Monday, April 12, 2010

The cup teetered on the plate stack as Peter slunk down the hallway.

Lucenzo's slumbering breaths filled the corridor, intermittently pausing as the hallway creaked under Peter's feet.

Waking the fat man would mean having to endure a wheezy sermon about 'the benificence of the sleeping lord'; something Peter could currently live without.

At the top of the stairs Peter paused, his right hand groping for the grainy texture of the balcony, toes wiggling on the cold bluestone step.

As his hand slipped round the smooth banister, Peter felt the cup slowly begin to slide along the top of the plate.

His hand jerked out, just grasping the cup before it fell to the steps below.

A triumphant grin spread across Peter's face, unbroken even by the snapping of his kneecap as it shattered against the edge of a bluestone step.

Lucenzo was awoken by the tinkling of cutlery, and a sound akin to a watermelon hitting a cold, hard bluestone floor.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World

The Gone-Away World ~ Nick Harkaway
Genre: Science Fiction Novel

Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World, set in a world with the misleadingly unoriginal epithet of post-apocalyptic, follows the story of an unnamed narrator and his close childhood friend, Gonzo Lubitsch, combining an adventure epic with questions concerning human existence and the fear of the different through whimsical, quirky and often satirical writing reminiscent of Jonathan Stroud and Douglas Adams.

The story itself, whilst targetting perfectly the young readers' demographic through the inclusion of war, romance, gun-toting heroes, ninjas and mimes, touches sardonically on corporation culture and the natures of wars, as well as briefly reflecting on the inherent discrimination in mankind towards the unusual and the mutant. In itself, the plot would be fairly linear and, whilst gripping, fairly simple (once again, capitalising on the adolescent [primarily male] fascination with, but when considered in conjunction with Harkaway's antic style and an extremely satisfying twist it becomes a must read for any science fiction fan.

Anonymous I.

P.S. Interesting review by Steven Poole, of The Guardian;
"Reading The Gone-Away World is a bit like spending a week with a hyperactive puppy: there are delightful moments aplenty, but it's slightly wearing over the long run. Still, any author who has come up with the beautifully silly plan of melding a kung-fu epic with an Iraq-war satire and a Mad Max adventure has to be worth keeping an eye on."

Monday, September 8, 2008


Water dripped in the distance, nothing more than a trickle, slowly traipsing its way from roof to floor, and then into the many cracks of the tunnel, rent apart by the storm. I looked down in that direction, noting to myself the location, so that one-day I might return, and seek out the precious water source. But now I cannot. The torchlight illuminates the footprints in the dust, little footprints, spaced unevenly on the rough ground, lead me on. In the darkness there is no sound other than the trickling water. Slowly it begins to fade, receding off into the distance as my feet carry me further and further from the tunnels I know. Suddenly the harsh light from above is in front of me, a patch of tunnel where the roof has collapsed in, revealing the walls and floor of that which has become my home, that which used to be nothing more than the place where the refuse of the city passed, the sewers. I dare not venture out into the sunlight, but I see the small footprints going through a small passage, which leads out into the other side of the sunlight. The passage is too small for me however, so taking up my coat, I wrap the back of my neck and my head up, and run across the concrete. The coat immediately heats up, and through my boots I can feel the softness of the ground, and the intense heat that radiates up from it. I am through, but the coat is smoking. I take it off my back and look at it, seeing the leather cracked and dried, and it falls apart in my hands. The sun has turned from being the warmth of life, that which comforted us, and helped us to grow, to a destructive force to be feared, and kept away from.

Carey Re-write

The Californian Poppy Oil dripped down the back of his neck like a provocative finger stroking his nape. He stood still as the finger continued to trail down his back, staining his crinkled white shirt.

“I want to fuck you.”
She shivered in front of him, naked body covered with goose bumps. Goosebumps and a strange mark which curled around her left leg. Mr Jacobs glanced back at her face, but her face had gone slack again. Her voice was tremulous as she said it again, trying vainly to make it sound as if she meant it..
“I want to fuck you.”
She didn’t resist.
“You stupid whore.”
His shouts were punctuated only by his grunting, she lay silent beneath him.
“How will you ever get out, eh doll?”
“You won’t get out, you’ll be stuck here ‘til you’re an old biddy.”
“You’ll be trapped here.”
Her body had stopped trembling, she lay inert beneath him. Her eyes were blank. His arm twitched. The sound echoed throughout the aisles, reverberating out through the Lost and Found. Her eyes started to refocus, hand raised to her red cheek. Now that the echo was fading, it was the only testament to his anger. His body trembled almost in synchronisation with hers; it had begun. The sound of a wet fish being rhythmically slapped against concrete filled the great Lost and Found, spreading and folding into a cacophony of pain and anger.

She had scuttled away somewhere. Jacobs did not know nor care where. She would be curled up like a cat licking its wounds, crazy little bitch that she was. He wandered through the endless aisles of the Lost and Found, little briefcase clinking softly beside him. He glanced at his watch. Soon it would be time to leave. Too little time was left to make a call, so Jacobs walked. As he strode past the abandoned objects, he mentally pricetagged each one. He stopped briefly before a gold-leaf bible, contemplating taking it with him. He moved on.
He wandered past the grey, dull wood that he often saw her sitting by.
“Totally worthless.”
He didn’t understand why she liked it so much, she would never be able to sell it for much.
Finally he came to the aisle where all the oldest junk was stored. Each and every item was familiar. He remembered categorising them when he had started working here. He had wanted to take everything with him, to sell it all. He knew better now, he took only the smallest and most valuable objects. He saw footprints in the dust, he knew she had been wandering here too. There was a mark in the dust halfway down the aisle, as if someone had sat there recently. It was in front of the butterflies.
He had always disliked butterflies. They had seemed to taunt him, their endless freedom only ended when he would catch and crush them in his hands. At first he had laughed when he saw these butterflies. Their freedom removed, pinned up on the cork. Confined forever, lifeless in the dark.
But he no longer laughed at the butterflies. They were too bright in a world of dust and dullness. They did not fit in.

Mr Jacobs always walked home. A car was too expensive, and if he rode a bike his sweat would mix with the poppy oil to create a disgusting odour. It was starting to get dark, and by now much of the alcohol had worn off. A mewling sound from an alleyway made him break his stride. Walking back, Mr Jacobs found a small grey kitten. Caressing its head with one hand, the other searched for a nametag on its collar.
“Here puss. What’s your name then?
“Smokey? What a cute name.”
The kitten nuzzled his hand, purring as he stroked its back. Letting go of its collar, he continued to stroke it with one hand.
His other hand reached for his battered brown briefcase.

Mr Jacobs’ briefcase had been wiped clean by the time he arrived at his apartment block. As he climbed the flight of stairs to his room, the voice of his superintendent hailed him.
“Jacobs! There have been complaints of a smell of paint from your apartment. You haven’t been…redecorating, have you?”
Jacobs turned with an inaudible sigh.
“No, Miss Peters.”
She stared at him briefly, incuriously glancing at what seemed to be a piece of fur on his briefcase. She shivered slightly and turned away.
Closing the door behind him, Mr Jacobs relished the thought of the day that he would own the apartments. On that day she would call him Misterr Jacobs as she was ejected in tears from her own apartment.
“Two years. Just two more years.”
The astringent smell of the grey paint that covered his walls filled his nostrils as he placed his briefcase in the corner of the bare room.

His arms twitched. His sleeves were rolled back. His forearms protruded from the sleeves, trembling and twitching.
This was the fourth afternoon she had hidden from him, somewhere in the gargantuan Lost and Found. He would find her, it was just a matter of time. And when he did, oh how she would pay.
“Come on out, doll. It’ll be easier in the long run.”
“You can’t hide forever in here.”
The thought of her curled up in some dark corner, listening to his voice and shaking with fear excited him. He would find her today. He just knew it.
Something instinctual made him turn towards the older section. He no longer shouted, he savoured the alcoholic warmth that infused his breath. Slowly turning into the aisle, he saw her. The dust was now far more disturbed than before, she had been coming here more and more often.
“I think I’ve found you my pretty!”
Her head snapped around, eyes wide. She scrambled up, knocking into a shelf in her haste. The movement dislodged the butterfly case. Her head did not even turn around as it shattered right in front of him. His arms flew up unconsciously whilst he dropped to a crouch.
He crouched there for several seconds before raising his head above the protection of his forearms. He began to walk towards the end of the aisle where she had disappeared.
Beneath his feet the butterflies and glass were ground into dust.

The little whore was smiling again. Her imbecilic glee was spread flatly across her face, mouth upturned as her eyes focused and refocused. Mr Jacobs was suddenly unsure. Usually her eyes remained unfocused whilst smiling, as she fled her senses and his world. But now she was happy with something in this world, and he wanted to know why.
Mr Jacobs did not like happiness. It served no purpose. It could not be categorised, it could not be measured on an abacus. How were others to know that one had attained happiness without clear sign of money? Take her for example. She seemed to be happy. Why else would she be smiling? And yet for all her smiling, what had she to show for it? Where was the money to show she had attained something? Mr Jacobs did not understand why she desired happiness. What he did understand was that she would still be here in two years when he was collecting rent in his battered briefcase.
He lit his cigar. She leaned against the wall, staring at him. Even from his chair he could see her quivering.
She began asking him questions again. But though they were the same old questions, she pushed him.
“I bet you wouldn’t.”
‘Listen, doll, I said I would, I meant I would. What’s the matter with you? What the fuck are you smiling about?”
His little toes began to twitch. Then the muscles in his calves began to tremble. In less than ten seconds his arms would be shuddering as well. And after that…well, he wouldn’t be the one quivering.
As he glared at her, the twitching slowly rising up his body, she brought her hands out in front of her.
“There it is.”
The twitching stopped. Just has it had reached the bottom of his chest it halted mid-spasm. Every muscle below his waist remained tight as he stared dumbfounded at her hands.
In her hands she had a piece of thick, brown turd. It was wrapped in plastic film, given an extra sheen.
“You dirty little bitch.”
She placed it on the table, and pulled out a withdrawal form. For two hundred dollars. He blinked. Two hundred dollars was a month’s worth of ‘collecting’. The finger began stroking his neck once more, his back arched.
“Sign the form.”
She would not. He reached out a hand, closing thumb and forefinger on the turd. Fingers sliding in, he began to raise it.
“I didn’t mean it. It was a joke.”
He bit it. His body jerked involuntarily as the morsel passed into his mouth, tongue flicking forward like a dog that bounds forward to meet its master after a day alone. The sound of the girl retching reached his ears. His stomach contorted, and he leant away for a moment to dry-retch. His throat was dry. Fumbling for the glass, he brought it to his mouth. He felt his moustache slide along the glass, leaving behind a smeared trail.
He popped the last of the turd into his mouth and swallowed. As it began to slide down his throat he wished that it had been fresher. Suddenly his throat caught, the turd hanging half-way down his gullet. The chair tumbled as he fled from the room. As his stomach purged itself, his thoughts centred on the two hundred dollars, and the girl.
He returned the room, wiping away the stinking muck from his neat clipped moustache. She stood where he had left her. She did not move. Not even to tremble. Her eyes were wide with fear as he closed the door to the bathroom behind him.
“Now sign the form.”
She would pay.
Oh, how she would pay.
The form signed, she shrunk back against the wall. She cringed at the stench of his breath. He took a step towards her, opened his mouth and quietly uttered;
“Now, give me a kiss.”

Flawed Memories.

Her hair is black, the bed is white. He glances at her again. The slight tinge of her soft skin stands out against the starkness of the sheets, the only tint in a colourless world. Her pose reminds him of a painting he once saw by Slapapopovic, an image of a photograph in which a motionless woman lies, arms folded, a crown resting upon her head. But that painting…it could not provoke these feelings. No painting, no matter how fine the brush-strokes, how delicate the features, could ever match the beauty before him.
The sheets beneath him rustled silently as he lowers himself beside her. He does not touch her, remaining just beyond physical connection. She is within his reach, but he does not feel a need to touch her, he does not want to wake her. Her hands are folded on her breast, her eyes are closed.
Looking at her from this angle, he sees the wedding dress as they first discovered it. An old Jewish couple, clearly down on hard times, had given it to him in exchange for smuggling their son out. Their son was young, so young he may even have been their grandchild, and he did not understand why he had to leave. The old woman had been torn between the desire to save the boy, and the terrible importance of the wedding dress. She had brought it out, fingers shaking as they held it both tightly and delicately, her eyes filling with tears at the very sight of it.
When he left, dress slung over his shoulder, his last sight was that of the woman, silent tears cascading in rivulets through the rivets in her face, clutching her husband and the child.
Recalling her silence, he finally realises what is missing. He can see his wife. She lies beside him, and he sees once more her dark hair against the brilliance of the sheets. But as he lies there, he cannot feel the cotton rubbing against his skin. He cannot hear the breath escaping from the lungs of the woman beside him, he cannot hear the almost imperceptible catch in her throat that she always made when breathing in. He searches for the faint rising of her chest, for the movement of her lips as she breathes in and out, but they are not there. He reaches towards her, hoping to shake her out of a sleep that too closely resembles death. As he reaches out, she still does not move. She still does not breathe.

She is gone. Memories began to seep through the cracks of his blockade. Happiness. Grief. The images flicker before him, giving him no time to concentrate on each individually. Her voice echoes throughout his mind, particular phrases and words each bearing a multitude of memories. Emotions and feelings almost forgotten re-emerge; the warmth of her body beside his, the tentative touch of her breath and lips upon his neck, the pressure as she clutched his hand, frightful of the future. He clutches at these, trying vainly to separate these from the flow, to hold them within himself. But soon they are replaced. The sun shines down upon his shoulders and forearms, warming him as he uncorks the bottle. Wine trickles down his throat, followed quickly by a lump of warm meat. They sit upon a blanket in the sun, talking little, enjoying one another’s presence. But even though he remembers this much, when she talks, he hears nothing. When she reaches across to touch his arm, he feels nothing. She exists only in memory, he will only hear her voice echoing in the confines of his mind, slowly fading away. He has nothing to remember her by, nothing but a single photo, a tiny snapshot that he will come to base all his memories around. It is the only one they let him take with him when he left quarantine. She is asleep in the photograph, her hair splayed out about her head, and her eyes are closed.
Once more he lies beside her, and her repose is undisturbed by his presence. He watches her chest, waiting for the telltale rise. He knows not whether it will ever come, but it matters not. All he can do is lie there, watch, and wait.

Her skin is so pale that it seems almost colourless. Her posture is hardly that of a sleeper, for her hair spreads out like the petals of a sunflower around her head, and her hands are clasped on her chest. The gauze veil surrounding the bed obscures everything outside the bed, creating a hazy boundary past which he cannot see. His eye automatically focuses on the still shape lying in the centre, the sole solid form in his vision.
This is the way he remembers her. No longer full of life, her vibrant vitality long lost, but still unsullied, untainted by that which devours her from the inside. The image begins to change. At first he does not notice it, so small is the trickle, but soon the pool of scarlet liquid under her head begins to grow. The white dress, her wedding dress, starts to darken and flatten, until the whole lower part of her dress is sodden. The sheets below are being tainted as well, the dark liquid slowly soiling the immaculate. Now even her ebony hair has lost its lustrous sheen, replaced by a polluted gleam. The only movement is the gradual seeping of her life, as it slowly flows outwards, befouling the sheets. Unhurriedly it spreads outwards, a red tide slowly consuming the former whiteness. It creeps slowly outwards, unopposed but for small pockets where the white is bunched up, slowly being subsumed in a tide of scarlet. Very occasionally a spot is able to remain free of the taint, a small shred of white completely alone in the world. Should the dark vermillion force remain unopposed, soon it will begin to change. No longer will it be the red conquering mass that once covered the land. It will settle. It will congeal. It will become a part of the land itself. Only a concerted external effort can do anything to cleanse it’s corruption, and even then, where it has pooled, a stain will linger eternally, a physical memory that can be erased by nought but time.

He notices that the blood has pooled around him as he kneels, rushing down the slight incline to a new area of conquest. Slowly it begins to ascend, and where it touches him his skin goes numb. Bulges begin to form on his legs and chest, soon growing to such large swellings that his stretched skin can no longer contain them, bursting forth in a shower of blood and pus. Her face, previously untouched by the blood that flowed from her very body, is soon splattered with his expulsions. The swellings continue to ooze after rupturing, and his shirt is drenched with his bodily fluids. His body tries to force the foreign entity from itself, soon damaging itself beyond repair in a futile attempt to heal.
The skin upon his neck begins to tighten, and so shocking is the sensation that for a moment his silent writhing is halted. He kneels in pools of blood, dripping more of the same polluted liquid. The puddles do not have time to settle, for the pain strikes him again twofold, and he splashes the liquid all about, spraying the white veil scarlet, as each nerve in his body tries to escape from it’s cursed host. The numbness has long passed, and for a brief sane moment he wishes it would return, to save him from his excruciating agony. The swelling on his neck bursts, and as he falls forward, overbalanced at last, he sees her face, wet with his spatter, surrounded by the very same scarlet oblivion he topples towards.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Peter Carey's Collected Stories

Collected Stories ~ Peter Carey
Genre: Short Stories; Fiction (including a couple of fantasy and sci-fi short stories).

Before I even start talking about the text itself, let me just say I read it through in January this year, was amazed by it, lent it to brother, he was amazed with it, bought himself and a number of his friends copies and took a long time to return my copy to me.

This is one of my Literature 3/4 texts, and to tell the truth I'm amazingly glad that it is. The short stories, though very bizarre, are complex and engrossing. Carey treads thin-thematic ice in regards to the colonisation of Australia (and cultural genocide) by America, focusing especially on the way that Australia has become a victim of the influence of America with regard to dreams (as seen in American Dreams), and how this perversion of Australian culture can lead to nothing good. Carey also delves into isolation, and how this can act as a catalyst and exacerbate the baser tendencies, as well as decreasing the mental stability of the isolated and often marginalised protagonists. These are but a drop in the ocean, with Carey investigating the objectification of women, undercurrents in society, as well as the base and taboo subjects which are seldom talked about but quite likely performed more than one would like to think. In regards to taboo Carey is ruthless, depicting copophragia, incest, rape, dictatorships, cannibalism and homosexuality all with a dispassionate and generally omniscient narration.

What I found most intriguing however was the way that Carey defied the boundaries between reality and fantasy, often merging the two so seamlessly that the reader loses all track of what is real and what is not. To call the stories bizarre is an understatement, but the nuance that can be found in Carey's trademark concise sentences is often far more shocking than the terrible acts that provide the base for Carey's investigation into the human psyche. From stories about mimes and talking unicorns to analytical reports of a revolution and the revulsion of fat people that stems from it, Carey manages to be consistent, though varied. In regards to consistency he often deals with the same themes, and in all of them can be seen important messages about humanity and the way that it goes through the motions. With respect to variety, every single story out of the twenty-six short stories found in the 454-page long collection deals with a completely different scenari, with different characters and often in very different worlds.

Carey's ability to place bizarre and amazingly unconventional acts within diconcertingly commonplace situations spawns a concurrently surreal and disturbing effect, as Carey explores the multi-faceted nature of every single scene and situation present in the short stories. In stories like "The Puzzling Nature of Blue", "American Dreams" and "Report on the Shadow Industry", Carey analyses the pervasive influence of the politcal on the personal as well as the illusory appeals of artistic creation. Other stories, like "Life and Death in the South Side Pavilion" (my brother's personal favourite), "The Fat Man in History" and "The Uses of Williamson Wood" (my personal favourite) explore the situations of the marginalised of society, the fat, the mentally and physically abused, the weak and the deadbeats, their triumphs and their dilemmas (with special emphasis on the latter).

To tell the truth, my immature and somewhat sub-standard reviewing abilities really can't reproduce the thoughts flying about my head, so I'll leave it basically with this.

The Sydney Morning Herald said that reading Peter Carey's Collected Stories is like "being shot by a firing squad of angels."

Peter Carey claimed diffidently that he had "made a whole career out of making my anxieties get up and walk around."

Laura Cummings, Sunday Times, August 13, 1995;
"Here is a man who can put you into the head of Homer in the blistering heat ("Light falls on his blind eyes like coloured rain on a tiled roof") as he exhaustedly rearranges the "small coins" of his characters within the great epic..."

Simply a must-read, especially if you are fond of complex and post-modernistic short stories.
(Not simply a must read, but a must CLOSE read...every time you read a sentence you realise something new about what Carey was trying to say.)

Anonymous I

Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Tetralogy, Part 1

The Dragonbone Chair ~ Tad Williams
Genre: Fantasy

I picked this book up last year after having it recommended to me repeatedly, and as a result had high expectations (that and I loved Tad Williams' Otherland Tetralogy). Unfortunately, these were to some extent not achieved. While Williams' prose is well-paced and fluent, and his style of writing altogether pleasing, the content itself of the book was somewhat...unoriginal. I used to be a huge fan of the entire formulaic fantasy style (David Eddings being exemplary in this); scullion boy moans about how unimportant he is. Scullion boy is apprenticed to magician, but still retains no hopes as to an interesting future. Boy is then drawn into a world of magic and intrigue, in which he finds out that he's basically the only person who can save the world. Boy meets random girl/girl dressed as boy, and falls in love with said girl. Girl turns out to be princess. Boy is depressed as he believes he's not good enough for girl. Boy gets with girl. Boy saves world.

Of course, cynicism aside, The Dragonbone Chair was a good read, and I did throw myself whole-heartedly into it as a form of nostalgia. It's set in a fantasy world (unsurprisingly), ruled over predominantly by humans, but with other races all scattered about (and generally treated nastily by humans). There are the trolls, who live in the far northern mountains and bear some resemblance to dwarves (short, like mountains, ride rams etc), the Sithi (a race that preceded the humans, heavy on the magic, part animal, very cat-like, very mysterious and misanthropic etc) and, of course, dragons. The tale follows the path of Seoman (re-named Simon for convenience by kind people who adopt him), a scullion boy who was left at the castle in mysterious circumstances, with little or nothing known about his heritage. Of course it's simply obligatory that he becomes apprenticed to a magician (who turns out to be a member of a secret order), saves a prince from his brother (who becomes an evil king), and goes on to battle the minions of Ineluki, the feared Storm King. While this it inself is not particularly novel, and the whole idea of a scullion boy who sets out on his own (and is later befriended by a troll, Binabik) isn't really new either, Williams is still able to draw the reader in (let's face it, it's generally a formula that works) , and hold them there.

The trials that Simon goes through are often rather harrowing, and I caught myself smiling more than once at some jest or cute scene (and then glanced around to make sure no one had seen my idiotic grin), so overall Williams I think did pretty well, considering that he was writing on nothing new. Whilst not the best book of its kind, and astoundingly predictable at times, it's still worth a perusal if you have the time on your hands and are really into that sort of thing. Otherwise, I wouldn't go out of your way for it.

Anonymous I