All 3 entries tagged Weird Fiction

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May 13, 2008

Weird Love

Last term PENCILfest ran a fund-raiser, with China Mieville and George Ttouli running a workshop on Weird love poetry. Mid-way through I had that old dilemma - knowing a lot about a creepy topic, do you stick your hand up and tell people? After all, if people hear what you know about Furries, what'll stop them thinking you are one? No-one wants to be mistaken for a Furry, except perhaps the Furries themselves.


That's irrelevent but I'm practising writing anecdotes. Anyway, there was a competition to produce the best Weird Love Poem and I managed to win. Frankly I think Rowan Rutter's (her blog is http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/rowanrutter/ although the poem isn't up there) entry with prosthetic limb sex-scene was better. Still, I'm not sniffing at the teddy bear I won (I'm not a plushophile). Belatedly, here's the poem - 

_________________________

Glancing out

The tree crab loses her grip,
slips,
falls suddenly
and splits
on the upright tip
of a coconut spike.
Her innards slop
downwards to meet
the sand;
while mango juice drips
from my mouth and teeth
to touch your feet
and you clutch the sheet
in one hand
and trace my skin
with your fingertips.


February 16, 2008

Thoughts on "The Red Tower

Pending the last of China Mieville's Weird Fiction workshops for the year, I sat down (probably on a bus) and read "The Red Tower" by Thomas Ligotti in one sitting. It's good. Definitely the best of the samples we were given. If you want to find a copy of it, you're going to have a tough job - the "Nightmare Factory" collection it comes from is out of print and costs about £50 on Amazon or Alibris. Photocopies might still be circulating in the Capital Centre writing room - and otherwise I'm afraid you're out of luck.

   SPOILER ALERT

   Don't read on if you ever intend to read The Red Tower - major, major spoilers up ahead. Which is to say that I'm going to summarise the story right now.

The story - if such it can be called - centres on the titular Red Tower, a decaying former factory situated in the centre of an infinite expanse of wasteland. The Tower was created out of the wasteland, and the wilderness, realising it's mistake, has been attempting to correct it since. As a result all of the machinery which produced the factories peculiar "novelty items" - rocks with organic eyes, disturbingly accurate models of diseased internal organs - have evaporated and the structure above ground now lies in ruin.

  In response the factory has burrowed deeper into the surface of the wilderness, forming a second basement below the first - the first being used to transport the novelty goods of the Tower to all points on the earth. This second basement - in turn shut down by the pressure of the wilderness  - contains a graveyard of birthing graves, producing monstrous and malfunctional organic creatures. Finally, there may or may not exist a third basement, but what that might produce is a mystery.

   SPOILER END, PONCY MEANDERINGS BEGIN!

  So, its a peculiar tale. It's got a lot of typical Ligotti features (Hah! I sound as if I know stuff about him. I've read four of his shorts. Does that qualify? I'll level with you - most of this is borrowed from China, but it's interesting, and I don't want to withhold interesting things from you) - his overpowering nihilism and death-drive, his morbid fascination with change and decay, the interplay between decay and vitality, and commercial fabrication. 

  The wilderness is an overpowering force of nihil - it tends absolutely towards entropy. What is odd is that it chooses to throw up the Red Tower at all - even if it chooses to rescind on that decision, nevertheless it has the latent capacity, if not at least the general inclination, to create. It reminds me of one particular theory about the fundamental nature of the universe - God knows what the name was, but it said that quantum randomness meant that eventually, anything could pop into being. It seems somehow to fit - the universe tends always towards entropy, but occasionally, we have a moment of random creation.

And then there's the fact that the Red Tower fights back. It keeps on producing. It keeps on being. Compare with "The Tsalal" - in that, the arrival of nihil is stalled, not stopped. In "The Prodigy of Dreams" the arrival is welcomed, indeed summoned. In "I Have a Special Plan for this World" the main character is the force of annihilation (although arguably not nihil). But existence doesn't fail. I like to think that the final (perhaps mythical) sub-basement of the Tower does indeed exist; something about the tone of the piece tells me that it would be wrong for it not to.

And what does that sub-basement produce? As the Red Tower's operations are pushed underground, it's output changes from "novelty items" to, for want of a better term, "novelty organics". There's an increase in complexity, even if the new products are every bit as malformed, ugly, malfunctional, disturbing and (yet) horifically compelling as their forebears.

  The answer is in the text - or rather, the answer is the text. It has all of the relevant characteristics. It doesn't follow the normal form of even a weird fiction short story. There's nothing beautiful about it. It doesn't seem to work like a normal story - you don't hear a little tale, or learn about a character, or gain a deep and meaningful insight into modern life. It is definitely disturbing. And yet I read it one sitting. Something about the ungainliness, the imaginitive oddness of it, as well as the pleasure of its grotesquery, force you to read.

So. Buy that lot if you will.

  What does that mean? That the Red Tower is now writing Weird Fiction. Or, that "The Red Tower" was produced by the Red Tower. That Thomas Ligotti (and perhaps Lovecraft, Hodgson, Machen et al, for Ligotti likes to include them all in the same fraternity) are manufacturing devices within an alien manufacturing plant.

That's about all I have to say. If anyone knows more about Ligotti's take on manufacture (mechanical reproduction) in relation to absolutely anything, please say, I'd be eagre to see what spin they think that puts on my reading.


February 15, 2008

Belated Non–Cliched Events

And another belated update - this time the exercise was to take the events from one genre and the style from another and mash them up.  Events from Weird Fiction, style from Crime Fiction. Oh, and the key events in weird fiction? Making contact with the Other is the only real condition. But following Lovecraft I've also included an occulted researcher meeting a grizzly fate, and a powerful entity reaching into dreams.

______________

Inspector Meier shuffled the blanket off the young man's body, delicately. The corpse's face was askew, as if all the flesh had teemed to one side in a rapid, brutal migration. The body was naked, arms pressed against the chest. He had been clutching the blanket when he died.
"Another one?" Asked Gugenheim. His partner lounged in the door frame, picking at his teeth indolently.

"You want me to give you the list?"

"I'll trust you." Gugenheim grinned, but Meier overcut him.

"Because discolouration, check, locked room, check, no fucking witness, check."

"I said I trust you."

Meier just grunted and looked back down. The marks were the same as the other Inkwell murders; dark blue bruising running down the neck and sternum, terminating in a pool of matte black that wallowed in the bowl of the solar plexus.

Another immaculate crime-scene. Inkwell was a near perfect killer. The whole investigation was a rotten house, two breaths from falling over, rancid with air-borne poison - two lead investigators had already quit in disgust. Inkwell took a CSI as a victim. The tabloids were drinking it up like mosquitos.

And that was before the fucking Sanderson Diary came out and the rotten walls of the case finally gave out.

"Well." Gugenheim purred, scratching his stubble. "Well well well."

The pair had been on their way to a domestic when the woman ran screaming from the tenement, out into the road. The breaks were slow on the antique cop car and they halfway hit her, knocking her to the floor and taking the skin off her right shoulder, but she didn't slow down, just scrambled back up like a rat and careened off. They had to run her to ground, Meier pouncing on her and pinning her despite his age, and all the time she was screaming:

"Opals! They were opals!"

Gugenheim had stayed with her long enough for the rest of the precinct to arrive and sedate her, peel her off into an ambulance. When he caught up he found Meier in her apartment, doing a cat-pad round and round the tiny room, glowering at the walls and floor and daring them to give up their secrets.

"Where are your opals, Mrs. Palmer?" Gugenheim murmured absent mindedly, thinking of the screaming woman he'd parcelled into the police meat wagon.

"In her head. In the Sanderson diary. Not here."

"Least it makes them easy to spot. Got in on this one pretty fast. Still warm."

Meier picked at the skin of his cracked lips, angry. "What I'm worried about, Frank, is that Inkwell's gonna get the same idea as Sanderson, and start with the fucking opals."

"I'm just saying, they're easier to spot."

The Sanderson Diary had fallen into the sweaty little hands of Rupert Downey, a minor sultan of the local media circuit. The diary was left by one of Inkwell's later victims, Patricia Sanderson, a small-time artist whose work had gone from abhorred to adored in the month since her death. Inkwell had been haunting her dreams. At first he was a tall, African man, with hair made of rope and eyes of black beetles. He fed her opals, he made advances at her. Before long she was painting him. He permeated her art. Soon she was seeing him in shop windows, the smoky corners of old terraced houses, the ring of rope tying a boat up at it's moorings. And then she died.

You could write it off as media hysteria; bored singleton fantasises about man of mystery murderer and ends up on his list. Downey had gone the other way. He'd set his little gargoyles loose, uncovering every scrap that could tie Inkwell into his victim's dreams and blanket them with opals.

What worried Meier was how easy he'd found it. Normally the papers had to make up about half their "facts" on a big murder case, but Meier had looked it through with the bureau. All legit. Somnambulists, insomniacs, astral projectors, narcoleptics, CFS-victims. Inkwell's victims were weird sleepers to a body. Some of them kept diaries too, though none of them as explicit as Sanderson's. One young poet wrote an "Opal series". A teen boy changed his fantasies from his math teacher to "the dark adonis of dreams". The only hole was the CSI. Nothing unusual about her; she was one of the most straight-forward girls on the force. Then her husband came forwards and revealed she was a "sexsomniac". A sleep fucker.

But it was all drek compared with the real opal Downey had found. Victim number one, Randalf Carter. The police's press release had him pinned as a psychologist, which was almost true. He was a sleep researcher - and more than that, he was also a covert para-psychologist. His expertise - his obsession - was the transcendance of the human rational state through the gateway of dreams. And his birth stone?

"Opals." Said Gugenheim, pressing Meier back into consciousness. He still couldn't decide what was worse; the supernatural media creature Downey had created, or the real Inkwell.

"What?" Asked Meier, but Gugenheim just pointed down at the body, and said:

"Opals."

The black inkpool in the victim's torso was pulsing, moving up and down as if some bulging thing was seeking egress through the skin. There was a moment of resistance, and then a breach. Showing through the split was the round head of pearlescent, shining stone; and then it receeded, the flesh seeming to repel the object with elastic force. The throbbing of the flesh continued, and this time the strange dance was joined by another bulge, mid-way along the sternum. For three seconds the flesh rippled with the pressure, and then the bodies breached again, two gem spheres peering through the veil of flesh like the eyes of some demon statue. This time they probed further, almost half an orb pushing through before being repelled back under by the resistance of the flesh. Meier had the horrible sensation that somehow, wherever the globes were being pushed back to, it was not inside the body.

"I think we should go." He said to Gugenheim, but the man had already gone. Meier split from the room as quickly as he could, seeing Gugenheim's retreating back as he vanished down the stairs, and as he rushed to join him, he could hear from the room the noise of a heavy clink clink whirr, a sound of opals dropping and rolling across the floor.


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