Filler Content sans yeux

I am busy, busy and busy, with little time to blog, which means filler content to keep my hand in, but instead of the usual crappy Pete flash fiction from the back catalogue I thought I’d post some crappy Pete reviews instead.

And, as I have a gazillion reviews to choose from, I also thought I’d bridge the gap with reviews of books by people who have gone to the trouble of posting on this blog at some point.

My reward/bribe/inducement (delete as appropriate) to my special ones.

The review that follows originally appeared in Black Static #14 (and it may have read slightly differently from this in situ, as Andy edits stuff, while I’m too lazy to go check my Word.doc against the published article), in the wake of reviews of collections by Steve Deighan and Trevor Denyer, information which hopefully will enable you to make sense of the opening paragraph. And, if you’re at all intrigued, this is the link to visit Rob’s website and learn more.

And this is the review:-

            Ralph Robert Moore has a street cred that’s eluded his fellow writers. His story ‘The Machine of a Religious Man’, which appears in collection Remove the Eyes (Sentence Publishing paperback/e-book, 205pp, $18/$6.25), was selected by Ellen Datlow for a volume of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. And those who enjoy coincidence, will be delighted to learn that the story was first published in Midnight Street, edited by Trevor Denyer, while both this collection and Stages of Undress are reviewed in the latest issue of that magazine. It’s a small ‘press’ world.

            Opening story ‘After Here’ offers a minimalist reinvention of Haggard’s She, with a man on his own approached by a woman who tells him they have been lovers throughout eternity. He rejects her advances as a cruel joke, an attempt to make a fool out of him, the story coming with a heartfelt subtext about how we are held back by a reluctance to believe, to accept the miraculous in our lives. The perfect irony is that the man is reading a science fiction novel when approached: only with fiction can we suspend disbelief, never in life. In ‘The Woman in the Walls’ a woman maintains her low rent flat by luring men back to fall victim to the sexual predator who lives in its walls, but just this once she really likes the man who comes home with her. It’s a strange, grotesque story, and sexually explicit like most of these tales, with an undercurrent of menace and a handle on the compromises we are prepared to make, both for love and financial gain. And perhaps it also offers some provocative thoughts on the situation of those who fall short of our conventional standards of desirability, and are thus forced to take desperate measure to achieve the happiness most of us take for granted.

‘The Machine of a Religious Man’ put me in mind of one of those stories of a relentless killer, as for example the Javier Bardem character in No Country forOld Men, with a protagonist who just keeps on coming until he attains his goal, in this case help in releasing the body of his friend’s wife from a frozen grave. It’s a fast paced and chilling example of a psychopath in action, with violence from the off, and scenes that start out reasonably enough and then escalate to the point where all lines are crossed, and the reader faces a quandary as to whether the end justifies the means. ‘Strangers Wear Masks of Your Face’ is the longest story, and it opens with a man being snatched from his bed by the members of a religious cult. He escapes eventually and ends up in the company of a woman from his past, but he has been marked and the experience changes him, so that he becomes much more ruthless and distrusting, a trait that eventually drives a wedge between him and the woman he loves. At the heart of the story is the idea of identity as mutable, that we can reinvent ourselves and be other people if we are given sufficient impetus, but as a secondary concern this is not always a good thing. It’s a story that builds gradually, continually keeping the reader off balance and with things that are only hinted at lurking below the surface of the text.

‘My First Kiss’ is like Bonnie and Clyde rewritten for the Bugsy Malone demographic, with two youngsters whose life of petty crime leads them into ever more violent acts, until somebody gets killed, and it’s impossible to say at exactly what point they stop being children out on a lark and become juvenile offenders. All the edges are blurred here, including that hotly debated divide between nature and nurture, and the pair end up as lovers, having grown old before their time, in a story that hints at much we find of concern in modern society. Initially I didn’t like ‘Steaks in the City’ which starts off slow and almost tediously repetitive, with druggie Warren getting repeated fixes. The story gets more interesting when he ventures out in search of his ex-girlfriend, the trail leading to a woman he can never possess, though she’ll eat steak with him and fuck him. There’s a subtext about women taking life on their own terms and how that undermines certain men, leaves them weakened in their soul, even though it shouldn’t. But Moore also hints that the opposite sex isn’t in quite such an enviable position either, with the story’s imagery of constrained women kept under beds and pulled out to be used by their mistresses. His uber females have stepped into shoes which men no longer seem adequate or willing to fill.

‘This Moment of Brilliance’ follows a professional assassin along his trail of torture and terror, until the moment when he is betrayed by his own people. It’s an ultra-violent story which doesn’t really seem to have any point to make beside a brief look into the mindset of those for whom everyone else is prey and life a game of chance. The weakest of what is on offer here, and yet it still has, well, moments of brilliance, and imagery that will remain in the mind. ‘Like an Animal in a Hole’ is a ghost story of sorts, with Nell and David staying in the family home where her brother died in mysterious circumstances, and reading his mad journals, only for Nell to be trapped in her brother’s warped reality. The story draws the reader in with a puzzling situation, a hint that maybe there is some sort of resolution possible, a problem to be solved, but at the end it seems there is no hope, and love, no matter how deeply felt, is simply not enough.

Last story and one of the best, ‘Rocketship Apartment’ is the sexually charged tale of Kevin and Carla, who decide to turn her apartment into a rocketship and cut off all contact with the Earth. It’s an illusion though, and all Carla is doing is acting out an elaborate form of suicide, and Kevin must find the will to rescue himself from the wreckage of their lives together, with the rocketship a metaphor for the perils of obsessive, all consuming love that cuts the individual off from any other human contact. There is about the story the whiff of bad psychology, of love failing to make a difference, as so often in these tales, and sex an act of desperation, something to which the characters cling, but fruitlessly.

            Moore is a writer who knows how to tell interesting stories and his work is not quite like that of anybody else. He is a true original, someone who has taken on board the lessons of genre and mainstream, then harnessed both to his own ends, and if you are looking for something different, then I can’t recommend this collection highly enough.


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2 Responses to Filler Content sans yeux

  1. Wow. Pete, this is such a nice thing for you to do. I remember when I first read this review in Black Static, how thrilled I was (and still am.) You’ve always been very encouraging of my work. I will always be grateful, when I first contacted you about a possible review, how helpful you were to me in so many ways. Thank you so much, for everything.

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