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“The intensity of this unease would increase…” @nightjarpress #johnfoxx #TheLake

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I’ve previously featured on the Ramblings those lovely limited edition chapbooks released by Nightjar Press, mainly titles issued of M. John Harrison‘s stories, but also a chilling little tale from Robert Stone. A new batch has just been issued (hurrah!) and today I want to share my thoughts on two of the releases which rather intriguingly share the same title – although the contents are very different! Both stories are called “The Lake” and one is by Livi Michael, the other by John Foxx. Needless to say, coming from Nightjar, they contain unsettling tales… Let’s take a look at them! 😀

The Lake by Livi Michael

The first of the two watery tales is from an author new to me, and she’s published prolifically, with 19 novels and numerous short stories to her credit. “The Lake” is a chilling little story, narrated by a precise, almost OCD widower. Since his wife, Emma, died he’s kept a diary, more to ground himself than anything else; the entries give structure to his life, reminding him to do daily tasks, and there’s immediately the sense that his life is very empty since his loss. However, one day this controlled existence is turned upside down by an entry in the diary which he doesn’t recall making; and more follow. As the story continues, it’s clear that there’s more to his connection to the lake than meets the eye – but what do the messages mean?

It’s very hard to discuss this chapbook in any more detail without giving away essential plot points, but like the other Nightjars I’ve read, it’s brilliantly written. The tone of the narrative really captures the protagonist’s nature, his state of mind and the sense of him unravelling slightly as he loses control of his daily life. It’s a very cleverly done piece of writing and I was most impressed!

The Lake by John Foxx

Some might find John Foxx an unexpected visitor to the Ramblings in written form, as he’s probably best known for his musical releases; firstly from the original line-up of Ultravox!, and thereafter for his acclaimed solo releases (I’m a huge fan). However, Foxx is something of a polymath, running an alternative career in graphic design and also as a writer. The original 1981 release of his vinyl LP “The Garden” had a booklet insert which featured some of his writings, and he’s more recently issued a collection of these works called “The Quiet Man”, as well as a spoken word album “The Marvellous Notebook”. So, a very multi-talented man!

Anyway, his take on “The Lake” is an equally unsettling one, with a narrator who grew up near a particular body of water and was drawn to it as a boy. As he got older he continued to visit the lake, until one day a strange and disturbing encounter changed his relationship with it forever. That event was never explained – but will there ever be some kind of resolution? More than this I cannot say…

Again, this is a wonderfully discomfiting and atmospheric piece of writing which captures the setting and the sheer strangeness of the encounter quite brilliantly. As I’ve discussed in the past, when covering the work of M. John Harrison, water can be suggestive or sinister, and as we humans are made up of a lot of the stuff, we’re often drawn to large bodies of it. What we’ll find there is another matter…

***

Once again, Nightjar have come up with some very unsettling and suggestive reads, and both explorations of what happens at lakes turned out to be wonderful (although difficult to discuss in detail without spoilers!). If these two titles are indicative of the quality of the latest eight releases, I recommend you track them down! You can find more info about the Nightjar titles here (and also on Twitter); in the meantime, I think I’m definitely going to avoid going near any lakes for a while… ;D

 

#1965Club – the unchanging nature of human beings…

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Today sees the start of another wonderful week of Club reading – yes, it’s time to welcome you to the #1965Club! For one week we’ll be discovering, reading and discussing books from the mid-point of the 1960s, and for my part the hardest thing has been choosing what to read. 1965 seems to have been a varied and bumper year, and one from which I’ve already read many books. However, I wanted to read from the TBR as much as possible and so I’ve settled for a few titles, which I threw myself into with gusto after finishing “The Devils”. The first one I want to share with you is a science fiction short story – “The Doors of his Face, The Lamps of his Mouth” by Roger Zelazny.

Zelazny is a name I’ve always been aware of, in my various flirtations with sci-fi writing, but I’ve no idea how well-known he is in mainstream terms. He’s probably an author I’ve never read as I consider him more straight sci-fi, whereas I like my science fiction a little warped or off-kilter… However, he apparently also wrote poetry and fantasy, producing a massive body of work. This particular story was published in 1965 (of course!) and won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette in that year; it originally appeared in the March 1965 edition of “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction”, and gave its name to the collection I have, which appeared in 1971. There is a story behind by obtaining of this particular edition, as I was in search of the cover art by one Dennis Leigh – the real name of musician John Foxx, who has a sideline in the arts! You can read about that here; that’s by the by, really as it’s the story we’re interested in, and I chose to just read the 1965 tale from the collection; although on the strength of it I plan to read more…

“Doors…” is set on the planet Venus at an unspecified time in the future when travel between planets seems routine; the planet is Earth-like and inhabitable, unlike the real Venus, and of course has been colonised by those voracious humans. The narrator is one Carlton Davits who describes himself as a baitman. As the story progresses it becomes clear that humans haven’t changed a lot; they still want to hunt, destroy and conquer, and the prey here is a Venusian creature called Icthysaurus elasmognathus – 300 feet long and known as Ikky. Davits has had a run-in with Ikky before, failing to capture the creature; however, an old flame, media celebrity Jean Luharich, is determined to capture an Ikky and recruits Davits to help. The dynamics are difficult, with tensions running beneath the surface and old wounds reappearing; will the search succeed and will Davits and Luharich survive the encounter?

Sci fi can be difficult, particularly when you’re dropped into a new world constructed by the author and with only hints of how it works. I always find it’s best to just go with it and see how the place develops; with a good author things will fall into place, and that certainly happens here. Zelazny’s Venus is a vivid and memorable place that really comes alive, despite his often spare narrative (I’ve seen it described as Hammett-like, which may be why I gelled with it). In 32 pages the characters and location develop, with their quirks and their baggage, so much so that you end up caring very strongly about their fate. Davits in particular has been affected by his surrounding, his encounters with Ikky, and the damage these encounters have caused; and Zelazny brilliantly captures the sense Davits has of meeting with something other, something different and unfathomable, on an alien planet.

However, as with all good sci-fi, I found myself pondering the deeper implications. Wikipedia reckons the story is a deliberately retro look at romantic pulp sci-fi which was apparently coming to an end. Yes, I can see that; however, I ended up considering what the story said about humanity and its selfishness and intransigence. Here is a brand new world, a planet humanity can travel to and inhabit; but what do we want to do? Hunt, catch and kill the indigenous creatures of the place. Plus ça change, as they say – colonialism of all sorts extends as far as rapacious humanity will take it and even crossing the final frontier will not change our species’ nature. It’s a thought-provoking story which raises all manner of issues – at least in my mind, anyway

So my first read for the #1965club turned out to be a good one; a new author, an intriguing and absorbing piece, plus perhaps an indication of 1965 works reflecting the changing times of that decade. I was pretty sure when we chose the year for April’s club that there would be some interesting reading turning up, and I can’t wait to see what bookish discoveries await… 😀

Playing the System (so to speak…)

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One of my weaknesses is the music of John Foxx and Ultravox – I’ve loved their stuff for more years than I care to acknowledge and have shelves of their vinyl and CDs.

However, Foxx had an alternative career as a graphic designer, with book jackets being one of his talents, and I spotted a Twitter post the other day pointing out a Roger Zelazny sci-fi cover he’d done from the 1970s. It’s striking and unusual and a first edition so most likely hard to get hold of at a reasonable price:

doors

And indeed, when I looked online copies with jackets were not cheap… However, I’ve been circling round the idea of reading more sci-fi again, and I felt rather strongly I would like a copy of this. And then I noticed that a seller I would normally avoid was offering a copy…

This seller is one of those who sell books described as very good which are usually falling to bits – I’m sure many of you have come across them. However, they were offering a copy of this book *very* cheaply and it was described as “ex-library”. That decided me on taking a risk, because more often than not, an ex-library book will have the jacket on, stuck to the book but still present. It was worth £2.81 of anyone’s money to find out – and I was right, because that’s my book above!!

It has its jacket – a little old and fragile, but there, nevertheless – and also an intriguing interior:

doors inside

It seems this book belonged to a naval library, so it must have been sent out on ships over the years – what a history it must have!

Anyway, I’m happy with my bargain book with its cover, and must remind myself in future that if I want the jacket of an old book, ex-library is a good option as long as you don’t mind it being attached!! 🙂

 

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