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.

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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.


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.'

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