THEY DO THE SAME THINGS DIFFERENT THERE: THE BEST WEIRD FANTASY OF ROBERT SHEARMAN

22130073They Do the Same Things Different There:
The Best Weird Fantasy of Robert Shearman

By Robert Shearman
Published by ChiZine Publications – 16th September 2014
ISBN 1771483008 – 384 Pages – Paperback
Source: NetGalley


Read immediately following Helen Marshall’s Gifts for the One Who Comes After, a similar dark, weird literary fantasy collection from ChiZine, I found Shearman’s more difficult to approach and get into. Reading a large chunk of this type of intense, subtle material like these all at once probably had a large impact in this and I will need to return to this collection again sometime to give it the full attention of my brain it deserves.
What I can relate about this is that it is wonderfully written, the language exquisite, and the stories unsettling. For those who really enjoy Marshall’s work, this is something you’ll want to read, and vice versa. It makes sense that ChiZine had both collections out at the same time. Though they have much in common in style, and particularly tone of their stories, the two writers are of course not exactly the same and readers may have their preference. In general I found Shearman’s stories to be even more surreal and nuanced, with less of the classic horror elements that Marshall’s stories contain. Both are great, but every potential reader may still have one that they slightly prefer and Shearman’s style of ‘weirdness’ is something new for me, different (as the title suggests) from the usual subgenre of literary surreal horror.
Shearman’s tales here are filled with non-traditional, fantastic situations or settings and the plots are usually not clear at first, or follow the path you might expect them to based on their set-up. Unlike in Marshall’s collection there is not any consistent thread of theme to Shearman’s stories that I could discern, but another reading when I’m less burnt out may reveal more. Regardless how  you first read these I think that the collection is something that a fan of this genre would want to return to and find new facets that weren’t picked up on originally. If oddity is your thing or something you’d like to try, don’t let this collection pass you by.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from ChiZine Publications via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

300,000,000, by Blake Butler

300,000,000, by Blake Butler
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN: 0062271857
456 pages, hardcover
Published: 14th October 2014
Source: Goodreads’ First-reads

Written in a manic stream-of-consciousness flow as diary entries from minds fractured and deranged, 3000,000,000 is at times poetic and profound, vulgar with visceral gore, illuminating, and impenetrable. The main characters are Gretch Gravey, a psychopathic mass murderer/cult leader, and Detective E.N. Flood, the officer tasked with combing over Garvey’s rambling writings and testimonies to penetrate the meaning behind his horrific crimes.
As Flood struggles to understand the insanity of Gravey and his alter-egos his colleagues (and the reader) begins to witness Flood’s own life and mind descend into a similar vortex of madness where rational sentences devolve into surreal images of raw contrasting emotions. Reality and imagination in the minds of the protagonists blur, as do the lines between the plot and the social commentary of 300,000,000 on the fabric of America.
I try to avoid statements such as this, but this novel if any will hold to that idea that most people will either love or hate Butler’s novel. The near incomprehensibility of much of the text, read more for the poetry, frantic cadence, and general feeling of unease that it elicits will not be for everyone. At times I found it fascinating, but as the novel wore on I became increasingly bored and uninterested, dulled to the violence and disturbing heart of it all, which perhaps is an effect and commentary Butler desired to convey to some degree.
Just as Flood becomes affected by the crazed mind of Gravey, so too does the reader. The effect is chilling. In moments where I spent time focused on the novel, and in the dark quiet of the night, my mind tried to construct some logic around the surreal, and began to feel a growing sense of paranoia and discomfort. Butler succeeds well at making this truly creepy for the reader able to immerse into the pages of 300,000,000, particularly in the start of the book. I also appreciated how the horrific depravity and bloodbath behind the minimal plot of the novel seems at times supernatural in nature, yet also reads like that would be a cop-out, denying the utter evil capable by humanity itself.
Eventually, however, the novelty of that experience became old, the effects dulled. After a certain number of times reading dehumanizing words like ‘flesh’ and ‘meat’ to describe people loses its effect. The fragmentation of characters and the unreliability of who is ‘real’ and who is a fragment of Flood’s imagination start to become repetitive and the social commentary on America grows a bit too literal perhaps. A little over halfway through the novel I was ready for it to end. The remainder just reinforced responses I’d already had and there isn’t enough of a ‘plot’ here to really make the latter portions of the thick novel fulfilling from the angle of story.
Readers who really enjoy surreal, bizarro fiction will find this worth checking out, but this is certainly not for those who want a more traditional kind of novel or those put off by disturbing horrors. While I remained welcome to it, the experimental nature of the novel wore thin on me. Finally finishing it I felt far more displeased and unsatisfied than I feel now with the passage of some time. Butler’s 300,000,000 is certainly unforgettable.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from the publisher via Goodreads’ First-reads giveaway program in exchange for an honest review.

Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany

Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany
Publisher: Open Road Media
ASIN: B00HE2JK7G
836 pages, Kindle Edition
Published January 2014
(Original Publ: 1974)
Source: NetGalley

a behemoth. Certainly there are much longer novels out there, but rarely does one see a creature matching this degree of size and power. Dhalgren is the first novel that I’ve read that manages to effectively transform the reading process itself into an experience of culture. In other words, Delany’s construction and style make this a metanovel where the reading of it, in all its nonstandard ways, creates the sensations of Dhalgren’s characters and settings a reality in the reader. Just as ‘The Kid’ enters into the bizarrely incomprehensible city of Bellona, so goes the reader into a hazy experience of uncertainty and wonder that catalyzes introspection and revelation. Now granted, not everyone is going to find this to be a good thing. If you only care about entertainment and story, don’t bother, but if you appreciate something more, this is a city you should enter, an experience of which you should partake.

Dhalgren is apocalyptic. Typically this genre within science fiction uses the popular definition of the word, to convey disaster, or post-disaster. In Dhalgren Bellona has gone through some sort of disaster, but the remainder of the world is said to be fine. Bellona is isolated in its trauma. Delany does not use this genre to explore post-apocalyptic action, such as the contrasts of human decency or barbarism that come in response to a loss of civilization. Instead he is using it to explore the concept of apocalypse in its original sense: a revealing. Within the novel itself isolated Bellona provides the environment for the unreliable, point-of-view protagonist to discover himself. ‘The Kid’ is an amnesiac – of sorts – with a mental history suggesting much of what he sees and records may be incorrect. Though he never determines who exactly he is, he does go through revelations regarding his nature. Delany seems to link this process of apocalypse intimately with the culture of art and community, of creativity and the act of creating to explore with others this business of existence and living. Lost in Bellona, “The Kid” becomes the leader of a gang, an influential poet, and an excellent recorder of the details of living in this weird city. Simultaneously Dhalgren is a revelation to the reader: the unveiling of a period of history, of a counter culture. Like any good apocalyptic literature, Bellona is a symbol for a time that has largely passed, but that does not make the novel dated, for its themes are universal. Though I wasn’t born until after the era of culture this novel manifests, I suspect that reading Dhalgren is a fair approximation without a time machine on hand.Dhalgren is inspirational, either for adoration or derision, or sometimes both. It is easy to see why the novel is beloved by those like William Gibson, who writes a lovely introduction to this edition. Yet, other critics hate this novel with zeal. If it’s not your cup of tea, it’s easy to see how it could infuriate you. The opening and closing portions of the novel are the most daunting, so I wouldn’t suggest giving up on this until you reach the third chapter and still find it unreadable. If by that point you are interested it is worth continuing. Yet, Dhalgren isn’t a perfect novel (or metanovel even). It has its own proper issues. By the last chapters all points have been covered really, and it begins to weigh as excessively written. Given how quickly the first publication of Dhalgren was rushed out (with numerous errors that later had to be fixed – and couldn’t have been easy to find considering how much intentional errors/incomprehensible bits there are) one wishes that an editor would have taken a sterner red marker to the manuscript. Dhalgren is literature, only minimally science fiction, and in keeping with its focus on detail over ‘big picture’ there are some rather frank depictions of sexuality in its myriad forms.

Dhalgren is special; I will not forget the experience of stumbling through its pages, lost on the ever-shifting streets of Bellona, entranced by the mysterious wonders writ upon the skies in moments of bright clarity amid hazy gray fogs.

Dhalgren is

Five Stars out of Five