices that dispelled all previously held notions. 'Engines of Forever' cleverly reverts to the incendiary, where the ‚young‘ protaganists harbour an innocence separate from their programming. The denouement confirms the reader’s suspicions without ever having been obvious at the outset. The uncanny aspect of these ‚nature‘ tales may just breast the craft of those inspired by familiar genres.
  Regular readers will know my view of long original (as opposed to retrospective) collections. To Zelenyj’s credit, he sustains interest through the majority of its thirty-one tales through breadth of emotion and sheer bravado.

 *    *    *
There is no introduction to this quite unique collection, the usual blank rear board meaning the tales alone must direct the reader to its theme. Those familiar with Egaeus should have no trouble discerning the literal nature of its title.
  Mark Valentine has long been a master of evoking much from some fantastical history with a modicum of lovely prose. 'The Pale Sentinels of Asphodel' is just the latest example where a mystical resonance effectively informs the climax. Sheryl Humphrey’s 'Flora's Lexicon' evokes Charlotte Gilman Perkins in time, place and denouement of lovely chills. A love story tainted by familial witchery and regret, it pleases on several levels.
  Ron Weighell’s 'Fugues of the Blue Lily': a collector of arcane literature on opiod addiction, recently bereaved, becomes obsessed in the belief of an ‚objective reality‘ which can be reached with the help of an aged occultist who, having initially indulged him as a student, begins to fear for his sanity as he pushes for ever more dangerous experiences. Reggie Oliver’s 'Lady With a Rose' – The enigma of the deep red rose in a famous painting by Titian hangs over the dilemma of the merits – and demerits – of fakery versus the admirable copy. We know Oliver as an excellent teller of the traditionally linear tale and, for fans, this is just the latest example.
  Colin Insole’s 'Gallybag' features a seemingly abandoned country village, a faded Edwardian photograph of the same, and the search for the featured ghosts of its defiant inhabitants successfully follows-up Insole’s superb second collection Valerie and Other Stories (Snuggly Books, 2018). In Alison Littlewood’s 'Down in the Dendrons,' denial and the awful hidden truth about the fate of the narrator’s late brother finds a strange resolution beneath the brambles of where they both used to play.
  Mat Joiner’s 'Belbyne's Lane': the site of a tragic accident plagues a man as denial and guilt surface, unresolved, as he seeks comfort in his new way of life. A more ambiguous tale that otherwise neatly partners Littlewood’s. Jonathan Wood‘s 'The Absence' is perhaps the most puzzling entry since, like a lot of Woods‘ pieces, it is more a rumination on thought, feeling and place than linear plot. He reminds me of the late John Fowles in his ability to portray detachment as something of ambiguous beauty. It – like a lot of his work - stands re-reading because of this. Again, I enjoyed the majority of the tales (bar one, to frustrate you...), while an unexpected pagan nature-poem from Charles Schneider also reliably delivered. Another high quality release in the Egaeus pantheon.


---ALBERTINE'S WOOERS ---

CM Muller's anthology, Twice-Told: A Collection of Doubles, is now available, as is his own tautly-written debut, Hidden Folk: Strange Stories; Simon Strantza's debut Nothing Is Everything (Undertow) and - up for pre-order - This House Of Wounds by Georgina Bruce (also from Undertow). Two recent Tartarus releases worth a mention include The Clockworm and Other Strange Stories by Karen Heuler and Figurehead by Carly Holmes. Finally, a reissue of Jean Ray's 1925 debut, Whiskey Tales (Wakefield Press), features an excellent new translation by Scott Nicolay. More on this in the next 'Pan.'

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Pan Review Of The Arts No. 10 - Decadents Of Europe

Editorial: Too often, our Anglocentric culture overlooks the past glories of its surrounding environs. Consequently, English translations and, crucially, their unsung translators, are also its victims. Therefore, I hope 'Pan' can act as a modest corrective, enabling near extinct names to finally breathe fresh life. A topic I'll be returning to here on a semi-regular basis. One English name for rehabilitation has been curated by editor, Nina Antonia, who explains how those who proclaimed sensuality and individualism were, at the same time, attracted by the strictures of Catholicism.

*   *   *

Of Kings And Things by Count Stanislaus Eric Stenbock, Edited by David Tibet / Incurable – The Haunted Writings of Lionel Johnson, the Decadent Era's Dark Angel, Edited by Nina Antonia, Strange Attractor Press


Back in the Spring of 2018, Snuggly Books released the first-ever paperback issue of Stenbock‘s Studies Of Death (1894). As something of a novice to the author, I was surprised by the existence of a second; The Child Of The Soul. So, now, thanks to the efforts of David Tibet, Ray Russell and Mark Valentine, the original seven tales have been joyously expanded to fifteen, alongside poems, songs, sonnets and a single essay.
  The engaging economy in Stenbock’s anecdotal approach informs every tale. Studies, as a whole, is a classic, less concerned about Death itself than the loss borne of others‘ greed ('The Egg Of The Alabatross' and 'The True Story of a Vampire') and self-realisation borne of sacrifice ('Hylas,' 'Narcissus' and 'Death Of A Vocation'). The second collection's content is, generally, less concise; however, gems abide. Highlights include 'The Other Side'; a fine werewolf tale, strong in its rendering of the uncanny, with a surprisingly modern sensibility. In 'Faust' – a satirical take on Marlowe and Goethe‘s classic fables – a monk receives a visitation from an 'angel' proclaiming light whilst ill-harbouring darkness. In 'The King's Bastard (or The Triumph Of Evil),' two power-hungry subjects infiltrate the court of a benevolent King and his two unwitting sons to achieve their own nefarious ends. 'A Secret Kept' – a tale of madness – harbours an intruiging backstory, being the real-life case of Jack the Ripper, a suspect of whom Tibet infers was a friend. A short, previously unpublished play – 'La Mazurka Des Revenants' – makes up for in proto-Ortonesque wit and panache what it lacks in innovation.
  The 'Poems, Songs and Sonnets' which make up the second half are a mixed bag. The songs and sonnets are enjoyable, but the initial poems leave much to be desired and very much for the already committed. Metre and rhyme scheme feel clumsy and inconsistent to say the least and you wonder – beside the quality of the other work, in the context of Stenbock’s eccentricities – if this was intended.
  In truth, it is the short tales that represent the beating heart of Stenbock’s philosophy; one of betrayal of the innocent and self-created, by those either with Establishment power or, at least, exploit access to it. Taken as a whole, Of Kings And Things is an important release in the annals of the fin-de-siecle. The richness of the majority of its contents make this a seminal contribution to the movement’s public archive.


I have often wondered quite why writers of the fin-de-siecle felt such an affinity for Catholicism. Considering their committed individualism, beside the religion‘s dictats and strictures, there seemed a paradox. On enquiry, Nina Antonia offered this explanation:
  “Catholicism, which is a cult of beauty as well as God, appealed to those with an aesthetic imagination. Christ as death lily...no other faith as far as I’m aware is quite as theatrical as Catholicism, it’s high drama all the way... Brompton Oratory for example is like a stage setting of death but it’s very beautiful and emotive. The Decadents sensed that we were tipping into an age of vulgar materialism – as creative beings they understood that the soul needs spiritual sustenance; or, at least, they did back then.”
  Antonia adds how Lionel Johnson, a little known poet of the era, was rebelling against his ‘rigid family piety’ for one ‘incense laden’ that ‘isn’t all English.’
  Antonia follows-up 2017's impressive debut novel, The Greenwood Faun (Egaeus Press) with this biographical offering from the source. Youthfully handsome and faun-like himself, Johnson adhered more committedly to Catholicism, so distancing himself from more his indulgent contemporaries. Like his drinking partner, fellow poet Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson refuted such labels as decadence in reference to himself, despite a life devoted to art, aestheticism and absinthe. Was this religious hypocricy, since he was hardly averse to the bottle or relationships with other men? More likely, it’s from the impression given of a reticence, a need for privacy, and a need to protect his conviction in the face of others' mere lip service.
  A student first of Winchester College, then of New College, Oxford, he retired to his latter rooms – - quietly fostering his alcoholism - emerging only for solitary walks – to pen the poems, on friends, contemporaries, melancholy and, inevitably, death, for which he'd soon become known. (Although heartening to read that he was as big a failure at Maths as myself, failing to pass his Oxford entry exam three times before being given a shoe-in by the authorities thanks to his, possibly exasperated, family connections).
  Sharing mutual acquaintances of the fin-de-siecle with Stenbock (but never part of this circle) Johnson was something of a loner and, unsurprisingly, reads as rather more conservative. He appeared no miserablist, however, also having an alleged 'extreme humour,' which intimates mood swings symptomatic of depression.
  The poems dominate the middle of Incurable – one-hundred pages worth - flanked by a few essays and 'ephemera,' making this the first major collection of Johnson's work in decades. Highlights include the essay, 'On the Appreciation of Trifles,' showcasing him at his most paradoxically Wildean. Similarly, among the poems, 'Summer Storm' (dedicated to Harold Child), is a direct hymn to Pan. Personal favourites include 'Light! For the Stars Are Pale,' 'The End,' 'Winchester' and 'Gwynedd.' Being non-theist, I'm less enamoured by the staunchly religious entries. Being an intrinsic part of who Johnson was, however, means these need to be objectively embraced.
“Have you ever head a Latin Mass?” adds Antonia, reflectively. “It’s exquisite; like an opera for the soul.”

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Lilith's Legacy – Prose Poems and Short Stories by Renee Vivien, Translated by Brian Stableford / The Double Star And Other Occult Fantasies by Jane De La Vaudere, Translated and with an Introduction by Brian Stableford, Snuggly Books


Like Jane De La Vaudere – and most of the Symbolists – Renee Vivien is a self-reinvention. A Londoner, born Pauline Mary Tarn, her nursery education was in Paris, until the sudden death of her and younger sister Antoinettte’s father when, from the age of 9, they and her mother returned to the English capital. Longstanding friction between herself and her mother forced her solitary return to Paris in her early twenties, where she took up, first with American socialite Natalie Barney, then with the married Helene de Zuylen who became her muse and occasional writing partner.
  Lilith’s Legacy represents all Tarn’s short works, published under her best known pseudonym. (A second volume - Faustina & Other Stories – due from this publisher soon, will feature those penned with de Zuylen under the joint pseudonym, Paule Riversdale).
  The lesbianism as featured is very much out and proud, (you will find few contemporary British authors' getting away with the term 'gaping vagina' in print), despite the fact she was, publicly, rather more cautious and, according to Stableford, even ambivalent. This was surely due to the (to herself unexpected) ostracization from some part of Parisien society in the last few years of her young life. The image of her on the reverse cover, however, displays her individuality with asexual abandon.
Her prose is redolent with a benevolent relationship with death; like many of her contemporaries, a fate to be welcomed rather than feared. There is, however, an admirable lack of self-pity in tone; that it is not, necessarily, the worst of all worlds. In tandem, it relates her obsession with love (amour) and, clearly, how its autobiographical resonance impinged upon her own relationships, fictionalised here. You don't have to know of them in any detail to read in plain sight between its lines.
  According to her biog., burdened by debt and illness, Vivien took an overdose of laudanum in a failed suicide bid during a return visit to London in 1908. She died back in Paris the following year at the age of 32. Her biog. states the cause as "lung congestion" from a bout of pneumonia, complicated by anorexia, alcoholism and drug abuse.
  A word on the gorgeous cover, startling in its matching primary colours of green, yellow and blue. Utilising a painting by pre-Raphaelite artist Evelyn de Morgan, it shows Clytie – the water nymph of Greek mythology - emerging from amongst sunflowers; a subject that directly references Vivien's personal take on sapphic love.


These are precious translations in that they represent the only collection of the author’s short tales available in English. Brian Stableford does a sterling job of extracting and interpreting the little information that exists on Jane De La Vaudere, somehow managing to make the lack of background material non-issues. (The back cover teases here, revealing a Gallic-looking woman of high cheekbones and sallow, forlorn eyes, curled hair pinned in the late-19th century style, wearing a kimono and holding an open parasol).
  Born Jeanne Scrive in 1857, in what Stableford refers to France‘s upper bourgeosie, the premature death of both parents suggests she - and possibly her sister Marie - were sent as orphans to the local convent. Scrive subsequently met and married one Camille Crapez who, having inherited the Chateau de la Vaudere, Sarthe, from his mother, styled himself Crapez de la Vaudere. An understandable aversion to publicly utilising her new husband’s prior surname, she followed in his stead, Anglicizing her forename to Jane.
  Like Renee Vivien, La Vaudere became as much art installation as author. Prior to the occupations of novelist and playwright for which she is most known, La Vaudere had focused upon a career as an artist, exhibiting at the Paris Salon.
  Openly influenced by Poe, these formative tales are also an advancement in reflecting La Vaudere's interests in new theories in psychology and mysticism; specifically sexuality and astral projection, which would go on to inform the fiction of Crowley. Thus, La Vaudere represents part of a near-forgotten tradition that bridges both. The nine presented here are all excellent. The first, 'Emmanuel's Centenary,' opens with a statement of her philosophy throughout: „we are certainly reincarnated...(and) the soul that animates us remains...govern(ing) matter in order to organize the living form of human beings. Everything changes, is counfounded and renewed, in the immutable law of amour that governs the world.“
  The hunger for love beyond the material form is the darkly romantic Poe-inspired theme, even down to a character in 'A Vengeance' named Berenice and the disguised preservation of a corpse. Elevating the tales above derivative cash-in is the quality of their telling as much as La Vaudere's primary readings and patent interest in the aforementioned theories, revealed in plain sight.
'Yvaine' – the longest tale here – harbours the delicious moral ambiguity of the best of the German imagination as a mad genius, down on his luck, relates a claim on the right of visceral revenge against a supposed 'wrong' perpetrated against him. In 'The Dream Of Myses,' an Egyptian priest, guarding the corpse of his late Queen in her tomb, has developed an obsession to reawaken her with the power of his love. When a local girl falls for him, he gradually feels compromised in his devotion, fostering a resentment which proves disastrous.
  The art of the possible, hidden among the short fiction of the past, still holds huge appeal. Recent reissues by the larger publishing houses of the work of Robert Chambers, Blackwood and others proves this. With this in mind, the intriguing 'Double Star' proved rather more accessible a range of adventures than anticipated. A warning to the curious; don‘t pass these by.


PROTA 11 will be here in March.