An ambitious, if uneven update of the King in Yellow set in modern Vancouver. The plot has echoes of Orpheus and Eurydice, with the ‘underworld’ beingAn ambitious, if uneven update of the King in Yellow set in modern Vancouver. The plot has echoes of Orpheus and Eurydice, with the ‘underworld’ being the surreal, doomed dreamscape kingdom ruled by an eldritch abomination. Graduate student and lucid dreamer Liz and her boyfriend Alex search for her missing friend, the artist Blake in Vancouver. They find themselves enmeshed in a sinister drug and magic fueled underworld.
Pros: The characters are for the most part, skillfully drawn. Kudos to the portrayal of the sexuality spectrum. Liz is an asexual in a loving, if complicated relationship with her boyfriend. Blake was involved with a male lover. All of these facts are presented in an organic manner. The writing is lovely and full of atmosphere. The nightmarish imagery of the liminal world of Carcosa, with its strange constellations and ruined, sky-piercing towers, is worth the price of admission.
Cons: The plot was a bit muddled, and a couple of characters—particularly the gun toting badass monster killer Lailah—was a bit of a false note. It felt like she belonged to a different story. The novel is short; I would have liked to linger in the author’s world a bit more. The loose ends the author leaves dangling would make an excellent sequel.
Recommended for fans of weird fiction, Caitlin R Kiernan, Shirley Jackson and the music of CocoRosie. ...more
Critics and fans tend to divide the work of Samuel R. Delany into two periods: pre-and-post Dhalgren. The argument is that Dhalgren marked a change boCritics and fans tend to divide the work of Samuel R. Delany into two periods: pre-and-post Dhalgren. The argument is that Dhalgren marked a change both stylistically ( non-linear narrative, postmodern techniques) and subject matter (eroticism, power differentials, and liminality).
While Babel-17 does have a more straightforward, genre-cognizant plot, the trippy, mind-fuck aspects of his later work are very much in evidence. The story concerns a poet/linguist/starship captain(!) and her attempts to decipher a mysterious language. The prose is dense and beautiful, full of poetic images. The multicultural cast is peopled with colorful characters, and many of the trademarks of Delany’s post-Dhalgren work are very much in play: sexual and societal outcasts and complex theoretical frameworks—this time, about the effect of language on the cognitive process....more
The new Tanith Lee novella combines ghost story conventions and zombie apocalypse fiction in an truly unique way. The “twist” is clever, but the shortThe new Tanith Lee novella combines ghost story conventions and zombie apocalypse fiction in an truly unique way. The “twist” is clever, but the short novel is more of a contemplative character study. The assembled cast are ghosts from a variety of eras that are all haunting a historic Great House in the moorlands of England. They share their histories in monologues that range from tragic to humorous. The faceted narrative mode shifts from contemporary to gothic and even has a smattering of Old English (Anglo-Saxon). Simultaneously, humanity has been plagued with zombies, which do not affect the undead company. The fantastic contrivances, though crucial to the plot, take a back seat to the leisurely character reveals. In this way, the novel reads more like a play. ‘Zircons May Be Mistaken’ might be the only zombie novel full of pathos and an exploration of the “human condition.”...more
People have suddenly developed a debilitating, and ultimately fatal allergy to the speech of children. It seems“Language is another name for coffin.”
People have suddenly developed a debilitating, and ultimately fatal allergy to the speech of children. It seems to start with Jewish families, particularly an esoteric sect that listens to sermons via shortwave radio in private lean-tos. But soon the language toxicity spreads to everyone, with the result being that no adult can stand hearing or even reading language. Symptoms include “facial smallness” (presumably, the tightening of facial skin), tongue thickening, and malaise.
The novel unfolds in three acts. The first act focuses on a single family as they struggle with a daughter’s increasingly poisonous effect on her family. Narrated in the sardonic first person voice of Sam, who does everything to help his wife, Claire, who is in denial about the encroaching disease. Their 14-year old daughter Esther’s toxic speech syncretizes with her rebellious teenager phase, making her cruel, particularly to her mother. The family slowly falls apart, even as it becomes apparent that a pandemic has taken hold of the world.
The second act finds Sam separated from his family, as the children are quarantined. He begins working with a group of researchers, trying to develop either a cure or a new way to communicate, given that speaking is no longer safe. He clashes with the leader of the research unit, who is condescending and amoral. I will not discuss the third act, due to spoilers.
It’s a hard to categorize novel. It shares its topography with horror and science fiction, but it’s not a thriller. Part One is almost a family drama, while Part Two is almost an absurdist dystopia. The plot often pauses for pages, as philosophy, religious parables and other discursive theories are floated by either the narrator or in discussions with other characters. The beautiful brutality of the prose is what propels the book forward.
For a book that’s about the end of language, it revels in its use. The descriptions of illness are expertly culled, and cause shivers. It’s almost as if the author wants to infect the reader with the disease described in the world of the novel. It’s disgustingly, compulsively readable, highly reminiscent of the body horror of David Cronenberg’s films.
I’m unsure whether or not The Flame Alphabet is an extended metaphor about the breakdown of human communication, a Biblical allegory or a linguistic horror story. I do know that it was deeply disturbing and wonderfully written. ...more