Archive for June, 2010

A Glimpse of the Numinous

Posted: June 25, 2010 by jeffgardiner in Articles

I’m thrilled that Eibonvale Press are going to publish my short story collection and would like to thank David Rix for his encouraging support. All authors want to know that their writing is being read, or even having some kind of effect upon each reader. Whilst still in my excited state I thought I’d take the opportunity to explore the title of the collection – ‘A Glimpse of the Numinous’. It is my attempt to express the idea that our world is not just a material world, but one of wonder, mystery and the unknown. Those elements can be frightening or awe-inspiring.

The artist M.C. Escher once said: ‘The reality around us, the three dimensional world surrounding us, is too ordinary, too boring, too common. We yearn for the unnatural, or the supernatural, the impossible, the miraculous.’ Fantasy provides our modern, materialistic and so-called ‘enlightened’ culture with a sense of spirituality or a numinous mysticism. The word numinous implies religious awe inspired by the presence of a deity, and fantasy can be awe-inspiring, stimulating the reader into an imaginative and spiritual understanding of our complicated and mysterious existence. Fantasy has its roots in mythology and, like many religions, is attempting to see beyond the mere physical reality of our world. Two great individuals who have helped us to put these ideas into words and whose works have been invaluable to literary critics are Carl Jung, one of the founding fathers of Psychology, and anthropologist Sir James Frazer, both of whose works lead to archetypal criticism. What both Jung and Frazer show is that ritual, dreams and by extension, fantasy literature, tell us a great deal about the inner workings of our mind and soul. In a sense fantasy is offering us something similar to that of religion: not competing with it, but likewise challenging us to look closer into the realms of imagination and spirituality. Our souls can be touched by the creative arts. Fantastical and imaginative leaps of faith help to give symbols and images to those things most difficult to understand. Myth, art and symbolism are human attempts to understand our incredibly complicated world and existences.

Carl Jung claimed that, “All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy”. In Modern Man in Search of A Soul (1933), Jung stated that in attempting to understand the unconscious psyche we must also study dreams, mythology, religion and visionary literature, i.e. fantasy. He names particular texts such as The Arabian Nights and Faust, and also cites authors such as H. Rider Haggard and William Blake. For Jung, visionary literature offers “glimpses of chaos” and cannot be easily explained in logical terms, but rather through the profound effect they have upon the individual human spirit. Jung explains at length how the individual’s soul finds a voice in his own imagination and dreams, which then connects him to the “collective unconscious”: the spiritual, primeval bond that unites all human beings together and where we experience the sense of the numinous. If we are to find God anywhere, it will surely be in a creative, emotional realm.

Jung also identified archetypes that exist within the collective unconscious that provide us with mythological symbols to express our deepest fears, desires and emotions: to help explain the inexplicable. These archetypes recur in stories, myths, legends, art and literature and include familiar characters, such as warrior, wise man, mother, saviour and trickster. Jung’s psychological theory of types is a useful way of identifying the deeper mythological resonances within a text and to see that fantasy is not mere child’s play or escapism, but art that speaks to us on a grand and important scale. Michael Moorcock has explained how he employed such symbolism in his own novels, concluding that, “When we read a good fantasy we are being admitted into the subterranean worlds of our own souls”.

Whilst Jung showed the psychological appeal of fantasy, J.G Frazer demonstrated how fantasy has analogies to rituals in his study of magic and religions, The Golden Bough (1890, abridged in 1922). The study shows in detail how the patterns of myth and romance are echoes of rituals, particularly those of fertility overcoming the wasteland, or the death and resurrection of a messianic figure or scapegoat. Frazer makes extensive connections between different cultures, traditions and ages, concluding that similar patterns emerge in responses to the natural world. Fantasy begins with imagination, the primitive depths of the human mind, which has always been fascinated with superstition regarding the world and divine power. Ancient myths and religious belief systems have created pantheons of gods, demons, heroes and monsters to symbolise the origins of creation and explain the workings of the universe; to personify good and evil; and to help moralise and legitimise power. We can also clearly see how myth and religious, sacred writings have created a potent source of fantastic imagery whose influence is easily detectable in much literature and art.

Frazer explores the development from magic to religion, giving useful, if very general, definitions of each. He sees magic as the manipulation of “impersonal forces … by the appropriate ceremonies and spells”, whereas a religion is “a belief in powers higher than man and an attempt to propitiate or please them”. Then Frazer traces certain myths in order to provide evidence that certain archetypes and ceremonies have always existed and continue to do so. He identifies the messiah archetype as one celebrated in most cultures who need to explain “the fluctuations of growth and decay, of reproduction and dissolution, by … the death and rebirth or revival of their gods”. The symbol of the messiah goes back to early heathen magic, originating in myths that attempt to express the human desire to understand the annual cycle in nature, from the fertility of spring, to the sterility if winter as told in the myth of Persephone and the Arthurian legends. Frazer compares the Egyptian worship of Osiris and the ritual of Attis to the Christian belief in Christ’s resurrection, and claims to have discovered a striking resemblance that would account for the practice of replacing pagan festivals with Christian ones, such as our Christmas Nativity of the Son allaying the winter solstice Nativity of the Sun.

This thesis was expounded further by Frazer’s disciple Jessie Weston in From Ritual to Romance (1920), who showed the link between ceremony and romantic literature more explicitly. She was particularly fascinated by the Grail legends and their similarities to fertility rituals and after convoluted argument concluded that literary romance had its origins in primitive, mysterious cult ceremonies. The romantic pattern she identified is the familiar one of questing knight seeking a redemption that will renew the sterile land and his dying fisher king.

Like Jung, Frazer has identified not only archetypes that work on the level of universal imagination or collective conscious, but also demonstrates the importance to all cultures and individuals the essential place of spirituality and the desire to comprehend the supernatural. In The Golden Bough, Frazer reminds us of the importance of mythology and rituals, warning us not to dismiss them as primitive: “To stigmatise these premises as ridiculous because we can easily detect their falseness, would be ungrateful as well as unphilosophical”. The same warning would be pertinent to anyone who rejects fantasy.

A much more mystical justification for the appeal of romance and mythology is given by the poet Robert Graves in The White Goddess (1948). His theory is that the language of poetic myth is linked to ceremonies in honour of the Moon goddess. His book examines romantic poetry and connects Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Celtic and Norse mythologies. For him the function of poetry is like that of fantasy – to inspire awe: “the experience of mixed exaltation and horror”, which is excited by the presence of the Muse or goddess. Much of the book is taken up with lengthy study of arcane alphabets, cryptology and numerology, particularly the druidic tree alphabet so full of riddles and hidden symbols. Graves even considers the “Holy, unspeakable name of God” and the meaning behind the number of the beast. His conclusions remain mystical and ambiguous, like the subject he is studying.

Unfortunately, our culture is losing its soul and sense of mysticism, and seems to be suspicious of anything linked with the supernatural or ‘primordial visions’. However, some of the best of world literature can be described as ‘visionary literature’ including great works by such authors as Arthur Machen, William Hope Hodgson, Herman Hesse, William Golding, Michael Moorcock, Robert Holdstock and Ben Okri. Their fantasies are visions that inspire a sense of awe and spirituality on many different levels: Hesse is obsessed with personal mysticism, whilst Moorcock paints on vast canvasses depicting gods and worlds engaged in eschatological battles. Fantasy today plays the same part that myths used to and they contain important truths and statements that we would do well to consider and allow ourselves to be challenged by.

My plea for fantasy to be taken seriously, or even stronger, that fantasy provides us with a more potent art-form than realism, echoes Nietzsche’s call for the reawakening of Dionysus – exciting and dangerous, but also life-affirming, challenging and full of spiritual energy. In the end, literature is not the same as reality, only a response to it, but it should also be a response to the complex reality of the human soul: and this tantalising ‘glimpse of the numinous’ is what fantasy can provide for us in our secular society.

“Every generation throws up a few genuine Masters of the Weird. There simply is no hyperbole in the statement that Brendan Connell is a member of this elite group right now, perhaps the most accomplished of them all. His work is very strange but always proceeds with rigorous logic and his use of language is original, concise and often startling, employing the alchemy of a ferocious intelligence to create dreamscapes that have the solidity and cruelty of stone and iron. The blend of profound melancholy, decadent atmosphere and abstruse erudition work beautifully and the magic of his prose gets under the skin of your soul and remains there forever.”

—Rhys Hughes, author of A New Universal History of Infamy

Table of Contents for Unpleasant Tales

Posted: June 18, 2010 by brendanconnell in New Titles
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01 – The Maker of Fine Instruments

02 – The Black Tiger

03 – The Putrimaniac

04 – A Dish of Spouse

05 – The Girl of Wax

06 – The Tongue

07 – The Skin Collector

08 – The Nasty Truth About Dentists

09 – The Nanny Goat

10 – Mesh of Veins

11 – The Flatterer

12 – The Last Mermaid

13 – The Cruelties of Him

14 – Wiggles

15 – The Woman of Paper

16 – The Last of the Burroways

17 – Flit

18 – Kullullu

19 – Sirens

20 – The Unicorn

21 – Virgin Hearts

22 – We Sleep on a Thousand Waves Beneath the Stars

Once and Future Cities by Allen Ashley

I have just received news that one of our recent books, Once and Future Cities by Allen Ashley, has made it onto the British Fantasy Awards shortlist in the Best Collection category.  Eibonvale was present in the massive longlist in several instances (even me in the Best Artist category!) but the shortlist is far more important as it whittles that down to just 5 entries per category.  So all congratulations to Allen Ashley for that and watch this space for more news.

In addition, Nina Allan’s short story My Brother’s Keeper has also made the shortlist.  We handled her first collection, A Thread of Truth, a few years ago now and it is exciting to see her going places.  So congrats to her as well.  And, indeed, to everybody who made it this far.

See the full shortlist here:

Magic Mirror, a Collection of Comics by Ed Pinsent

Magic Mirror, a Collection of Comics by Ed Pinsent

We have a bit of a landmark new release this time.  Eibonvale’s first collection of comics is now available.  Though ‘comics’ seems a rather inadequate term for these surreal and far-reaching visions expressed in text and picture.  Ed Pinsent’s work is truly unique and criminally hard to find, in spite of his status as a cult figure.  This is a massive 350+ page collection including a complete reprint of one of his most spectacular works, The Saga of the Scroll.

Click the above image to see more, including a gallery of sample pages.

New Titles for 2010

Posted: June 7, 2010 by Eibonvale in New Titles

It is time to announce a few upcoming titles for 2010, which promises to be the most intense year yet for the press.  This may not be a complete list.  Look out for these titles and watch this blog for announcements.

Magic Mirror – Ed Pinsent

First up we have a landmark.  Eibonvale’s first collection of comics is now available.  Though ‘comics’ seems a rather inadequate term for these surreal and far-reaching visions expressed in text and picture.  Ed Pinsent’s work is truly unique and criminally hard to find, in spite of his status as a cult figure.  This is a 350+ page collection including a complete reprint of one of his most spectacular works, The Saga of the Scroll.

Unpleasant Tales – Brendan Connell

A new collection of the vicious and lethally sharp stories of Brendan Connell  These are supremely refined and elegant, creepily intelligent and, of course, exquisitely unpleasant stories that pack a tremendous punch, both individually and collectively.  The collection kicks off with The Maker of Fine Instruments, originally published in the world fantasy award winning Strange Tales anthology from Tartarus Press.

Automatic Safe Dog –
Jet McDonald

This is a vibrant and satirical novel of corporate nightmare by the very exciting newcomer to the novel world Jet McDonald, taking you on a bewildering, hilarious, grotesque and surreal ride.  Any novel that deals with making dogs into furniture and extrapolates an entire vivid alternative present London from that deserves attention.

Tallest Stories – Rhys Hughes

A major new work from Rhys Hughes, Tallest Stories is a collection of 60 short pieces that link together beautifully into a whole.  Welcome to The Tallest Story, the second most grandiose pub in the world – always at least one narrow alley and three imaginary corners away from the Cardiff waterfront – a pub that lies in another dimension, somewhere between dawn and sunrise and adjacent to both infinity and eternity – where the floor is not made out of toenails, but out of all the words that are spoken for no good reason.  A place where the only currency that matters is stories . . .

Sylvow – Douglas Thompson

Following on from the success of Ultrameta (which quickly became Eibonvale’s best-selling book), we are pleased to present a new remarkable novel from Douglas Thompson.  This time, he has dug deep into the inevitable guilt that we all feel, as a culture/species, for the disastrous state of civilization and its effect on both ourselves and the world around us.  He has created a book that is part surrealism, part philosophy, part fantasy and part horror novel.  Original and ecstatically visionary.

Blind Swimmer – by All of Us

An Anthology featuring works by the writers who have been involved in the press since the start.  An Eibonvale self-portrait if you like.  Tackling the themes of creativity and isolation, this will present a collection of stories as diverse as the authors themselves.

Bloody War – Terry Grimwood

A dark, bloody and very British apocalyptic novel, set in near-contemporary London.  Simultaneously a thrilling page-turner and a tough and painful read filled with horrifically plausible imagery, this book paints a picture of England at war with an unknown assailant and the dark and dirty depths that lurk behind that.  Excels in its portrayals of the reaction of London and the British media to a full-scale conflict on our own front door.

A Glimpse of the Numinous – Jeff Gardiner

A new collection by the very talented Jeff Gardiner.  This book is darkly disturbing contemporary horror at its most relevant and intelligent, taking you to places that you may well find challenging and discomforting, revealing the strangeness that can colour the familiar world, both within the human mind and outside it.

The Book of Tides – David Rix

This new collection by David Rix builds dramatically on the foundation laid by his earlier work, What the Giants were Saying.  Over 7 years in the making, this is a substantial collection of linked stories and novellas following the haunting and haunted life of Feather, the running girl – a woman subsumed in creativity, magic, madness, despair and the lost.


Posted: June 7, 2010 by Eibonvale in Articles

I have missed these ranting non-fictions in my busy, work-absorbed days. Of course, that in itself deserves a rant – but I wont because most people know all about that anyway.  And most people agree.  But that’s fine.  I have plenty of other stuff to talk about, so it is with a small warm feeling in my heart that I settle down again and start typing . . .

In this case, I want to point my guns at something pretty fundamental:  The concept of ‘never.’

And its close cousin, zero.

Actually, zero is quite an alien concept.  It was a long time indeed before it really entered our awareness.  I am not sure where and with who zero first came into use – but I do know that the mathematical concept at least eluded the ancient Greeks, with all their sophistication.  Even now it typically takes human babies at least 3-4 years to grasp the concept.  But what about ‘never’?  What are we to make of that?  Is that a recent concept too?  Something that came to us as a relatively late development, like zero?  True ‘never’, as the concept of an absence, is actually quite a sophisticated concept, since it involves an awareness of things that ‘are not’.  An imagination and story-telling ability in a way.  But of course, a new concept quickly comes along with the idea of ‘never – never as an instruction as opposed to an imaginary concept.  Something that is ‘never done’ or which ‘should never happen’, which is somewhat different and involved a moral judgment.  As an instruction or self-instruction, the word implies a sense of how to do things – a primitive ‘law’ or ‘creed’ attitude almost.  So perhaps one can speculate that the instruction ‘never’ and the first primitive ideas of morals, codes and ‘ways to do things’ more or less evolved together.  And these days, of course, we have evolved the concept of ‘never’ into more and more ‘sophisticated’ forms.  We have laid down a system of laws that has only grown more and more complex and detailed – and all based on this basic concept.  However, in all that evolution, we seem to have overlooked one rather important point that people are only just beginning to realise.

‘Never’ does not actually exist.

Philosophically, socially, even scientifically, the term is just a meaningless infinite – and we don’t live in an infinite world in that sense.  The mere concept of ‘never’ is a fallacy – something that contradicts its own attempt at meaning.  Never is an absolute – and it is easy to demonstrate that an absolute is something that does not exist in the world around us.  Science used to think it was absolute, but with the rise of quantum, m-theory and the most complex and esoteric areas of modern physics, those absolutes are crumbling.  An example is the speed of light, which used to be though of as a constant and absolute – one of the great absolutes in fact – so much so that it has become one of our most fundamental measuring utilities.  Light speed is 670,616,629.45 miles an hour and a light year is therefore 5,878,625,373,183.61 miles.  Wrong.  The slowest light has been observed to move is, I think, about 38 miles per hour – and many areas of physics now seem to be pushing towards ways to break the upper limit and exceed ‘light speed’.

In terms of human behaviour, ‘never’ crumbles much more easily than in science.  Humans cant do [such and such].  Humans shouldn’t do [such and such].  And, above all, ‘I would never do [such and such]‘ and ‘You should never do [such and such] . . . all these are fallacies.   Let’s just think about what ‘never’ means.  ‘Never’ is an expression of infinity.  It states that in all the vast life of the universe, in all its immeasurable complexity – and more to the point, in the vast and just as immeasurably complex world of humans and human behaviour – this thing, concept, action, event, whatever, WILL NOT happen.  How, I ask myself, can any human being ever dare to use the word?  What is actually meant of course is ‘I cannot imagine this happening’ or plainly ‘I don’t want it to happen’.  But that is a different thing entirely, and neither eliminates the thing from possibility, which has to be remembered.  When applied to a moral or a law, whether personal or cultural, the same thing applies and the same results are achieved.  ‘Never’ states that such a thing may NEVER happen – never be justified I suppose, in this case – to infinity.  No circumstances, no matter how convoluted, can justify it and therefore it is an absolute evil, regardless of circumstances.  For the same reasons, this simply does not fit analysis.  How can anyone or any system claim to have understood the complexity of humanity to the extent of applying an infinite to it?  Such a claim is inevitably a lie – and yet this is what humanity tries to do in almost the whole of our history and life.

Of course, so far, I could be accused of nitpicking.  Taking the word too literally perhaps?  But to my mind, the fact that ‘never’ does not actually exist – and, if you will, that ‘never’ does not actually mean never even though people pretend that it does, is of crucial importance.  In a way, it invalidates the whole thing, because if it is a lie, then where does that lie stop? What’s the point of saying or believing in never at all? In my own approaches to things, I always like to follow thought processes and ideas through to their conclusion if I can (bloody hard though), and the realisation that never doesn’t exist, opens up a huge world of possibilities.  Thinking about things in a world without absolutes changes one’s attitudes to almost everything – both on a personal and a cultural level.  It means the overthrow of absolute right and wrong – absolute beliefs and absolute ways of doing things.  It is as defunct as the concept of evil as an absolute. In fact, I defy anyone to think of any possible thought or action or event that justifies the term never.  Anyone who says ‘I would never do that’ instantly starts me thinking of circumstances when such an action would indeed occur – and always they are there somewhere.  It may be unlikely or undesirable.  The thought of that actually happening to you might be very distressing even – but the fact that it is not impossible means that it could happen, and as such, should be thought about and accepted as such.

A silly example from a recent conversation on this very subject:  “Well – I think I could say that I would never change my name to Nigel.”  “Suppose I offered you a million pounds?”  “Oh – well – in that case . . .”  Of course – I am not going to offer a million pounds – so this friend will, in all probability NOT change his name to Nigel . . . but still, the word never does not apply.  Another example.  The vegetarian who insists they would never eat anything with eyes.  Well – point one: I am sure you would if reduced to desperation.  Being able to really choose what you eat is very much a luxury and if you are starving you will eat what you can get and discover how profound human needs are, believe me!  Point two:  Almost certainly you will have ALREADY have eaten things with eyes.  I once saw a statistic for the number of tiny spiders etc that are accidentally swallowed while asleep.  That may or may not be true and no one seems to agree on the number – though I don’t have too much of a problem believing it.  Those tiny spiders get everywhere and could easily end up falling into your mouth while asleep.  But what IS undeniable is the number of tiny things – spiders, insects, mites etc – inhaled or taken in with food etc, either on your plate or in the factory.  Most of them have eyes and know how to use them.  So once again, ‘never’ bites the dust.  A more extreme example:  ‘I would never kill someone’.  True – you are probably not likely to and don’t want to – but even something like that is perfectly possible if the circumstances were right.  It is a part of being human.  It is an interesting if macabre mental exercise to analyse yourself by imagining such possibilities and what could lie behind them.  They are always there and finding them can tell you a lot about how you work and how the world as a whole works.  Much better than blanket ignoring the whole subject because you don’t find it ‘acceptable’, don’t you think!  And MUCH better than blanket condemnation of something because you don’t really like to think about it.  That’s the worst of all.

Under what circumstances would you commit a murder?  What would drive you to suicide or rape?  What would make you like a soap opera?  And don’t come back with never for any of them – never doesn’t exist, remember?

These, of course, are extremes.  The same thing applies to such things as ‘I would never eat cabbage’, ‘I would never visit Ipswich’ or ‘I would never sleep with you’ . . .

What I am saying, in a nutshell, is that surely it is better to think things through and accept the possibility of unusual things occurring – along with their likelihood and desirability – and thus accepting them as valid.  Without ‘never’, suddenly ‘perhaps’ becomes closer and more inviting.  And ‘perhaps’ is a lovely word.  Much more refreshing and open-minded than ‘never’.  ‘Perhaps’ is a word that signifies thought and consideration – and striving towards understanding of a situation based on its own characteristics.  Perhaps – perhaps not.  But at least you are thinking about it.

The same thing holds true on a cultural level.  And of course, the cultural incarnation of ‘never’ is the law and justice system.  The problem with this ‘never’ attitude here – to regulating what people do – is exactly the same as personal condemnation (only more destructive.  It is like a polyhedral form – a solid shape of flat, regular faces, that is struggling to be a sphere.  All history has demonstrated that human life is not a thing of regular shapes – those absolutes again.  To begin with, the system of laws was simple – like an icosahedron perhaps.  Big simple concepts of absolute ‘do not’s shaped like triangles.  But of course, as humanity progressed, it began to realise that humans actually weren’t icosahedral!  So the system was refined.  More faces were added and it became more varied.  And so the progress has continued.  In its constant struggle to accurately fit the world, the legal system has added more and more faces of increasing complexity until now we are presented with a ridiculously protracted and draconian monster of a shape with thousands and thousands of faces on a myriad different shape.  An insane mass of complexity that it is impossible for any one person to understand.  True – it is a lot more round than the original icosahedron – but one of the basic features of a polyhedral form is that no matter how much you truncate it and add new faces, it can never equal a sphere.  To do that, it would have to become infinite – like ‘never’ itself – and I have already insisted that infinite is not a safe concept for humans!!

‘Never’ is a polygon.  A concept that is great for maths – but is of limited use for describing the real world.

Humans have curves.

It’s a simple concept.  Get used to it!  No matter how much detail you write into a rigid system to try and make it fit – it can never approximate a curve.

That said – and it really isn’t that strange an idea – why is it that humanity seems so keen to chain themselves to these absolutes? Even though they are fake, and most people know it somewhere in their hearts.  People seem very blithe in accepting the bondage of a polyhedral law and personal outlook – a world of ‘thou shalt not’s, never and zeros.  It’s an ancient instinct – to try and regulate how the world works.  I suppose people try and seek comfort in it – forging a kind of world where at least people know how things function, what to do and what not to do . . . but the comfort of what is still a false idea?

At least – they accept it perhaps until they suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of it.  Caught on a vertex, perhaps.  Then they realise how dangerous a polyhedron can be!  But of course, no one pays any attention to them then . . .

There seems to be a wind of change breathing through the UK, however – and perhaps elsewhere.  You can feel it in the message boards and blogs.  An exasperation is developing against a system of laws and society that is seen as increasingly rigid and unhelpfully absolute – exasperation as yet another zero-tolerance policy is announced or yet another ban is slung out to try and reign in the small part of what is banned that is actually harmful – slowly eroding all our respect for the law in the process.  So perhaps people are finally beginning to chafe against the bonds of the polyhedron.  And perhaps this means that eventually the out-dated rigid system that surrounds us, so reliant on zeros and nevers to cure all ills, can be overthrown and replaced by something that fits us much better.  Something curved, perhaps.  It is about time.  Humanity is quite capable of making the step forward that is required.  I am not talking about some esoteric utopia.  We could do it tomorrow if we wanted.  It simply requires an understanding and acceptance of the human system – how people work, and how complex our interactions actually are.  And that ‘never’ doesn’t exist.

Never say never!!

New Reviews In

Posted: June 7, 2010 by Eibonvale in Reviews

Several new reviews have come in recently that have portrayed Ebonvale Press books in a very good light indeed – and i cant resist sharing some of them with you here.

Firstly is a new one of Experiments at 3 Billion A.M. on Horror Fiction Review by Nick Cato:

EXPERIMENTS AT 3 BILLION A.M. surprised me from beginning to end. While it took me a while to get through its massive length (and the few head-scratchers), the majority of this fine collection is quite impressive, especially coming from an author I knew nothing about. Recommended.

Nick Cato – The Horror Fiction Review [link dead]

*    *    *

Next came a spectacular review of Ultrameta, which even went so far as to compare it with Pynchon and Beckett:

On the most surface level you can see a story of a man living many lives, but like Thomas Pynchon, James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, what you see on the surface is but a reflection of the immensity which is hidden beneath. Really, I don’t throw those names around lightly; I really was that impressed with the novel, this represents a new form of literature for a new century.

If the review appears short then maybe a new form of criticism needs to be employed, for my part I was just blown away. There are few book which clash imagery and ideas in such a perfect union as Ultrameta. If this isn’t a modern classic, then there is little justice in the world, which would be an irony considering the content of the book.

Charles Packer – Sci-Fi Online

*    *    *

Then the oldest book of all, What the Giants were Saying, was singled out for a third amazing review:

What the Giants Are Saying is an unnerving, edgy work. It asks the inevitable question, what is art? And then explores the issue in a supremely visceral and unflinching manner. Yes, it has become acceptable (though controversial still) to manipulate inanimate tissue, such as Damian Hurst’s sharks and sheep, or Dr. Gunther von Hagens’ corpse sculptures, but to carve and stitch your art onto living flesh, to mutilate the breathing, that is another matter, or is it? After all, who owns our flesh? We accept the tattoo, the piercing, gender change (whether medically necessary or simply a need), even genital mutilation—weren’t the Castratos of a bygone age mutilated in the name of musical art—so who is to say where it ends, what is acceptable and what is extreme, if not even criminal?

What the Giants Are Saying is a bold work, it eschews story-telling conventions, it is readable, but difficult. It gives no easy answers or comfortable conclusions. It asks mote questions than it answers. It is horror, and then it isn’t, not in the conventional sense anyway, it is that rare and wonderful thing, an unclassifiable work. Even the beautiful, striking and disturbing cover is ostensibly horror, but then, on closer examination probably not.

Terry Grimwood – The Future Fire

*    *    *

Grimwood ended his review with some remarks about Eibonvale Press in general:

David Rix is, as I understand it, the man behind the remarkable and adventurous Eibonvale Press, publishers of the off-beat and different. With his own book he has certainly flown the Eibonvale flag and all power to him for stepping off the main road into wilder, more difficult country.

Thanks to everyone concerned for those new reviews!  All three of you made me very happy!

Why do science and the fantastic have to be at odds?  Or, to put it another way, why should the questioning mind of science and the irrational and imaginative mind be somehow opposite sides?  I don’t think science and the irrational contradict at all to be honest.  Both are inevitable parts of the human condition, so why is there a feeling in some quarters that they are incompatible?  Or somehow damaging to each other?  Myself, I am a scientist AND a fantasist at heart after all!  And quite happy to be both!  I see no contradiction.  Anyone who knows me at all, knows how I love the irrational and the random!  But there’s nawt wrong with science and learning about the world either!!  And, more importantly, that eternal questioning of the world.

Though of course, how the human race as a whole uses science is another matter.  Science didn’t cause humanity’s problems.  How the culture as a whole uses (or fails to use) what science tells us is what landed us in all our messes.  Big companies, the military, the governments, politicizing everything, those idiots who treat it as a kind of substitute religion or as a weapon – all that is pretty ludicrous and does little service to either science or the wondrous irrational depths of the human mind!  Indeed, I think any real scientist has nothing but contempt for that rubbish.  It’s worth remembering though that everything is a dance of ideals and corruption.  Art can become propaganda.  Writing can become bogged down in mainstream prostitution.  The visual medium can even become the TV (shock, horror)!  And science can become corrupted into something destructive or a tool for something else (climate change debate anyone?).

Another annoying thing is the way that science can be treated as some kind of elite thing that ‘ordinary’ people can neither understand nor trust (look at the craziness surrounding the LHC for proof of that!).  It was that kind of attitude that led to the fall of the library of ….Alexandria…. and all the disastrous consequences of that.  Science became something elite and rarified – abstract and removed from ordinary life – and when the revolution came nobody had any compunction whatever about just burning the building to the ground, causing almost unthinkable damage to the entire history of human culture since then.  Essentially taking us back to a ‘comforting’ world of unthinking and unquestioning blindness that lasted centuries and which we STILL haven’t fully emerged from.

Take Richard Dawkins for instance – he was a great guy once.  Had some very interesting things to say.  It was him who created and defined the term ‘meme’ – the “postulated unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena” (Wikipedia) – and where would we be in art and culture without that?  I find memes infinitely fascinating and very interesting for my own writing.  Now though he just seems to have got bogged down in some pointless battle that means nothing.  I can’t see why religion and science have to fight at all!  They have nothing to do with each other.  Religion shouldn’t try and explain reality and science shouldn’t butt into people’s fantasy lives.  Of course though, in a way, Dawkins has taken on a distinct cultural role that many of us are very glad to see filled on some level.  In the great debating chamber of the world where, for a long time, all we heard is one party hammering away, he and others have suddenly stood up on the other side and started hammering right back.  Both yelling and slagging each other off and going purple in the face.  But maybe he will provide a kind of balance – two extremes rather than one and, out of those two opposing forces, some new sense may one day emerge.  But, in taking on that role, he has rather left ‘science’ behind and entered a world closer to politics.

In contrast, look at Carl Sagan, scientist and novelist.  Of course, he was very much a project of his times and science has moved on a lot since his heyday.  But he still remains one of the best examples of the scientist who has never lost that sheer awe and sense of poetry about how the world works.  Sagan’s approach is filled with wonder and the desire to know – and also an admirable ability to avoid becoming dogmatic and to consider the far-out with reason and sense.  I shall also be forever indebted to him for adding one rather less familiar entry into the list of humanity’s flaws – blind obedience of leaders.  Which again goes right back to that thread of unquestioning acceptance that I mentioned earlier.  For all we talk about the horrors of war and the vast tides of political forces, the fact remains that some individual person had to fly the Enola Gay – some individual person had to arrest those Jews and send them to ..Auschwitz…  And some individual person had to release the gas canisters.  So Sagan’s point is a very significant one, even today.  Perhaps especially today as our privacy and liberty are eroded like never before.  As a species, we never seem to be able to ask ‘why are we doing this?’ or ‘why are we putting up with this’ and – well – stopping it.  Instead, as a group, we just grumble about those leaders even as we still blindly follow them.

I dunno – I believe in science, even though I am a fantasist at heart!  I look at the world out there, and I want to know about it!  I want to see what happens down deep.  I want to see the bottom of the deep sea and I want to KNOW what that bizarre thing that the Eltanin photographed is – and I am quite happy knowing it isn’t an extraterrestrial artifact (it’s a sponge – and isn’t that amazing?  A sponge that looks like that?  Sitting in the middle of the pitch black abyss?  That causes a throb like any surrealist painting).  I am also quite happy knowing a bit about the human dream patterns, surrogate religious urges and etc etc that makes us so keen to believe in extraterrestrials and UFOs.  I also want to ‘see’ a Bose-Einstein condensate (though it can never be seen under any circumstances because light kills it instantly).  They make those things by holding a few atoms in a magnetic field cup – I mean, if that doesn’t stretch the imagination, what does?  A few atoms in a virtual cup?  I LIKE knowing why an airplane wing lifts, because looking at the damn thing, it seems to have no right to get off the ground at all – it’s as big as a warehouse.  The Japanese recently tested a new experimental air break system on their shinkansen train – looks JUST like their bloody cat ears!  A cat eared air break?  Bloody marvelous!  And I like knowing how it works (or doesn’t, as it turned out) as well as what it looks like.  [link: http://x–]  And I like knowing the mating habits of leopard slugs (you would not believe . . .). It is just a part of the awe of nature and the world.  I mean – where would we be without that wonder?  It’s a part of us!!!  As kids we like to poke around under logs seeing what is there and how it works.  That’s what freakin’ science is!  (heheh)  And we ask questions.  And for me, questioning everything is just the most important thing in the world!  Without questions we wouldn’t have any art either – or much else!

Yet for some reason that blind acceptance remains programmed into us – slowly the questioning and the awe dies, thanks to some kind of cultural pressure – and that’s so sad! That’s the death of science right there before our eyes.  That’s the flames licking through all the knowledge of ancient times in the Alexandria library and about to plunge us into a grotesque dark age.  What is this stupid urge people have to accept everything?  Without even thinking about it!  Personally, I blame that one single trait for a vast percentage of the misery of human life both now and throughout history.  And it is so nice that, in spite of everything, some people still manage to overcome that – and make Bose-Einstein condensates or put ears on a train to see what happens, or look under that log or under that ocean and maybe see something that nobody else has ever seen before.  And it is also so nice that people can cast their minds free and dream up worlds of the imagination or human activities for us all.  Whether it is surrealist art or extreme ironing, guerilla knitting or Lovecraftian horror stories.

Without science, we are effing FINISHED, mate!  It’s that simple.