For a specific purpose (see THEORY below), I have started another of my real-time reviews on this page. This time it is of the stories in Megazanthus Press’s CERN ZOO – Nemonymous Nine (June 2009).
I shall be trying to unravel emerging leitmoifs and an eventual gestalt whether or not intended by the authors and the editor (me) – both generally and in specific regard to a scientific theory that has emerged since the book was published, i.e. that the Hadron Collider is sabotaging itself from the future (THEORY: New York Times).
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/
An anthology of short fiction comprising these authors (in a random order): Rosalind Barden – Gary McMahon – Amy Kinmond – Tim Nickels – Bob Lock – Lesley Corina – Jacqueline Seewald – Dominy Clements – A.J. Kirby – Brendan Connell – Daniel Ausema – Gary Fry – Mick Finlay – Robert Neilson – Steve Duffy – Geoff Lowe – Stephen Bacon – Rod Hamon – Lee Hughes – Lyn Michaud – Tony Lovell – A.C. Wise – Roy Gray – Travis K. Weltman
This prose is on the very first page of the book and is met before anything else (i.e. even before the title page and contents). It seems to be a ‘fiction’ all in itself, expressing a time conundrum not out of place with the new theory that the Cern Collider is sabotaging itself from the future (labelled THEORY within this review). This introductory prose also pre-figures some of the stories in the book in short-hand notes and gives birth to the cover image which perhaps can be seen as a symbol of the future nobbling the present. This power of creative retrospectivity can also be seen in the transmuting within this prose of ‘Cern Zoo’ to ‘Zoocern’ (i.e. Susan, the girl’s name in the picture): and that is my only spoiler I hope to be included in this whole real-time review by dint of future hindsight. (17 Oct 09)
With most of my other real-time reviews heretofore, I have evaluated the stories as well as describing them and attempting to connect them. Here I have no need to evaluate them as stories, because I chose them to appear in the book and therefore self-evidently thought them to be great well-written stories in themselves as well as suitable for the book as a whole. I am now merely seeking new connections and interpretations during the book’s and my own future (i.e. ‘today’) in and out of context with THEORY that has since emerged.
Here we have a tale of intrigue / politics connected with dangers associated with the CERN project – laced with explicitly mentioned ’déjà vu’, the flash-past-forward ‘dust of centuries’ and hubris-Icarus-style and religious faith. An ostensibly open-ended fiction that seemed autonomously to need to publish itself at the start of this book. It now happily seems to be THEORY-in-action. I suspect few of the forthcoming stories in the book will fit so comfortably with this on-going gestalt, but I keep my powder dry. (17 Oct 09 – 2 hours later)
Since writing the above about ’Dead Speak’, its title has been nagging at me … as if those people we have killed in our future with our ostensible ‘bad’ ways today will have their final say today, too. Very telling, in the new context.
“Up and down, round and along until after a series of twists and turns, you come back to where you started from.”
A relentless impromptu on the physical sensuality, the memories, the necessary decision-making associated with writing with a fountain pen. The indelibility compared to the transient ghosts as liquid stories – and life’s hindsight so impermanent, too, as the reader infers the impermanence of our planet itself. We only have today to make things dye permanently. Consideration of the internet (‘computer screen’) come to mind – and impending doom: the mistakes we make today travelling electronically back towards us…
Thoughts that brainstorm me rather than vice versa. (17 Oct 09 – another two and half hours later).
“There was however one character who was not only a permanent fixture, but whose static presence had a kind of strange dynamism all his own.”
The Cerne Abbas pub (its sign outside with doctored image of the famous chalk giant) has, inside its ancient public bar, a ‘moment’ of moving serenity (as modern times rush past all around) and I shall not delve further into that serenity’s nature for fear of spoiling this truly remarkable and haunting story. I am so enthralled by its now ever-tantalising association with THEORY that I am aghast I never noticed such considerations before today. (17 Oct 09 – another 2 hours later)
The Last Mermaid
This story is a closely-described panorama of lizard skin and fish-tail – and, today, for the first time, I notice, it literally inverts the merging relationship from the book’s cover image. It is a word-febrile delight, this story – and presents a menagerie of strange creatures and concepts. Of exquisitely tangible tastes … smells and pungent desires. And imaginary cures that are really poisons. Other than its serendipitously mutant depiction of the cover, I wonder how it all relates to THEORY. Perhaps this will become clearer as real-time expires. The story more readily encompasses the Zoo aspects of this book, as opposed to its Collider and/or Chalk Giant aspects. (17 Oct 09 – another 4 hours later)
The Lion’s Den
“They both saw the lions fall upon him, and then he was lost beneath their colliding bodies…”
This could be the enduring Zoo story of all time (i.e. all Zoo and nothing but Zoo at length) – a substantial experience of supreme stylistic accomplishment by someone who surely must have worked in a Zoo for the whole of his or her life. As well as its sheer plot-driven power, there are moments of feral wonder and secret machinations well in tune with this whole book’s own onward drive. Much video time-shift … and a photographic angst which reminds me of the frantic day a year ago when I took the photograph that is now on the book’s cover because I had to run back a long distance with a borrowed camera to capture the image before my transport left without me. An image that is also in tune with this story in so many inscrutable ways.
I have now discovered that a variation on the theme of THEORY is of this story’s essence, giving even more dimensions to it. The action takes place before and after the 1999-into-2000 New Year when the Millennium Bug was rampant, a phenomenon that reminds me of what we have been talking about in relation to the Hadron Collider. And this story’s new Memes meanwhile are perhaps quietly roosting like Hitchcock’s Birds, except they’re not just birds…
“Along the walls, the watching worm-lizards pressed greedily against the windows…” (17 Oct 09 – another 3 hours later)
This short-short fable, as well as being a parody of our modern Health & Safety political correctness, is a very telling view of our continual battle with Fate casting all of us as CernZooans in a Gulliverean way. I defy any reader to deny that this piece is steeped in the retrospectivity of THEORY. This is its opening line: “Jeremy’s party ended with an ostrich-egg-sized bump on his forehead and three paper cuts, just because he decided to ban violent video games.” (18 Oct 09)
Thanks, G.S. Carnivals, for reminding me today of this poem:
THE SECOND COMING by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
The Rude Man’s Menagerie
This is an apocalyptic story deriving from the Chalk Giant thread weaving through this book as well as the Zoo one, where chalk drawings become a menagerie of creatures, comprising the female protagonist’s touching (still conversational) relationship with her dead Dad and her righteous cause against the Rude Man drawing in the well-depicted landscape and the Rude Man’s own tethered chalklings. One cannot do justice to the crop of joy and anguish intermingling so tellingly. It is a fictional rite of passage like none other, I suggest. One that will haunt you with chalk dreams. It does me.
Here, too, the Dead Speak again (as part of THEORY?): an added dimension I had not appreciated before. Or is this me hindsighting yet again? (18 Oct 09 – three hours later).
Window To The Soul
“‘Welcome to CERN ZOO. We buy your unwanted memories,’…”
Another fable that deals with the core of this book, I feel. Today, even more so than I originally thought, with explicit reference to the Higgs particle itself so central to THEORY. Hindsight and pathos, exquisitely conveyed, with Alzheimers perhaps on some future horizon cone-zeroing back in on us through time… (18 Oct 09 – an hour later)
“…Sam: tall, boyish, sharp-of-nose and eyes full of tomorrow, she…”
This tour-de-force (literally!) — well, it is tucked away in the Cern Zoo book and, like other stories here, deserves a wider readership. How can anyone go through life without, for example, reading ‘Salmon Widow’? But it passes even under the radar of most of the reviews, too. Even (almost) under mine, other than to say: it is a swirling rich fishbone-marrow A.S. Byatt time-woven shoal of images and emotions and horrors and coincidences and ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ with Kate Humble or David Mitchell or Marcel Beque or Prickle / Holly / Samantha… all conveying a real story-plot.
All I can really do is quote the actual writer of this story who has given me permission to quote here what he or she wrote to me when he or she heard about THEORY: “Salmon Widow’s circular construction was not unmindful of Hadron. Similarly Marcel’s snakebelt, that from some angles might be seen to eat itself. And remaining on the mournful: as you’ll know, the Old English Cerne (hmm, from the Old French “dark circle”) refers to a cairn or grave. Big Crunch theory suggests that we’ll meet ourselves on the way back: the collision may or may not be pleasant.”
This writer has also reviewed the whole CERN ZOO book (other than ‘Salmon Widow’) here:
“Perhaps her husband had joined her…” (18 Oct 09 – another 3 hours later)
“…the clouds threatening a rain that had not yet come…”
A simply beautiful short tale of a girl collecting pink pebbles from a beach and the boy protagonist who met her. Ending with a dying fall that contains a poignant contentment at impossibility. It seems a shame to mould the meaning further than that. But did she really seek just one pebble, one particle of our existence? The story does not give the answer to that question because, I suppose, it does not ask it. (18 Oct 09 – another 2 hours later)
The Shadow’s Departure
A dark vision of Distraction, derelict Glass Factories, enticing madness… this is the Shadow of the Future that is tied to us all. Whether we reach full liberation from it is a knot or ligottum that few can untie. It is just that (and this is my thought and perhaps not the story’s) if the future speaks to us we are truly the Dead who Speak back to it.
In honour of this story, I have concocted a short waking-dream from its Synchronised Shards of Random Truth & Fiction, i.e. distilled from the prose in its first half (I dare not distil anything from its second half!):-
the secret life of broken glass
a shadow haunted sector that even the cranks and the closet cranks of academia dare not analyze
I secretly hoped to meet that one-in-a-million madman who clasped some shocking inner truth
the stupid whir of a trillion pointless devices (19 Oct 09)
Inspired by last entry above and by ‘Salmon Widow’: SHOALS (19 Oct 09 – an hour later)
Being Of Sound Mind
“…sending an attack of the vbvbvbv’s into a current opus.”
One of a number of stories in ‘Cern Zoo’ that I accepted and contracted without first knowing who wrote it – a writer who has since kindly given me much information on Time and Parallel Worlds and other philosophies that also perhaps underlie the Cern phenomenon. As does the story itself implicitly and explicitly.
An enthralling and touching and concept-provoking story of someone recently retired now taking fiction-writing more seriously, later facing a whispering then clamouring ‘political correctness’ after the sudden bubbly arrival of a mysterious ‘granddaughter’ manqué. This plot really blossoms even further in the (for me) new light of THEORY. I am so glad I spotted this memorable intarsia of ‘magic fiction’ before fully appreciating it as such. (19 Oct 09 – another 2 hours later)
The girl on the cover suddenly has a pain in her stomach. Or on it. Incredibly, now, I find, in hindsight, this brief and (for me) hilarious joke letter to a doctor is the plainest example of the power of hindsight itself. This all seems to be in a synergy with THEORY that I, as editor, never foresaw. (19 Oct 09 – another hour later)
“’I wish you were real,’ she whispered.”
I just ended re-reading this story with tears in my eyes. It’s that kind of experience, especially today, in context. A tale of Mellie, a Child as Mother of Man – faced with a ‘lost domain’ Zoo beyond the woods we know, of memorable inward atmosphere, in company with other children (one boy as their internal ‘pied piper’). ‘David Almond’-like sensibilities are punctuated with visions of a metal bird and shadow-creatures (both in tune with ‘The Shadow’s Departure’) and a Salmon …
And a caged version of her own stuffed purple hippo at home…and much more. Extrapolating wildly in an uncaged way, I feel this is the Zoo of ‘The Lion’s Den’ version of future self in logical progression as transmuted and rusticated by its return journey come back to haunt itself with pathos as well as bathos. (19 Oct 09 – another 2 hours later)
Turn The Crank
“Jonas was standing outside what had been Woolworth’s plucking a quiet tune out of his acoustic guitar.”
But not quiet for long, as an organ-grinder with a caterwauling organ disrupts the pitches of various buskers. This is, for me, a very effective Horror story that tells of the mayhem caused and of how people can be caged as if in a Zoo in more ways than just in a cage. Without reading it, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I’m only glad – that although this is a typical British city scenario – it appears it all takes place on an island hopefully far from where I live.
Significantly, from the stuffed hippo in the previous story to the organ-grinder’s stuffed monkey (both of whom come to life in their own special ways), this turns the clock as well as the crank in much the same way as in Elizabeth Bowen’s masterpiece of a story: ”The Inherited Clock“. Like beng sucked into the Collider itself. (19 Oct 09 – another 2 hours later) .
The Devourer of Dreams
“…the balance between madness and sanity tipping many times before I wrestled it straight.”
I really think this story is even more horrific than its own author may realise and even beyond the scope of its own words. It mentions an Isle of Cern at the beginning (matching the island in the previous story) but search how you might it is only linked in some obscure corner elsewhere in the raw text to a zoo – whence the text’s huge spider-like creature (that both milks others and is milked itself for dreams) derives. This story itself makes you think you are its imaginative creator by dint of reading about that creature for yourself. It’s a sort of story that milks the reader to feed itself. I cannot emphasise that enough. It’s circular like the Collider and your head starts spinning at the implications. Not only a shadow from the future disguised as the past but a shadow of itself made double by being you as well as itself. (19 Oct 09 – another 3 hours later)
Just Another Day Down On The Farm
“The small striped animal sat petrified as he grabbed it and dragged it from the safety of its cage.”
Caged animals and a care regime that ends … I actually can’t tell you how this brief piece ends for spoiler reasons which is why I won’t. But it is ostensibly THEORY-based and quite quite cruel. And hilarious. I don’t know if this gives you a clue but the author wrote to me when he or she knew I was doing this review saying: “I’m pretty sure that if you want to travel back in time you would have to use Llamas. Travelling to the future is possibly best powered by gerbils, though there is probably a strong case for a mix of Yorkshire Terriers and Gnus. If I can be of further help please let me know.” (19 Oct 09 – 30 minutes later)
Strange Scenes From An Unfinished Film
“‘I’m not important. I have nothing to offer… I have no story to tell.’”
In some ways similar to ‘The Devourer of Dreams‘, this story has power beyond its own means. It seems half-finished in itself, if not Unfinished. It also shares the fabricated (theatricalised) visions I sometimes see in “Mellie’s Zoo” and “The Shadow’s Departure”… and it is telling that the ‘unfinished film’ is on Video, i.e. a spool’s slow spinning into which the protagonist is sucked as if into the (unfinished?) Collider in a similar way to how I hypothesised the sucking-into of ‘Turn The Crank’. It is mysterious how it also has the power of a famous Nemonymous story of the past (“The Vanishing Life and Films of Emmanuel Escobada“) and, furthermore, the Director of the film in question in this Cern Zoo story is assassinated before his career takes off, as if the imputed author writing about it is also ’assassinated’ by the story he or she is writing and that we are reading. Coupled with elements of deja-vu, this is a remarkable tale that grows on you even as it shrinks in size and diminishes into static, but the visions in its last two pages are surely sufficient recompense alone for buying Cern Zoo. (19 Oct 09 – another 2 hours later)
“She had the kind of nervous self-effacing personality that instinctively compelled people to be cruel to her.”
My morning starts with a re-reading of this highly poignant tale of a derelict Zoo which still has caged animals – an original scenario at which I defy you to stop thinking about as you go through your own day. Also, a believable Office situation where our protagonist is bullied for no other reason than the shadow of Fate somehow determines it. As well as in itself, this brief story, when complementing (and being complemented by) other stories in this book, is a landmark reading experience and it is a shame that it has so far mainly stayed under the book reviewers’ radar. Perhaps that it is its Fate, too. I love it and will come back to it over the years to re-live the experience. (20 Oct 09)
The Ozymandias Site
“Our Five were on the verge of all-out civl war…”
This is a substantial SF story. Well-written. Significant, too. How significant, I’m not sure, as I am not a current expert on modern SF. I would like someone who is an expert to tell me how significant it is. My gut feeling, every single part of me, tells me it is highly significant. And not just because it explicitly mentions Cerne Zoo! It is specially significant in the light of THEORY. The Hadron Collider supposedly in ‘civil war’ with itself is just one level of consideration – and there are several other levels of this plot relevant. If there is something significant going on between this Book and the Future (CERN-wise), then this story is its ring-leader. A first person plural narrative of a five-way-colour uncollective-conscious in one ‘body’ is an observation on my part that only scratches the surface of this story and its repercussions or implications. I need others to report in and give their views. And I also wonder if I missed whether we ever know the colour of self? (20 Oct 09 – three hours later)
“…Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, among others who have contemplated the possibility that souls exist in not only people…”
Another important story that has so far escaped under the radar. A touching and original ghost story about Zoo creatures and the death-bed confession of Cerne Lincroft (Christened thus as he was said to be conceived under the aegis of he Cerne Abbas chalk giant) who once smuggled an elephant with him on an aeroplane between USA and UK because the elephant felt home-sick. However, the story is far more tender and serious than that implies. It has a telling connection with THEORY, too, vis a vis its take on Animism. (20 Oct 09 – another 4 hours later)
Sloth & Forgiveness
“‘I was OK until you stood on my toe – and then it all went down hill from there.’”
An enjoyably quirky Aesop-type fable that at last explains what Cern Zoo really is and gives an aspirationally happy ending (by inadvertence) to “Just Another Day Down On The Farm” and with its take on forgiveness gives an oblique slant on THEORY. Bravo! (20 Oct 09 – another 30 minutes later)
City of Fashion
Now we really come to the beginning of the poignant dying fall of ‘Cern Zoo’ as a book. A worthy companion pub story to “Artis Eterne” – here a pub called ‘The Cerne Zoo’: marooned in the downtrodden, increasingly sodden City with its close but changing community of pub regulars, all dreaming of when the Swiss landlord moves them (as he falsely promises) to a new pub in the Swiss Lakes. It is not a surprise to me that it is Switzerland: to where British people travel these days (because of the law) for an assisted death by euthanasia: and where CERN is situated inasmuch as some commentators say not that the Collider is sabotaging itself from the future but actually committing suicide. [And the landlord has family connections with a glass factory, the one which, I infer, is described in “The Shadow’s Departure”… perhaps appropriately]. (20 Oct 09 – another hour later)
Fragment of Life
This ends the book as ‘To Let’ similarly ended ‘CONE ZERO’, ordinary life now in credit crunch Britain, and like the recession-islanded pub in ‘City of Fashion’, property becomes just places for ghosts rather than people. But before that process is ended, here, in ‘Fragment of Life‘ (like one of my all-time favourites stories, i.e. ‘Fragment of Life’ by Arthur Machen), there is almost a wishful-thinking on my part for a mystical undercurrent to the bare necessities of prose. Yet, poignantly, not for long. This heart-rending story concerns an ordinary working-class family’s engagement with childbirth. And its echo in a ‘ghost’ next door seen with a glass of milk. Almost unbearable. This Ghost Story (for that’s what it essentially is in an original way) should be anthologised in future Ghost Story collections as one of the modern greats. I wonder if the milk is akin to that in ‘The Devourer of Dreams’? I can speculate forever about some of the implications. Indeed, I feel I am witnessing here a parallel to THEORY as now discovered to be threading this whole book: the future soul trying to speak to its present soul (Dead Speaking through opposite windows in two houses) but in fatal symbiosis?
This story has one of the best last sentences of any stories I’ve read. So it must be one of the best last sentences of any book I’ve read, too! I won’t quote that sentence but it seems to echo my thoughts on fatal symbiosis above: but in a perhaps more tantalising vein. Not hopeless so much as open-ended.
I will now leave others of a more strictly independent frame of mind to evaluate the book, but I hope my own views as its editor and publisher at least give some food for thought vis a vis life, the universe, everything. (20 Oct 09 – another 90 minutes later)
“I love the idea that this story could form a central part of the overall theory, the theory that the CERN collider is sabotaging itself from the future. It appeals to the part of me that loves conspiracies, the unexplained, the mysterious and majestic, which is exactly what I was hoping for with the story. The story is actually quite a bit different from most of what I write and was a bit of a leap into the unknown. And the idea of the five parts (the zoo) of the self came from a dream, so perhaps the CERN collider was speaking to me while I was asleep. At first I was going to have a zoo on the moon, run by humans, but then I decided to write humans out of the picture completely. It came from a desire to write about something beyond humans without resorting to anthropomorphising. It was an exercise in defamiliarisation which ultimately led me back to writing perhaps my most ‘humane’ piece ever – our future suicide, just like the suicide of the creature, which destroys itself from within. I think the story stands up well to a revisionist reading and I too would love to hear other theories about what the story means!”
He also reminded me that ‘The Lion’s Den has a ‘suicide’ theme.