Trampoline Novels

Yarrow Paisley–now there’s an evocative name! His story in Shimmer #17, “The Metaphor of the Lakes,” is also evocative. If you don’t fall in love with Gracie along the way, I shall weep bitter tears, Reader. For now, let’s explore a couple recent reads with him! -ECT

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I am grateful to Shimmer Magazine for this opportunity to occupy its blog. I would also like to thank You, the Reader, for putting up with me today!

I thought I might share with you a couple of strange, challenging, and fun novels I’ve read recently—books in fantastical genres that stretch the literary conventions of yesteryear into a fine, sturdy trampoline for the pleasure of readers like me (and hopefully you) who seek to jump and bounce upon their books.

 

Celebrant (Chômu Press)
Michael Cisco

The first page of Celebrant instructs the reader in what to expect from the novel:

I am the hallucination of a homeless man named deKlend; he does not know this because I don’t appear to him. I’m a hallucination so I seem more than I am, and I’m always good company. If there are any indifferent or boring hallucinations, I’ve never heard of any. [iii.]

True to his word, the entire novel proceeds in the form of a vast, and vastly entertaining, hallucination; there is a consistent logic and systematic world-building, but good luck making sense of it when you’re neck-deep in the lush weeds of the narrative!

The protagonist, deKlend, is a schlemiel buffeted about from event to event, unprepared for every nonsensical encounter, but blundering through, nonetheless, and making the best of every situation. (I kept picturing Woody Allen, even though he doesn’t match deKlend’s description at all!) He embarks upon a pilgrimage to an imaginary city called Votu, the existence of which is revealed to him by a lengthy article in a “geographical encyclopedia” he picks up at a market stall. Numerous chapters in Celebrant seem to present sections from that book, elucidating various details of Votu’s astonishing culture and history.

Celebrant presents so many fanciful ideas and images that I couldn’t begin to list them all; every page is a new profusion. I can provide a taste, however, by sharing a few of the prominent ones:

  • Natural Robots. “These are robots no one built, which were formed spontaneously in the mountains.” [24] There are five of them, and they are worshiped as gods; indeed, their holiness contributes much to Votu’s status as a sacred city. They are truly bizarre constructions, and their odd descriptions and activities supply some of the strangest fantastical pleasures of the book.
  • The Bird of Ill Omen. It visits the various scenes of the novel, circling above them, alighting nearby, casting its “baleful eyes” upon everything it sees. It, too, is a god, but it lives in the future: “He is only encountered in his past. Your present is his past, and his present is your future. He can be seen only as he will be, as the sign of something that is already returning to haunt you.” [220]
  • Rival bands of orphaned, animalized girls—pigeon girls and rabbit girls (as well as a snake girl named Gina). They roam the streets of Votu, seeking only to eke out their survival in a difficult environment. It is unclear where they came from, but they seem drawn to Votu’s shamanistic energy. The scenes involving these girls are the novel’s most plot-oriented and poignant sections; the characters of Burn (the chief pigeon girl) and Kundri (the chief rabbit girl, known by her nickname Kunty) are vividly and sympathetically portrayed, and their relationship (with each other, and with deKlend and his transparent lover Phryne) turns out to be very complicated indeed!
  • deKlend’s sword, which he is fashioning as an offering to bring to Votu, and which he carries in his lungs, constantly breathing it out so he can work on it (wanting it to be a perfect offering), then inhaling it back in for storage.
  • Black Radio. A signal is received from a mysterious otherwhere and rebroadcast by a large, old-fashioned black radio, which is housed in a place of religious significance. Mostly, static is heard, but occasionally a voice will emerge from the wash of noise: instructions are given, lists declared, conversations overheard out of context. (I found myself speculating that these snatches were filtered into the novel from the author’s own apartment, perhaps the music on the stereo as he wrote, or in from the open window, or from neighbors through thin walls. A kind of “independent factor” binding this dream world to an objective one beyond.)

I can’t help but view this novel as a rebuke against the “depredation of a future self,” [121] which is an inescapable indignity of human consciousness that is described with righteous fury in the chapter titled “timesermon.” The self perceives itself eternal and immanent, even godlike, yet is mediated relentlessly by time—sliced to pieces with each tick of the clock, as the present self is forcibly severed from the whole, assassinated, mummified, and thrust into the tomb of the past—and thereby rendered impotent over its own domain, an unforgivable humiliation…. But in dreams (and hallucinations (and novels!)) potency is rendered back to the dreamer (or madman (or author))—past, present, and future selves, all are equal in Votu, a dream city where time may be traversed in both directions.

 

My Name is Dee (John Ott Books)
Robin Wyatt Dunn

My name is Dee. I am a magician, a word that is misleading.  Better to say that I am a perceptive man, and that what I perceive falls outside the statistical mean, a fact which allows me to affect reality in ways that are unusual. [114]

Our narrator, John Dee, named after an Elizabethan-era magician/proto-scientist, is himself a sort of magician/proto-scientist, albeit of a less courtly stripe: he is a Chandleresque P.I. and gun-for-hire who happens to be both a self-described magician and the assigned “father” of an A.I. named Albert (after Albert Einstein, I think). Dee feels guilty for having “murdered” Albert after the precocious robot-child attempted to persuade the sun to go nova; I would suggest, however, that as a justification for “moral murder,” that one certainly deserves consideration!

Besides which, it doesn’t appear to have worked (ending Albert’s life, I mean; the sun, clearly, remains intact), since this particular A.I. has installed itself in a continuum outside of time. Indeed, Albert seems to be protecting us in some measure from the appetite of a transgalactic (and apparently hungry) intelligence named Chaimougkos, who falls in love with Dee’s friend Sandra and consequently desires to devour humanity and even briefly commandeers the narration of the story before Dee reasserts dominion over his first-personhood.

I would be derelict not to inform you that this novel is thoroughly in love with Los Angeles, which serves not only as the setting, but also as one of the “characters.” Oh! and Foo fighters are critical elements of this plot … they assist in the protection of Earth even while we persist in shooting them down for the crime of stealing our cows.

The novel counts many influences. It owes much to Philip K. Dick, for example, in his late schizophrenic, “visionary” mode and perhaps, as well, to hallucinogenic drugs: many of the set-piece events feel like acid trips, although I could be mistaken since I’ve never been on one of those! The “Church of S” (i.e. Scientology) figures prominently in the novel, kidnapping Dee’s friend Sandra and establishing communication with the consciousness of Chaimougkos (by which means the monstrous entity is introduced to that young lady from Earth with whom it will fall madly in love). The Big Lebowski, I’m happy to report, receives an explicit reference … and one gets the feeling that the character of John Dee is intended as a sort of mash-up of iconic leading figures, such as Philip Marlowe (also explicitly referenced), Lebowski, and Rick Deckard (from Blade Runner).

I suspect that My Name is Dee is meant to express the author’s frustration with the publishing and film industries. After all, Dee’s gun-for-hire activities chiefly involve the assassination of outsider novelists and screenwriters, on behalf of those creative industries that prefer to remain unpolluted by fresh ideas—a rather cynical (and literal) rendition of the perennial conflict between artists and patrons!

[Please note that Robin Wyatt Dunn’s My Name is Dee was provided to me free of charge as an Advance Review Copy by the author. Celebrant I purchased with my own (regrettably) hard-earned money. (I’m always on the lookout for “easy-earned” money … anybody?)]

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