Flash Fiction: “Headfirst” and “Reminders”

On my travels around the internet I often stumble across photographs that tell a story. Sometimes it’s a single moment, one I can capture in a few hundred words. More often I’m really only telling part of the story–what brought the character(s) to this point, or what’s happening right now. These snippets end up in my Big Book of Ideas, and one day I hope to expand on a few of them. The others, the single moments, stand as they are.

Today, I’m sharing one of each. A story I feel is a complete moment, and one that is a slice of something much bigger. There’s more story to both, of course, but in the first case, I believe the moment I’ve captured–or more accurately, remembered on behalf of my narrator–tells more than everything that might have come before. Continue reading “Flash Fiction: “Headfirst” and “Reminders””

Review: Signal to Noise

signal-to-noise-cover-gaiman-mckean-dark-horse

Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman (writer) and Dave McKean (artist).

Originally released in 1999, Signal To Noise tells the story of a dying film-maker who is writing a script for a film he will never make. The script tells the story of a village facing the previous millennium. As his thoughts become more erratic and his need to finish the story more urgent, the two events begin to merge inside his imagination, so that by the end of the comic, the film-maker is on the hill behind the village and the people around him, the villagers, represent his successes, his failures and his fears. That’s my interpretation, anyway.

It’s a concept comic. There is a story, but in the words of the writers, it’s up to the reader to separate the signal from the noise and there is plenty of noise. There are introductions, forewords and prologues, many of which feel a bit like performance art or a poetry reading. I’m not a fan of either; so I’m sitting in a smoke-filled room, listening to words that don’t seem to fit together. I don’t dare leave my seat, though, because I’m trying to impress my date. I pretend to understand, I pretend I am gleaning something from the words floating through the smoke and maybe I do, but when I get outside and take my first draught of fresh air, the spell dissipates and I re-enter reality.

I’m simple folk. I like my stories simple, too. Thankfully, after pages and pages of noisy graphics, the story does take hold and the pages of chaotic images begin to make sense when taken as part of the whole; they really do help illustrate the mindset of the film-maker. The story wavers, too, the thread of it thinning and thickening.

I did like the story. I liked it very much. The film-maker’s vision of the end is so bleak. For him, death is a lonely exercise. He’s also angry and jaded, which is understandable, given that he’s dedicated his life to making films that attempt to peel back the skin of the world. So, his last story becomes much more personal than he intended. One does have to wonder if it was always going to be such a personal project, though. Perhaps we are all walking around making movies in our head. Composing stories, constructing scenes. Wishing it could be like that, until the movie becomes a reflection of what we are actually trying to create our way out of.

This edition of Signal To Noise is sure to please fans of both Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. It’s a good collaboration, not one of convenience. The graphic novel has a seamless feel and really fits together and well illustrates the style of both.

I haven’t talked about the art. It’s amazing. The first page features a distorted image, as if the signal is noisy. That feel continues throughout, with messy drips of signal dotting the pages and spilling across margins. It also pervades each panel of the comic. Faces are twisted, every scene has a murky shadow and the shading is stippled and hatched. But the images are completely clear and precise. Expressions are perfectly nuanced and with a few pen strokes, an entire scene conveyed. It’s clever art. Some of my favourite panels didn’t feature people at all, but photo-realistic scenes from the present. A car, a room, a tyre-clamp.

Signal To Noise has a long and varied publishing history, which is detailed in the introductions. This particular volume has the feel of a collectors’ edition. It’s one for the fans, definitely, but it also makes a great stand-alone introduction to both Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. If I hadn’t already explored a lot of their other work, I’d be out there looking for it now.

Written for and originally published at SFCrowsnest.

Review: Shaman

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

Shaman is the story of Loon, a young man who comes of age thirty-two thousand years ago, in the paleolithic era. At the beginning of the book, he is stripped naked, pushed out into the rain and told not to come back for two weeks. He is on his shaman wander. Staying alive is his most immediate goal. Returning in style seems equally important. After several mishaps, Loon manages both feats—thankfully, as it would be a rather short book if he died in the first chapter.

Loon is not entirely sure he wants to be a shaman, and throughout the handful of years that follow, he strives for adulthood with a quiet force that while presented as uncertainty is actually borne of a relentless conviction that he will be who he wants to be, regardless of what others require of him.

Of course, he grows up to be exactly who he is supposed to be. (You’ll need to read the book to figure that one out.)

Continue reading “Review: Shaman”

Review: Jagannath

Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

Jagannath is a collection of thirteen short stories by Swedish author, Karin Tidbeck. The stories are written in English, but maintain a Nordic flavour. Not all the tales in this slim volume appealed. Though I found myself amused by the number of organic creatures populating the pages, I did get the sense I might have appreciated more of the stories if I had a more broad understanding of folklore. Jagannath has collected some outstanding reviews, however, and a couple of the stories easily illustrate why.

The last story, for which the anthology is named, is one of those odd adventures in literature where the reader constantly grasps for meaning. Rak is born into what appears to be the inside of a being known as Mother. Once she is grown enough, she is put to work massaging food through the intestines. Scraping sustenance from the interior walls and sleeping in a fleshy alcove, Rak expects to work there until she dies, at which point she will be massaged through those intestines by her replacement. Mother roams the world outside looking for food. Inside, the workers thrive and starve according to her diet. After a particularly lean period, Rak visits the nursery for a replacement worker and discovers there are no more babies. By the end of the story, I had little more idea who or what Mother was than Rak did, but I had plenty of theories—my favourite of which involved a post-apocalyptic scenario and alien centipedes. Either way, as Tidbeck’s story draws to a close, Rak’s begins again as she is birthed into the outside world. I found the imagery and imagination of ‘Jagannath ‘ extraordinary. I wanted to know more, but enough clues were provided for me to devise my own conclusions.

Another story that captured my attention was ‘Augusta Prima’. Augusta is a member of court in a world that exists out of time. Days are filled with activities that amuse the courtiers. Nights with revel. Servants are gruesomely treated and the bodies piling up across the pages were treated with less than idle curiosity until Augusta finds a trinket on one. She discovers it’s a watch and that it is used to measure time—a concept she is unfamiliar with. Once made aware of its passage, however, she finds she is unable to ignore it. She starts measuring her world and as a result, becomes bound by what she describes. A nice and simple allegory for the modern condition.

Many of the other stories lost me a couple of pages in as I either failed to find a speculative element or identify with the subject. Not so say the stories were badly written or boring, more not to my taste. I would like to mention one last tale, however. ‘Cloudberry Jam’ was simultaneously disturbing and sweet. As a mother, I felt the bittersweet pain at the end as the narrator of the story lets her baby go and that parting, mothers and children, seemed a theme throughout the collection.

While I did not understand or get ‘something’ from every story, reading Jagannath was still a worthwhile experience. I chose it on the strength of those outstanding reviews and, for me, the highlights outshone the low points.

Written for and originally posted at SFcrowsnest.