n. A piece of art made by sticking various different materials, aka PHENOMENA Magazine


There are more ideas to the page in this auspicious debut novel than many science fiction novels have in their entirety. In its twenty-second century world the world's survived the mega-terrorism of "the Outrage" that occurred in the 2060s and is now wondrously nanotechnical. Production is unneeded as any product can be extruded from recycled materials. Lifespans extend for hundreds of rejuvenated years. Nanoprocessors residing in one's body link to personal AI "valets" (later "mentars") that amplify one's life a myriad ways. Skilled trades -- like security and nursing -- are filled by an underclass of specialized clones, Robot "arbeitors" perform lowlier tasks. The world is so perfect there are just too many people for it. Jobs are scarce and money, for most, is scarcer. Core character Samson Harger, a packaging artiste, marries fellow "aff" -- "affluents" run the world with a pettiness and ruthlessness akin to medieval royalty -- Eleanor Starke, a high-powered corporate prosecutor who becomes one of the most influential people in the world. Just as they are granted the nearly unheard of privilege to have a child, their marriage is torn apart when Harger is misidentified by Homeland Command as a criminal and consequently "seared." Searing deprives Harger of the now-common (as long as one can afford it) lifespan of hundreds of years. He is left with perhaps four decades of life as a smelly social outcast. The story skips ahead 40 years and Starke, pursuing a colonization project to help relieve the masses, is assassinated in the crash of her space yacht, but daughter Ellen survives -- at least her decapitated head does. Ellen can be rejuvenated -- but only if her head avoids those who want her dead. The back story of Harger's seared life and subplots weaving around the goal of saving Ellen show more of the fascinating aspects of Marusek's dystopia and its denizens. Marusek evokes an impelling sense of wonder with an awesomely imaginative and all-too-believable future chock full of nifty details while allowing his characters to compel the novel. Counting Heads is a marvelous must-read from an author who must be noted as an important new voice in science fiction. -- (in CFQ Jan/Feb 2006 issue)   xwidget_78_Counting Heads  
John Doe · Jan. 17, 2023, 6:55 a.m.
xwidget_77_Play Dead   There's a lot of style to Play Dead and some will find a fast-paced, entertaining read. But... Michael Arnzen is a talented, intelligent writer. His flair and potential was first noted with his first novel Grave Markings (1994). Academia intervened and the fiction slowed as he completed graduate degrees and became a college professor. He re-emerged a few years back with poetry and short fiction. A trademark of Arnzen's recent work is its cleverness. With 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories, for example, Arnzen applied the "literary" device of flash fiction exclusively to horror so as to prove his stated point that "[h]orror is the genre of the jolt, the shock, the spark." Each short-short story was intended to elicit an immediate reaction from the reader. It was an interesting experiment. Some of the stories succeed as stories, many of them don't. I applaud the experiment and delight in the ingenuity. It may even stand as a pioneering effort. But, as a story collection, it is not a complete success -- at least by my definition. [In some ways, 100 Jolts is an expression of the 1984 Stephen King statement in Danse Macabre that is usually abbreviated to, "I'll go for the gross-out." A fuller rendition of that quotation is: "I recognize terror as the finest emotion... and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I cannot terrify him/her, I will try to horrify; and if I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud." I wonder if, more than twenty years on, Stephen King still feels this way? I can't speak for King, but, to me, horror is much more than "shock." Nor can I agree with Arnzen's belief (also from his introduction), "Horror stories conflict is always about life and death, but death...always comes as a surprise. The climax of a horror tale is almost unilaterally a killing blow, catching someone or something unaware."] Back to the point -- Arnzen is a clever writer and 100 Jolts is a clever experiment and worth reading, but it is not a great collection. Play Dead, his long-awaited second novel, is also clever, but it is not a great novel. Play Dead's cleverness is displayed in several ways. The most obvious: It's about card playing and is divided into four parts, one for each suite of the deck. It has 52 chapters, each representing a card of the deck. Another example: A character named Axe is a cook. He gets "the axe" at work. A character thinks, "Axe got the axe." A couple of paragraphs later the same character thinks about how he must "bury the hatchet" and make peace. On the next page the character finds Axe in a dumpster and decides he has to bury Axe and thinks: "Had to bury the hatchet. Literally." This is a book in which you know what will happen next if a character says, "You bet your life." And, of course, there is a great deal of wordplay with card and gambling-related terms. The plot revolves around Johnny Frieze, a none-too-bright gambler down on his luck. Johnny sees life as sheer chance and pure luck. A bad guy, Nebo, and his henchman, Winston, are setting up a game of "Butcher Boy" and each of four players must make up a suite of the deck by taking Polaroids that "capture life." This are then turned into cards. Extra points are added for creativity. (I'm sure there is no need to translate what "capturing life" means.) Once the deck is complete the four players are to play to the death with the single survivor walking away with a million bucks (and a lot of bad karma). Why? We are, at first, offered an obvious extolling of cliches by Nebo: "Playing people...Life is a game...Without the possibility of loss there is no game...This is my game...." We later get a possible supernatural tie-in involving "prophecy cards" and the power of capital "F" Fate. Johnny becomes a player and is to provide the spades. Johnny's fellow players are Shorty, Ferret, and Preacher. Like most fictional characters with unfortunate nicknames, these guys are homicidal maniacs and immediately go about "capturing life" with great psychopathological fervor. Johnny, however, tries to cheat fate and Nebo. There are two female characters. Gin is Johnny's love interest and, therefore, endangered. The first paragraph of their first love scene begins: "Her lips tested like warm bread..." and ends "She tasted like a warm worm of menthol scotch." She's a tasty girl. Violet is an old slot machine queen. (We are never sure how old. A hint comes from the end and places her over 65, maybe 70.) Violet reads the Tarot and talks about fate-with-a-small-"f". Violet has some odd quirks for someone who evidently believes in her cards -- like keeping her deck bound with a rubber band and calling card that sure sounds like the Knight of Swords the King of Swords. I'm reviewing from an Advanced Review Copy, so maybe the knight/king will change, but, the point is: for novel in which Tarot plays a role, it seems a bit under-researched. There's a penultimate card game (these cards are well-researched and far more convincing, even if you are not a veteran poker player) and a clever trick ending that may pull the rug out from under the entire book for you. Play Dead lacks the sort of authenticity that is hard to define, but notable when missing. Instead of living, breathing, right-out-of-Vegas characters we get varying degrees of characterizations and no real feel for Vegas's unique reality. Any environment demands a response and Vegas demands a great deal. A better sense of place might also have provided more psychological nuance and more atmosphere. Oh we are told Vegas is "heaven right smack dab in the middle of hell" and that that it offers the tourists "one big excuse to be a loser for a day, and be damned proud of throwing their money away in a perverse ritual as moronic as religious fasting" -- but we feel neither the damnation of the flames nor the artificial salvation of air conditioning. Likewise the living hell of addiction is an underlying metaphor, but the reader is unlikely to feel any of that particular hell either. As I said before the, some readers will find the novel be a fast-paced, entertaining read. Maybe it will be "good" for them. Not all novels are, after all, "great." But this one could have been somewhat greater and shown more than the potential the author is already known to possess. Or, perhaps, Arnzen's talent might have been better served with fresh material. (Play Dead's first incarnation was as his Master's thesis.) Whatever the case, I look forward to his future work. (from Cemetery Dance #53)
John Doe · Jan. 17, 2023, 6:52 a.m.
Touched by Venom is certainly not the first fantasy novel to deal with a headstrong outcast girl and her fascination with dragons, but it is definitely the first in which bestiality is not only a positive, but provides spiritual enlightenment. First of a planned trilogy, this remarkable debut novel prologues with its young heroine witnessing some highborn thugs violently murdering her father and crippling her mother. Nine-year-old Zarq, her father, beautiful older sister, and mother, Kavarria, are members of the pottery clan who live, as do similar serfs, on the estate of a dragonlord. Kavarria, despite belonging to the hated Djimbi race, is valued for her artistry, healing, and helpful spells. She has hopes that her sexually enticing eldest, Waivia, will capture a lusty young noblepis attention and move far up the societal scale. Itpis about the only way a female can better herself in the male-dominated feudal society. All plans go array, however, and Waivia becomes, instead, a lowly sex slave. Kavarria goes to extraordinary lengths to save her, but her heroics result in the violent events of the prologue. Zarq and her insane mother seek refuge first in the macabre Zone of the Dead then in a convent of castrated holy women who care for old bull dragons. Even after death, Kavarria remains a devastating presence in Zarqpis life and in an effort to escape maternal haunting, she turns to the comfort of the highly addictive venom of the dragons. Zarqpis story continues with many grim but fascinating twists as Zarq moves toward her seemingly impossible destiny as a dragonmaster. By the bookpis end, future triumph can be dimly envisioned and it is clear that Janine Cross is a significant new voice in fantasy. Donpit be misled by the totally inappropriate cover of a curvaceous brunette; this isnpit run-of-mill girl-meets-dragon fantasy. (CFQ Vol. 37, Issue #8) xwidget_76_Touched By Venom  
John Doe · Jan. 17, 2023, 6:48 a.m.
xwidget_75_The Tooth Fairy Reviewed by Hank Wagner Seven-year-old Sam Southall awakens the night he loses his first tooth and encounters a strange visitor. He surprises the odd little creature, who, after recovering its composure, reveals itself as the Tooth Fairy of legend. Thus begins a relationship which endures until Sam leaves for college, a strange, touching, sometimes dangerous association that adds spice and terror to Sam's otherwise normal existence. The Tooth Fairy, whose appearance, demeanor and sex change constantly, accompanies Sam on his journey through adolescence, sharing his triumphs and tragedies, even ushering him into manhood with his first sexual experience. Along the way, the he/she/it protects Sam, but also exposes him to a variety of dangers; the mercurial creature is by turns adversarial and supportive, giving the novel a certain edginess. From the outset, Joyce stresses the uncertainty of life. One of the more horrifying events in the novel takes place well before the Tooth Fairy appears. In the book's opening scene, one of Sam's friends is attacked by a pike as he dangles his feet in a stream. The boy loses a toe, and is destined to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. The attack, frightening because of its suddenness and harshness, is a stunning reminder of how quickly lives can change. One minute you are safe, bullshitting with your friends, the next you are being hurried off to the emergency room. It also points out that no one is in control -- neither children nor their parents. Joyce's point is that the only sure thing in life is change--he expresses this sentiment perfectly, using Sam as a prism. Who better to portray the ambiguity of life than a teenager, whose perceptions change along with his body? Joyce uses his innate understanding of childhood to great advantage, creating a story that can be taken as a supernatural tale or as a psychological study of a troubled adolescent grappling with impending adulthood. Joyce returns to the theme of ambiguity again and again. Consider, for example, the Tooth Fairy's gender or lack thereof -- its form varies with Sam's age and mood. Besides its physical malleability, it also assumes a striking variety of roles, acting in turn as friend, foe, prophet, protector, lover, and conscience. While it often taunts and threatens him, it also helps him handle bullies, protects him from crazy adults, and initiates him into the wonders of sex. In short, it is whatever Sam needs it to be. There is also the question of whether the Tooth Fairy exists at all -- the book permits either interpretation. Interestingly, the Tooth Fairy appears to Sam soon after a traumatic event at school. One might say that it appeared in response to the event, perhaps as Sam's coping mechanism. Thereafter, its visits coincide with the turbulent events in Sam's life, suggesting that it may all be in his mind. Cunningly, Joyce has Sam visit a psychiatrist, to whom he confesses all about the Tooth Fairy. The psychiatrist, bent on fulfilling his own expectations, blithely ignores Sam, choosing instead to pepper him with inane questions about his sexual urges. Considering the differences between The Tooth Fairy and Requiem(the only other of Joyce's seven novels to find U. S. publication), it's hard to predict what the author, a three time winner of the British Fantasy Award, will do next. Based on prior experience, however, it promises to be strange and original. In the meantime, we can hope that all his previous work somehow finds its way to the US. I for one am looking forward to that day. -- Hank Wagner
John Doe · Jan. 16, 2023, 3:06 a.m.
xwidget_74_Smoking Poppy Note to those who vote for the British Fantasy Award: I realize Graham Joyce has won your Best Novel award four times -- for INDIGO (2000), DARK SISTER (1992), REQUIEM (1994) and THE TOOTH FAIRY (1996) -- but you'd best just engrave another trophy to Mr. Joyce. If he deserved the four previous wins (he did), then there is no denying him a fifth for his latest (and so-far greatest novel), SMOKING POPPY. Note to anyone else involve in similar literary "contests" including non-genre awards: See above and please note this book is being published in calendar 2001 in the UK which qualifies it in many cases for this year's awards. Note to any film producer with a lick of sense (admittedly a fairly empty category): This one is hot. It's got it all. Roles any actor would die for. Jungles. Opium. A scantily clad babe in distress. A charismatic drug warlord. Look, don't worry about the fact it's intelligent, has depth, and is beautifully written. We'll dump all that stuff. Maybe add a few special effects. Are there volcanoes in...where the hell is this set...Thighland? No, nothing like Brokedown Palace. Think Traffic combined with Apocalypse Now (minus the war) and rescue/adventure! Whatever. I'm telling you, move on this one. Note to the perceptive reader: Don't even take the time to read this review. Just buy the bloody book and read it. It's one of the finest novels you'll ever grasp in your grimy paws. Danny Innes is the Brit equivalent of what Americans call a "regular joe." An electrician by trade, he's alienated from his adult children, recently separated from his wife, and a bit befuddled as to how it all came about. All he's ever done is his best to love and provide for them, but there he is, kicked in the teeth and alone. Then he's told his daughter, Charlie (Charlotte), has been arrested for drug trafficking in Thailand and is imprisoned in Chang Mai. Danny has to go. No matter how estranged they've become -- Charlie had gone off to university at Oxford and come back multiply pierced and with "the politics of an international terrorist" and he hasn't heard from her in two years -- it's his little girl and it is up to him to do what he can. Danny, like most men, is a "fixer." When confronted with a problem -- whether it is frayed wiring or a daughter facing life imprisonment or execution -- he wants to fix it. Danny, although not a recipient of higher education, is a voracious reader who uses books "the way some people do alcohol, to obliterate the noise of the outside world." (Although of late, our Dan's been knocking back quite a bit of whiskey and not a few ales.) He's the sort of autodidact who has accumulated vast amounts of the sort of knowledge that makes one wizard at trivia. Like most self-taught intellects, Danny's brain acquires information in what "educated" types would consider an odd fashion. He picks up books by Keats, Coleridge, Baudelaire, De Quincey, and Rimbaud from the library (along with a more technical guide to drugs) because someone's told him they were notable dope-fiends and he wants to find out more about the stuff. Of course, unhampered by the prejudices of "education," Danny also can make associations and gain insights his allegedly-learned brethren can not. Danny goes off to Thailand accompanied, somewhat to his distress, by his "best mate" Mick and religious zealot of a son, Phil. Mick Williams is a blustering bull of a man, but possessed of a lively intelligence and undauntable determination to help his friend--despite the fact that Danny has never considered Mick a friend. Phil is as repressed as Mick is unrestrained. Three years older than his sister and a laboratory technician, Phil has distanced himself from his father with a parsimonious nature and complete dedication to Christian fundamentalism. The incongruous trio hit Thailand and are confronted with a world more alien (and perhaps more survivable) than the bottom of the Marianas Trench. They are also dismayed to discover the young woman imprisoned in Chiang Mai is not Charlie. Despite the utter incompetence of the foppish local British Consul, they manage to question the imprisoned girl and her information gives them a possible location for Charlie -- a small village near the Myanmar border, a lawless area that requires a trek through near-impassable mountainous jungle terrain to reach. The journey through the jungle to the poppy fields and the borderland village where they find Charlie is one of many layers of discovery. Any reviewer is compelled to discern parallels between SMOKING POPPY and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The similarities are there: the relentless dread that overhangs all like the vines and trees of the jungle, the filtering of reality through the protagonist's point of view, the indictment of Western imperialism, the allegorical journey and eventual rebirth. But this is no Conrad pastiche. Joyce does leave us with some mysteries, but there is none of the vagary of Conrad's oppressive but never-delineated horrors. Nor is this a solo personal expedition like the one Marlow takes. It's a family story about relationships and truth, love and the ability to learn and heal; the discovery of a spiritual world -- both a personal inner espial and one with literal unseen demons. And when Danny and his crew arrive at their "Inner Station"-equivalent, it is not a scene of savage horror: it is the start of the true journey. SMOKING POPPY is also an extraordinarily entertaining book. There is the element of exotic travelogue: the author has knowledgeably, lovingly, and accurately represented a culture few Westerners know anything of. Not that this is a glossy vacation-in-fascinating locale telling -- the sweat, the insects, the smells are all part of his rendering. Most of all, the people Joyce has created -- and they are amazing living, breathing creations you can scarcely consider fictional, people you will know forever -- are hilariously human. In their foibles and flaws, their blindness and even their revelations -- we see ourselves. There is the kind of recognition and reaction we all must have to survive: we must laugh even as we weep. Danny is closed, emotionally cut-off, and blind to everyone, everything around him. To be allowed to share in his enlightenment is like being granted your own redemption. There's more. Much more. There's never been any question that Graham Joyce is a gifted writer, but with SMOKING POPPY he attains a new level. He is in the prime of his writing-life and may well progress beyond it -- an awesome consideration. -- Paula Guran, originally appeared in Cemetery Dance #37
John Doe · Jan. 16, 2023, 3:02 a.m.
xwidget_71_The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Thirteenth Annual Collection Now in its thirteenth year, this excellent anthology series just keeps getting better and better. Stand-outs among the stand-out dark stories this year include two by Steve Rasnic Tem -- "Heat" and "Halloween Street"; the exquisite "The Emperor's Old Bones" by Gemma Files; the exotic "The Tree Is My Hat " by Gene Wolfe; Gary A. Braunbeck's melodic "Small Song"; Neil Gaiman's deliciously wicked "Keepsakes and Treasures: A Love Story"; the clever "What You Make It " by Michael Marshall Smith (both Gaiman and Smith also have excellent "fantasy" entries, as well); "Shatsi," a devilish piece by Peter Crowther; noirish "The Kiss" by relative newcomer Tia V. Travis and novella "White" by British newcomer Tim Lebbon; "You Don't Have to be Mad..." by the deservedly ever-present Kim Newman; Paul J. McAuley's evocative "Naming of the Dead"; the sensual "Crosley" by Elizabeth Engstrom Along with the usual yearly honorable mentions and summations -- Windling on fantasy, Datlow on horror, Edward Bryant on various media, Seth Johnson on comics, and "Obituaries: 1999" by James Frenkel -- Douglas E. Winter's must-read nonfiction essay on the horror field, "The Pathos of Genre," is also included. Datlow and Windling continue to set a standard that no one else can match.
John Doe · Jan. 13, 2023, 9:53 a.m.
xwidget_69_The Facts of Life Joyce plays us all like a bloody banjo -- and it's a fine tune By Paula Guran Once in a rare while, a book reaches out and grabs you. It gets hold of you emotionally in a way that's hard to understand and impacts you with the force of a hurricane. Nails you to the wall, it does, and even makes you bleed a little. Graham Joyce's novel THE FACTS OF LIFE did that to me. I can't promise that it will do the same to you. I suspect you may have to have a few years under your belt to appreciate the novel fully. But even at half-gale force, it's still a hell of a book. On the surface, it's the story of the Vine family of Coventry, England during World War II and the years after. The focus is on young Frank, the illegitimate son of Cassie, the flighty youngest of seven sisters. Cassie is too unstable to care for an infant herself, but is unwilling to give him up for adoption. Matriarch Martha determines that the entire family will share in raising Frank, "Turn and turn about." Since Martha can play them all "like a bloody banjo" the matter is settled. Martha is the vital heart of the Vines. Her seven daughters, their mates and offspring, orbit around her as if she were a mighty planet and they her multitude of moons -- separate, but held in the universe by her natural force. Or perhaps that's "supernatural force" since Martha quietly receives inspirational otherworldly messages and has precognitive dreams; a knock on her door may as easily come from a visiting spirit as from the postman. Of all her children, only Cassie possesses similar "special" abilities. Cassie's "gift" is wilder and uncontrollable and leads to "blue patches" of self-destructive depression. It is soon apparent that Frank, too, is "special," and Martha realizes he must be particularly protected. U.S. CoverJoyce follows the family members through a decade of sharing in the care of Frank. Vivid and affectionately characterized, the Vines are both uniquely eccentric and a microcosm of post-war Britain. After three years with Martha, Cassie and Frank go to live with sister Una and her farmer-husband Tom Tufnel. (The sisters are named alphabetically by vowel -- Aida is the eldest, followed by twins Evelyn and Ina, Olive, and Una. Having run out of vowels, Martha started on consonants, ending with Beatrice and Cassie.) When Una has twins of her own, Frank and his mum go to the spinster twin sisters Evelyn and Ina. The twins are involved with spiritualists who wish to kindly exploit Frank's abilities. Next they live in an eccentric, intellectual, sexually "liberated," radical (and hilarious) commune in Oxford with Beatie, the sister afflicted with "too many brains," and her partner Bernard. After another stint with Martha, Frank goes to live with his Aunt Aida. Aida's husband Gordon is a mortician with a "home office"--a small mortuary behind his house. Olive and her husband William wind up not participating in Frank's upbringing. They have their own brood to contend with as well as a marriage troubled by William's affair with a dead comrade's widow. Joyce reveals these characters primarily through the story of William's extramarital activities with the widow Rita and later with Olive's bitter feud with Aida. Throughout his peripatetic familial upbringing, Frank frequently visits the Tufnel farm -- where his great secret, the mysterious "The-Man-Behind-The-Glass," is buried in a field. The novel is a nostalgic and warm examination of the strength of a family and the meaning of love. But it is also more than that. There's a completeness to this story. Not so much in its narrative progression from point "A" to point "Z," but in its all-incompassing humanity. Joyce presents a story that includes birth, life, death, all the mysteries between, and some of that which is beyond. He makes it whole in a way few writers can. U.K. CoverBut, there's still more to it. Martha, living in an ancient city being bombed into oblivion, is -- unlike most 20th century Westerners -- still connected to the living universe. Western culture has devised a world where everything is objectified and "reason" supposedly reigns. Humanity, as it seeks to control the world, manipulates and exploits it; literally destroys it with the ever-rational machinery of war. Martha Vine, however, is possessed by a wisdom granted only to those still in touch with the larger design of things. Precognitive abilities and attenuation to spirits are simply part of her being. Cassie's wild connection to the living universe is stronger and less controlled than her mother's. She is compelled to participate in life in ways the detached modern observer would see as impossible and insane. Her earthy sexually, her ability to talk to the dead, the way she can exist in a world where the symbolic is made concrete, and see straight through flesh and into the soul would have, in another era, made her a shaman, prophetess, priestess, goddess, or queen. But in the 20th century -- she's considered more than a bit crazy. Joyce has always been an outstanding storyteller and he is merely telling the story. He's drawing no conclusions. He's not setting out any explanations. The supernatural elements in The Facts of Life are portrayed with a naturalness, conviction, and subtlety that makes fantasy real. These things just are. You cannot doubt them. They are simply a different perspective than the "scientific" one we filter through. With prose now graced with even more assurance and power, Joyce has excelled himself and that's saying quite a bit. This one is Booker Prize material and the Brits are barmy if they don't see it.
John Doe · Jan. 13, 2023, 9:42 a.m.
xwidget_68_The Limits of Enchantment The fictional worlds that Graham Joyce creates invariably lay in a territory that is a nexus of paths and borders, a place where the divides touch. His overall theme seems to be the nature of the supernatural -- that which is beyond nature -- in the context of the natural. The core question: If humans perceive something to be natural -- to belong within the ordinary -- then is this something of nature or beyond it? We filter the universe through a "scientific" rational perspective, but is our perspective any more "true" than a perspective that includes "magic"? Joyce's fantasy is very real; his reality is frequently fantastic. His fictional characters are highly believable, especially when facing the incredible, and they live in environments that, even if they don't exist, mold them. The darkness in his stories once came primarily from explorations of his characters' relationships and their own "darkest hearts. In the course pf the story, the dark became manifest and there were consequences of that manifestation. With just-previous novel, The Facts of Life and now The Limits of Enchantment, the connection becomes subtler. There are those who, despite living in "our" rational world, are still in touch with a world beyond our reason. In both books there is an older women whose wisdom comes from a larger cosmology and a younger woman forced to deal with the world's denial of that cosmology. The darkness in these two books lies in the friction between the two worlds and secrets that must be kept safe to survive. The heart of darkness is humanity's ability to be inhumane, but the light of salvation lies in humanity's ability to cherish its own. As for The Limits of Enchantment -- It is 1966 and the world teeters on yet another point of transition and even the small Midlands village where seventy-seven-year-old Mammy Cullen and her adopted daughter, Fern, live reflects it. Astronauts circle the Earth, but the cottage in which the women live lacks indoor plumbing. There is still a lord in a manor to deal with, but free-living hippies have moved in nearby. Old-fashioned midwives, like Mammy, can no longer legally ply their trade, but many people still rely on her skills. Abortion is illegal, but the women can rely on Mammy's hedgerow herbal medicine to help them. "Though she never let anyone go without a lecture, she never said no to a desperate girl" -- but each must also divulge the name of the father. Mammy and Fern live in an in-between world surrounded by secrets that can both protect and destroy. "Mammy was the apostle of the Don't Tell, preaching the gospel of the Say Nothing." Mammy's "resistance to letting it all spill" applies to her own "history" as well. What little Fern knows, she's had to piece together over the years. Fern, who narrates the tale, is also on an edge and in-between. She's 21, or near to it, but still a child for whom Mammy interprets the universe. She treasures a small transistor radio and the pop tunes of Radio Caroline, but has been taught (and sings) a wealth of folk songs. She's sexually naive, despite an intimate knowledge of the earthier side of Mother Nature and awakening sexually while all too aware of the dangers of involved. Mammy has taught her a great deal, but always keeps back the deepest of the mysteries in which she tells Fern she will someday partake -- mysteries and magic in which Fern only half-believes. When a local girl, pregnant with an illegitimate child, dies after obtaining Mammy's herbal help, it appears the old woman is responsible. Even Mammy fears her own guilt and feels doom is upon her. A woman who protects herself by knowing so many secrets can also fall victim to those who would prefer no one knew them. On a visit to town, an unknown assailant pushes her into a fall. The duel troubles bring Fern into contact with two more of "the few" -- Judith, a young schoolteacher near Fern's age, and William, an old man who Fern knows as a beekeeper. As mammy's health worsens, William warns Fern not to let Mammy be taken to hospital, but Fern finds herself with little choice but to allow it. Until then "Mammy had stood like a door of oak and iron between me and the outside world," says Fern -- and the world that begins pushing in on Fern is an ominous one. Fern has been left unprepared to do battle against it, but she is just as unprepared to further enter into a pact with the powers she only half believes in. A raft of characters just as convincing as the major players reveal and revel throughout the tale, hindering, helping, menacing, and aiding Fern. We become so entranced that, by the story's end we can't but help wanting to know the rest of her life. (She'd be about 60 now and we are sure she has a life worth telling.) There's a great deal more to The Limits of Enchantment than the surface story and its obvious "between two worlds" motif. On one level, this is a story of fecundity and fornication with everyone going "at it" except the "thee and me" of Mammy and Fern (and, despite overtones of the 1960s sexual revolution, always have been). On another it is a tale of the downfall of castes and classes. For those who can't remember the sixties (which were actually the seventies), a different story may be interpreted that others may not see at all. ("If you can remember anything about the sixties, you weren't really there." -- Paul Kantner) Meanings shift depending on what the reader brings to the story. There's hilarity and wry observations of humanity, but Joyce never plays judge. At the outset, he has Fern tell us, "If I could tell you this is a single setting, then you might believe all of it, even the strangest part... If I could unwind this story in a single spool, or peel it like an one unbroken coil...then you might bite in without objection...." That's exactly how he tells the tale and it is easy to believe no matter how strange it grows. Every time a new Graham Joyce novel comes out, it turns out to be even better than the one before. This is a frightening thing as "the one before" was itself wonderful. Has the man exchanged his soul for this magic? If he has, I suspect he's sold it to the Goddess (whoever or whatever She may be) because along with the acquisition of pure literary skills, Joyce has also become one of the strongest "female" voices in fiction today. This is all the more extraordinary because Joyce gives manly blokes their due, too, (most specifically in Smoking Poppy), and, as anyone who has quaffed a drink or twelve with the author will testify, he's a right manly bloke himself. (from Cemetery Dance #53) 
John Doe · Jan. 13, 2023, 9:37 a.m.
This book has been out since October 2004. (Hint: If you want to be noticed by us humble dark reviewers, October is possibly the worst month of the year in which to publish anything.) If I hadn't received a copy (which I probably would not have if the author had not been a friend of mine), I would never have known it existed. Nor have I seen any evidence of it being out there. I hope I'm just being oblivious, because it does deserve attention. Veteran author Kilpatrick tackled a next-to-impossible task and accomplished it with acumen and a sense of humor. On the other hand, just having the audacity to write the "first complete guide to the goth movement" means that, no matter what she wrote or how she researched it, she's probably been condemned by at least some people who consider themselves goth. (The fact that goth godfather Mick Mercer and photographer Fred H. Berger, of Propaganda Magazine were both involved might deflect some subcultural sniping, but I doubt it.) Books like this are, of course, written for those outside a subculture not those within it. Kilpatrick offers respect and understands that "within shades of black, there's an awful lot of variation," something insiders and outsiders both tend not to comprehend. Although I've not asked the author, I also can guess, knowing publishing, that whatever this project started out to be may not be reflected in the ultimate product. Whatever the circumstances, it is a credible, readable reference sure to displease a great many people. Brava. (from Cemetery Dance #53) xwidget_66_The goth Bible  
John Doe · Jan. 12, 2023, 8:24 p.m.
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