Sunday, June 20, 2010

2 chapbooks from Nightjar Press

Michael Marshall Smith
What Happens When You Wake Up In the Night

Tom Fletcher
The Safe Children

Nightjar Press, 2009

A small British publisher Nightjar Press publishes small chapbooks. They are published in a limited edition of 200-300 copies, so you have to grab it as soon as possible. The two first authors, who opened the series and the work of publishing in general, became Michael Marshall Smith (needs no introduction) and Tom Fletcher, whose first novel will be published this year.

Since the book contains only one short story, to say something intelligible about the stories can only be, one way or another, told to readers some important moments of the narrative. So I can`t do it without spoilers. For those who believe spoilers are necessary evil and will not read any further, we can only say that these are two very strong story, but the stories are not something that would goose-on-skin-horrible (although the book publishers still are drawn towards horror). Which one is better? Both are good, you can easily buy both books.

For those who are not afraid of spoilers, we continue. The main theme of both stories is children. In Smith's story the protagonist is a little girl, the protagonist of Fletcher`s one lost his son. Smith has written fantasy, Fletcher - science fiction.

Maddy, still quite a child, in Smith`s story wakes up in the middle of the night. She is afraid of the dark, so she sleeps with a light. They agreed with her mother: Maddy sleeps with the light on, but if she wakes in the night, the girl can go to the parents' bedroom only if it is absolutely necessary. At this time, waking up, the girl discovers that the night light is off and thinks that her mother had violated the deal and turned off the light. Maddy wants to go to the parents' room to say that the mother had violated the deal. But the girl is not succeeding in that: in the darkness she can not find the door. Solid wall and there is no trace of a doorknob. After some time girl`s mother wakes up, hearing her daughter rustling. Mom said that Maddy has violated the deal by going to the parents' bedroom. Maddy also blames her mother that on the contrary, she has violated the deal, turned off the light in the Maddy`s room.

The contract did not violate anyone: the father, the mother and the girl woke up all in one room on the floor, where there are no windows, doors, cold and dark. Maddy's parents tries to understand what is going on, going past the walls in search of doors or windows, but no exit.

Smith, a superb stylist, shows excellent speech and thought of a girl, when she just wakes up in the middle of the night. She is capricious, rely more on imagination than on rationality; just such a silly. At the end of the story not a children's sadness, the bitter realization that nothing will change either today or tomorrow shows up in her thoughts, in the tone of her voice. So Smith alludes to the fact that the girl has managed to grow up, so long the three of them are in this room (they do not feel hunger, but the room is still cold and dark).

«What Happens When You Wake Up In the Night» is not only a sad story of hope and despair, but the lesson with a fair amount of author sneers: better to sleep, closing with a blanket and putting his head under the pillow.

Fletcher is more serious and concerned about the social implications. James gets on the train to go to work. Along the way he remembers his perished son. Looking during a trip to a futuristic landscape, he also recalls a line from a once read fantastic story: "Where are my safe children? Where is my flying car?" Indeed, James feels that the future has already arrived, but he still gets a train, and children continue to die. At the new place he is met by the administrator, who explains James' duties. They are a bit unusual: all that is required is just to sit in the lobby of the factory and once a week to check arrivals, checking their names with the database. The rest of the factory is fully automated. James is surprised, but agrees to work. Administrator is to leave for home, leaving the hero alone with the empty hall and a computer.

Fidgeted for some time of boredom, James suddenly hear sounds similar to the steps, and then cry "Daddy!" from the wall. James totally terrified and immediately calls the administrator who has left. Administrator arrives and opens a mystery of the factory to James: in its walls children, certain robots are produced, so similar to humans, that James with a long time does not believe that they aren't alive though the administrator says so. Why did the factory produce these little boys? The truth almost knocks James off his feet: children are sex toys. They were specially produced for rapists and pedophiles to secure real, living children. The administrator assures that children are robots and feel nothing. They look like real, but still not real. But they are crying, James` trying to say something. “Go home, administrator replies. And come back tomorrow.” And James leaves.

He received his safe children, thanks to robots. Children of flesh and blood must now be safe. But is this that security he dreamed of? Why the boy robot is called him Daddy?

«The Safe Children» is a story that does not leave even a robot indifferent.



Gray Friar Press, 2009

Young couple, Sean and Alison, comes to the Shewstone Hotel to spend the weekend in each other's arms. However, on arrival the first dislocations start: Booked room was paid for the previous weekend, as Sean and his wife were in the hotel last weekend. Solving the problem with room and with a credit card someone used without the knowledge of the owner, a husband and a wife finally overrun in the room. But the annoying things continue to hurt Sean: staff of the hotel and local guests treats to him as if they met him before and knew his habits. Sean gets angry and categorically stated that he had never been in this hotel. These little things could not spoil the rest, but the very next morning after his arrival Sean looks out of the window his wife goes by the handle with a certain man. The stranger turns around, and Sean sees that Alison goes with anyone else but with someone so similar to him that Sean understands that this is he.

Volk, not only a novelist, but also a screenwriter, makes good job with a plot, confusing it no worse than a cat playing about with a ball of yarn. Is the kidnapper of Sean`s wife his counterpart and who`ll gave a clue, we do not know until the last pages. The author managed to hold down the hero in the grip so feeling of madness climbs from the pages of novella. Sean, confused and mix-uped, can not trust anyone and he is one on one with himself. But is he alone? And who is he? He`d want to know, too.

The Norwegian word «vardoger» will not appear on the pages of the book. Sean probably does not even know such a word, but if he knew he would doubt: who of the two of them, he or his twin, are the vardoger?

Volk, succeeding in creating a nearly ideal atmospheric thriller, in the end cheats so much that in a card game for such deception he could get it in the neck. Artificial end like a patch on the new trousers slurs over the impression from the story. Nevertheless, the book asks an important question: are we who we are? And the writer answers: vardoger knows.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Black Static #16

Black Static #16
TTA Press

Jonathan McCalmont, reviewing this issue of British magazine devoted to horror in all its aspects, tries in a few paragraphs to disguise the fact that one can say just two words: all the stories in this issue are crap. Clearly, McCalmont does not want to offend the creators of the magazine, that`s why he invents numerous theories that justify its reluctance to call a spade a spade.

Have read the issue, I can not agree with McCalmont: stories, consisting the number, are not shit (well, OK, one of them is really is), but really pretty good.
Before we start with the prose, there is worth saying a few kind words to non-fiction section. Peter Tennant and Tony Lee are as always inclusive, generous in word and accurate in the estimates.

The issue is opened with one of the most powerful stories, «The Overseer» by Tim Casson. In his story, coincidence faces fate, despair faces faith in the best and the ability to watch faces the ability to see. Darius, who could become rich and not work until the end of his days, did not listen to wise advice of his father, wanted to commit suicide, but eventually had enough to eat pills and drank whiskey and passed out. After waking up there is no question about any wealth: for a living, he and several of his friends work in a kind of plant under the supervision of a mysterious man in a mask of a jackal.

The described time and place may resemble the early twentieth century London, but if the capital of the United Kingdom in the story is mentioned, we can only guess about the time. The atmosphere in the story is very gothic, dark, ominous. The main character feels doomed long before something happens with him. Due to the unforgettable atmosphere Casson managed to create a strong story about that is not horrible when you are watched, but it`s more terrible when you watch himself.
The story by M. J. Preston is much weaker. His «Extreme Latitude» is a diary of one of the scientists at the station, located near the North Pole. He feels lonely - and tends to become more self-absorbed. He almost can not go from the station and, eventually, begins to hear a strange noise.

This story is too cold, like the scene of action, and scientists are too plastic to empathize at least someone in the story, it`s like a diary written not by man, but cookies auto-filler.

«One Last Wild Waltz» by Mike O`Driscoll could won, put the author the fantastic element aside at all. The narrator's brother dies and he goes to brother`s funeral, but rather because he wants to see the wife of the deceased, since a youthful years he didn`t lost love to her. But even after the death the deceased shows his bad character, not giving lovers to live peacefully. Characters are described with affection and precision, but because of the horror element of conjecture at the end of the story, the whole composition seems rather far-fetched. It spoils the story, but not enough to just admit his failure.

Alison Littlewood`s story turned out lyrical and persuasive one. In her «The Empty Spaces» protagonists, two widower, live in their old age years in one house. One of them, Laurie, at the doctor says that he saw Marilyn Monroe in his room. His neighbor and the doctor suggest that Laurie has Charles Bonnet Syndrome: when due to poor eyesight brain itself fills the rest of the picture his eyes do not see. Laurie does not agree: it seems to him he really sees things that are actually there.
Despite the fact that one hero of the story has poor eyesight and the other - hard of hearing, the author`s hearing and vision is good: Littlewood wrote quite an original story which has almost the perfect rhythm and a very smooth writing. The best story of the issue.

The issue turned out good, if we assume that more than half of the stories in it is successful.

Friday, June 4, 2010

We Never Talk About My Brother

We Never Talk About My Brother
By Peter S. Beagle

Tachyon Publications, 2009

If someone begins to tell you about the death of the short story, show him this book as a living proof that the story, genre or not genre, it does not matter, is alive and well.

In this collection, Peter Beagle, known more for his fantasy novels, presents nine new stories, each of them deserves the highest praise.

Starting collection with the most powerful story is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, knocking down after reading the first story, you certainly want to read the entire book, and the sooner the better. On the other, moving lower and lower in content, feel some bitterness - the other ones fail to reach the level of the opening story. Beagle broke the sword: his story «Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel» which opens the collection are the best, but if the remaining eight ones inferior to it, then not too much. At the very least, a sense of frustration does not arise. This story tells about the childhood of the boy whose parents leave him with his uncle and aunt. Uncle Chaim is the artist, and the boy all his spare time spends in his studio, watching as his uncle paints. One day, when the uncle works on a portrait of the wife of his friend in his studio an angel shows up. This is a woman, and she requested that Chaim paints only her and nobody else. His uncle is stubborn at first, but then agrees, despite protests from his wife. Angel is a perfect poser: she does not get tired and all day can sit in the same position, she does not need to eat and drink. But the boy's aunt Rifke still feels that something is wrong with this angel: the angel knows almost nothing about the life on the earth, but she is silent about life on the heaven. The aunt with Rabbi reveals the secret of the mysterious angel.

The narrator, a little boy, is largely Beagle himself , what he acknowledges in the preface to the story, because it is based on the memories of the author about his childhood in New York. And this is the boy, and not Uncle Chaim, Aunt Rifke or the angel, who in the final pages makes the reader wince. This audacious in its precision and accuracy in drawing the characters, and simultaneously very touching and melancholy story of humility and self-sacrifice.

Children but those who had matured became heroes of the second story in this collection, which gave the title to the entire collection - «We Never Talk About My Brother». Older brother Jacob and his sister no longer mention in the conversation of younger brother Esau, after one case in their childhood: little brother warns his abuser, that he would run off the car. The next day it happens. The path of Esau in his life was easy. But his older brother also has its own secret. A strong story about, it may sound corny, good and evil, where the worst is that good and evil are always brothers, one blood.

«The Tale About Junko and Sayuri» occurs in Japanese set. Junko hits the otter, after recovery, a beautiful girl. The former otter Sayuki and Junko marry, live happily and would live so always, if not envy of Junko. Slim and graceful story.
In the «King Pelle the Sure» King unleashes a war with hiss neighbors just for fun. This leads to dire consequences for him and his country. Anti-war story in which the humanistic message does not hurt the eyes.

In «The Last and Only, or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French », perhaps, the strangest story in the collection, ordinary man, whose native language is English, loses his "Englishness" and becomes - becomes a Frenchman. That's only he does not see anything French in other Frenchmen.

The easiest tale in the book turns out «The Stickball Witch». Boy games on the street often have not the most pleasant consequences: the ball for the game in stickball accidentally flies into the courtyard of one woman, long rumored that she was a witch. The witch, however, shows himself to quite unexpected side. It is more realistic story, but the atmosphere created by the author still makes change your mind in the direction of fantasy. (If you have not yet felt a sense of humor of Peter Beagle, the title of the story should have been convincing you in his presence: it sounds funny, “The Stickball Witch”, doesnt` it?)

The final in the collection are «By Moonlight» and «Chandail». They are, perhaps, too monotonous and verbose. «Chandail», taking place in the world of Beagle`s novel «The Innkeeper` s Song», so deeply dives (the story takes place into the sea) in the theme of memory, describing the fear of our past, that we have to hold our breath.

Beagle has shown himself not only a good novelist, but also the absolute master of short fiction. «We Never Talk About My Brother» means one thing: we wait for his new short stories.

Lady Churchill`s Rosebud Wristlet #24

Lady Churchill`s Rosebud Wristlet #24

The 24th issue of this small press magazine doesn`t seem to taste hard science fiction fans: in this issue they will not see any spaceships or time travels or people of our time in world of 5-headed lizards. Epic\s&s fantasy fans`ll throw up their hands (or winkle their noses): the descendants of Conan and the royal families can not be found in the issue as well. The authors of the magazine write strange and ordinary (but not trivial-and-boring) prose at the same time (we call it so to avoid the word “mainstream”), but with the addition of the fantastic - more fantasy - elements. Even if you read the story about the other world - it's like our world.
I called the magazine small wittingly: stories, filling the magazine, are too small in size. There are, unfortunately, weak stories, mainly flawed by the fragmentary, incomplete, and there are those that are good, like jokes, but to call them stories is difficult.

Among the unequivocal successes is «Dusking» by Liz Williams. Light and elusive tale, like a moth, which fill this story. The girl, who lives with his aunt, dreams about dusking, but her aunt is strict to her and she does not allow the girl much. But here comes a young man from the family friend, who can be trusted to go with her niece at the evening, and the aunt can enable her to go dusking. But this is a little girl, she wants to know the unknown. Amazingly beautiful - and somewhat terrifying - story about what happens if a person is a long time to be kept in captivity.

In quite another way, but with the same emotional, Jasmine Hammer works. She showed itself in the story «Tornado Juice» not only like a wonderful teller, but also an original humorist. The girlfriend of the protagonist of the story Kaiko has the most beautiful hair in the world. With this the narrator begins his story. More than that - with their help, wrapped a lock of hair around his head, he can travel between the worlds. Worlds, however, are all somehow a bad lot: in one of the worlds people are squat and hairy, with their very long hair trailing on the ground. In the second world there are no people, whereas in the third winds constantly blow and tornadoes occur. The habit of the protagonist to lock himself in the toilet comes to travel to other worlds, but as well can lead to not the best consequences for him. Briskly written narrative, which to the original idea adds more thoughts about the complexity of human relationships.

Weaker than these two, but, nevertheless, also a good story «Superfather» by J. W. M. Morgan continues the issue. The story, as true as indicated by the title, is dedicated to the father of the family. Dad is really an odd one: participate with a set of sculptures in the exhibition "World Peace", offers his plan how to survive after a nuclear winter to the president, can not talk to family members for months, and then for some reason makes the refuge in his workshop. The son of superfather watches extinction of his father, but do seem to do nothing. A sad story about fathers and children, and that not everything can change, and whether you want to change that?

This LCRW issue is worth reading at least because of these three stories.