“Cinderella’s Sisters”

My look at the story’s in Brian Stableford’s Sexual Chemistry collection continues.

Review: “Cinderella’s Sisters”, Brian Stableford, 1989.

Cover by Bruce Hogarth

This 1989 story is more humane and emotional than the collection’s preceding “Bedside Conversations” and “A Career in Sexual Chemistry”. I suspect it makes that impression because, unlike those stories which feature, respectively, a man in strange circumstances and a strange man, this story centers around multiple people. Specifically, it’s a tale of sibling rivalry. Our siblings are the sisters Jeanne and Aurora Dark, two fraternal twins. 

This story has even more of a fairy tale structure than “A Career in Sexual Chemistry”. Not only is there the title alluding to a fairy tale, but the opening is “Once upon a time . . . “. 

Aurora is blonde and blue-eyed. Jeanne, the youngest by minutes, is brown-eyed and brown-haired. Their parents are fairly wealthy since Grandfather Dark made a fortune in the “bioengineering business”. Other children envy them for their wealth, but it is nothing compared to the envy each sister has for the other. 

Stableford says the ultimate reason for this probably goes back to their in-utero competition for resources. Their mother says Jeanne will never forgive Aurora for being born first. 

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The Prozess Manifestations

I’ll be returning to Brian Stableford’s Sexual Chemistry shortly, but the usual method of operation at this blog is that the “literary reconnaissances” are posted in the order of observation, and I finished this book before Stableford’s.

As a reminder, posts marked “essay” contain extensive spoilers.

Essay: The Prozess Manifestations, Mark Samuels, 2019.

Samuels is not generally a weird fiction writer associated with a “mythos”. However, if you read enough Samuels, you realize some of his work is a constellation of stories around his fictional Victorian writer Lilith Blake and the area around London’s Highgate Cemetery.

And then there’s the series of stories in this book, most referencing a Doctor Prozess. But it’s not a mythos linked by plot or place or a chronology. Rather Prozess, as we’ll see, is more a symbol, and avatar of deeper forces and drives in our lives.

I’ll be looking at the stories in order, and some I’ve looked at before.

Decay“ has a setup reminiscent of an early William Gibson cyberpunk story since its protagonist, Carlos Diaz, is hired by the grotesquely fat Hermes X (a name suggestive of a seeker of magical secrets) to spy on one Cornelius Parry. Parry is a former researcher in artificial intelligence (I suspect the name “Parry” is an allusion to an early artificial intelligence program that simulated the personality of a paranoid schizophrenic) whose researches seem to have continued and yielded fruit.

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“A Career in Sexual Chemistry”

My look at the stories in Brian Stableford’s Sexual Chemistry continues.

Review: “A Career in Sexual Chemistry”, Brian Stableford, 1987.

Cover by Bruce Hogarth

While the preceding “Bedside Conversations” featured, in a sense, a child conceived sans sexual intercourse, this story is definitely concerned with sex (and, secondarily, procreation). Also, while “Bedside Conversations” handwaves its application of genetic engineering away with the phrase “tissue reconstruction”, this story is more specific in its biological speculations. 

The story opens with a discussion about people cursed with surnames having unfortunate historical associations, specifically Hitler and Quisling. Some change their names. Others adapt a “an attitude of defensive stubbornness” against the “mockery of the world”. Others see it as a curse and a challenge to heroically rise above the name. The name Casanova does not come with such associations. Men carrying it can see it as carrying a “mystique” which they could “wittily exploit”. 

But our hero, Giovanni Casanova, is not one of them. He is born in Manchester, UK on Valentine’s Day 1982. (Stableford actually says February 14th thus leaving the irony for the reader to catch.) His father was from a line of impoverished intellectuals unable, due to circumstances, to live up to their potential. He migrated to Manchester in the Depression to escape Fascist Italy. There, despite his good looks, he lived in “placid monogamy” after he married local woman Jenny Spencer. In the tradition of a “traditional working-class family” then, social mobility was regarded as being for sons only. Jenny was an apprentice hairdresser at 16, married at 17, and a mother at 18. 

Giovanni was cursed with looks and physique that were a “non-starter” in the romantic field. He can’t even flash his dark eyes. A bout of childhood measles left him very myopic and slightly crossed eyes hidden behind thick lens. (This is rather autobiographical. Stableford has written that a bout of childhood measles left him with very bad vision.) 

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“Bedside Conversations”

And I return to one of my favorite authors, Brian Stableford.

There’s a lot of Stableford to review – and that’s just his fiction.

Stableford and Nancy Kress are the authors who have most prolifically and rigorously dealt with the implications of genetic enginnering, and Stableford’s Tales of the Biotech Revolution is his most extended treatment of the theme.

Since I had Sexual Chemistry: Sardonic Tales of the Sexual Chemistry on the shelf, I thought I’d start there. Several months later, the project hasn’t gotten any further since I haven’t gotten all the many books in that series.

Still, I’m starting. As usual, Stableford will get one post per story.

While the stories in Sexual Chemistry all deal with genetic engineering, only one is in the Tales of the Biotech Revolution series. It’s “And He Busy Not Being Born”, and I’ve already briefly posted about it, so I won’t be covering it again. Actually, it’s “The Growth of the House of Usher”, and I will be covering it.

Review: “Bedside Conversations“, Brian Stableford, 1990.

Cover by Bruce Hogarth

In the collection’s “Introduction”, Stableford starts out by noting the two great revolutions in human history: agriculture and industrialization. The “biological machines” that genetic engineering uses promise any even greater transformation. The possibilities of such a technology could be “hazardous and disquieting”. Used well, Stableford contends it can bring “paradise on earth”. Used badly, it could be apocalyptic. 

Stableford acknowledges some of the stories in this collection are, indeed, apocalyptic. More are ambivalent about genetic engineering and don’t represent its potential without “unqualified enthusiasm”. That, says Stableford, is not personal pessimism on his part. All except one story in the collection were written in the wake of the futurology work he co-wrote with David Langford, The Third Millennium. But, to dramatize the more bizarre possibilities of genetic engineering, fiction must be used. 

Science fiction can more effectively and imaginatively dramatize than futurology the implications of genetic engineering. It can ask question its implications “in a particularly cunning and pointed fashion”. The genre can help us imagine the future of humanity and the lives of our children though it can’t predict the future. Prediction is beyond the genre.

Stableford says he didn’t deal with the most likely applications of genetic engineering in these stories. Rather most of the stories deal with the themes of sex and death since they are at the heart of so many of our desires and anxeties. The stories are caricatures because caricatures more readily carry “meaning and implication” than realistic portraits. Absurdity and “entertaining nonsense” can help us more clearly see real possibilities. Utopias are boring fiction. It is the dystopia and apocalyptic that inspire the imagination if only to steer clear of an imagined future. 

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Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes

Low Res Scan: Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes, Mark Samuels, 2008, 2016.

Cover by Mark Samuels

Processes are those legal, political, technological, bureaucratic, and scientific things that define our modern world, a world Mark Samuels is not fond of. So it’s no accident that the very word process shows up in this collection’s title. I’ll eventually be looking at another work of Samuels’ called The Prozess Manifestations.

As befitting the “Low Res Scan” designation, I won’t be reviewing “Sentinels”, “Cesare Thodol: Some Lines Written on a Wall”, “Ghorla”, “Regina vs. Zoskia”, and “A Gentleman from Mexico” since I’ve looked at them already in my post on The Age of Decayed Futurity. This is a variant edition of Samuels’ 2008 Glypotech collection sans “The Cannibal Kings of Horror”, a satire story he deemed “wholly undertaken by even more outlandish developments”.

Psychotropic drugs had dulled its effects to the extent that he was almost able to ignore the surrender of the human race to this phenomenon of sham. But the medication only produced neutrality; one more means of ensuring his tacit compliance if not his participation. Early on, when he first recognised the all-pervasive nature of the sham-existence, he had talked to others about it. However, they did not seem to realise that all apparent solutions were equally part of the problem. Science, psychology, religion and philosophy were likewise only manifestations. There seemed only one viable way to circumvent the circus that is sham-existence: annihilation.

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The White Hands and Other Weird Tales

Low Res Scan: The White Hands and Other Weird Tales, Mark Samuels, 2003.

Samuels’ horrors frequently involve contagions both mental and physical. His characters are often socially isolated and, eventually, mentally isolated. His stories rarely involve solitary monsters but the intrusion or revelation of some group breaking into our world from the future, another dimension, or even underground to bring some horrible corruption upon us. Sometimes his characters’ alienation is a spiritual and physical wound inflicted by modernity, particularly in its manifestation in the modern office. If they seek transcendent revelation, it can be a dangerous and futile quest.

In “The Grandmaster’s Final Game” perfecting the play of chess takes on theological elements. One day Reverend Mooney is contemplating the chess problems he’s going to work on when his slow day taking confessions ends. But then in walks Leonard Hughes, a man with an eidetic memory who has given himself over to perfecting his chess game and developing his own strategy and style rather than just playing gambits from historical games he’s memorized. Hughes has a strange story and a stranger question: what if there are men so wicked that even Hell won’t take them.

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“Bethmoora”

This week’s weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing’s group, The Weird Tradition.

Review: “Bethmoora”, Lord Dunsany, 1910. 

While I’m not a big fan of Lord Dunsany, I actually liked this story, and it definitely reminded me of H. P. Lovecraft in his Dunsanian mode. 

The story opens with the narrator walking during the early morning hours in London and commenting on the various sights he sees: dancers going home, a man with a cane tapping through the deserted night streets, untidy guards with antique muskets, and street washers. 

His thoughts turn to the desert city of Bethmoora which he wishes he could return to. Travelers have told him it is desolate now. 

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“The Dream of Akinosuke”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing is very strange indeed.

Review: “The Dream of Akinosuke”, Lafcaido Hearn, 1904.

Our story opens with Miyata Akinosuke, a goshi (a farmer-soldier, a freeholder like an English yeoman). One warm summer day he’s beneath an ancient cedar tree in his garden with a couple of his friends. Wine and the heat make him sleepy, and he excuses himself for a nap. He then has a dream. 

A “grand procession” shows up at his house with dignitaries from the Kokuo of Tokyo (in effect, the king). He is asked to travel with it to Tokyo. He is too astonished and embarassed to answer and his will seems “to melt away”.

He accompanies the procession, riding in a carriage (actually a palanquin), to Tokyo. He arrives in a surprisingly short time at an immense palace and is treated with great honor. He is told he is to be given the honor of an audience with Kokuo and dressed in regal garb. 

The king tells Akinosuke that he wants him to be the “adopted husband of Our only daughter”, and the wedding is to be performed immediately. The marriage goes off. The king’s daughter is as beautiful as “a maiden of heaven”. 

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“Man-Size in Marble”

Yes, I’m way behind in my fiction reading for The Weird Tradition group over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Man-Size in Marble”, Edith Nesbit, 1887.

Cover by Mauricio Villamayor

This started out well and ended not so well.

The story opens by stating “every word of this story is as true as despair”. The narrator says he is going to tell a story most will dismiss in favor of a “rational explanation”. But, he says, his “life’s tragedy” does not have the element of an “utter delusion”. This, he tells us, will be the tale of three people: a woman named Laura (revealed to be his wife), another man who still lives, and the narrator. We learn the fateful night in the story is October 31st

The narrator and his wife are poor and look for some place to live. He is a painter. Laura is a writer.  They are reconciled that they won’t have much money, but they’ll get by. They find a house near a village called Brenzett near the Romney Marsh.  (Miller’s foreword to the story says Nesbit herself was fond of this area and retired there a few years before her death.) 

They have a housekeeper called Mrs. Dorman who is friendly, efficient, and tells them the local folklore. However, in October, Mrs. Dorman states she is leaving their service. Laura is upset at them having to now tend to domestic chores as well as working. Mrs. Dorman says she has to leave to tend to her sick niece, but her niece has been sick a long time already. 

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The Face of Twilight

Review: The Face of Twilight, Mark Samuels, 2006, 2016.

Cover by Mark Samuels

Ivan Gilman is a writer making little headway on his fourth book and, when his apartment building burns down, his depleting funds force him into a room on London’s Archway Road. It does have a couple of advantages. It’s cheap, and it’s near the Rochester Pub, a conducive environ for filling notebooks with text and helping the regulars out with crossword puzzles.

There is one drawback – the creepy, balding neighbor in the apartment below by the name of Conrad Stymm.

Gilman develops a professional interest in apocalyptic sects, the notion of graffiti covered bridges and buildings as symbols of a magical project to raise the dead. Then there’s the abandoned tv station in North London.

It’s not all failed drafts and a growing obsession with the psychogeography of the city. There are the weekly meetings with other writers – mostly so Gilman can mooch drinks. When Gilman rescues the attractive Kate Collins from the troillist clutches of one writer and takes her home, things become more uncertain. Kate leaves Gilman before he wakes up, and shows up dead and mutilated later on.

And Gilman begins to think Stymm is involved.

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