Filler content with novellas

Three reviews that originally appeared in Black Static #64:-


LITTLE GHOSTS (Omnium Gatherum Media pb, 40pp, $6.99) by Mary Borsellino is a letter the story’s protagonist is writing to a woman she considers a “mentor”. We learn of her early life on a kudzu ridden family estate with her alcoholic mother. Estranged from others, she finds comfort in wandering the estate and daydreams about the ghost of a girl buried in the grounds. Off studying journalism in New Orleans she takes to alcohol, men, and visiting speakeasies, perhaps as a way to avoid confronting her true sexual leanings, all of which leads to conflict with her straitlaced family.

Set in the early years of last century, there’s a southern gothic feel to this work, the sense of decay and desuetude and tiredness running through the text, but also a feel of triumphalism, of problems confronted and overcome. Our narrator is a person born out of time, somebody who just doesn’t fit in and punished terribly for her inability to conform to the social conventions of her day. At the same time she finds, through the gift of imagination, a way to deal with the troubles that beset her, transforming her tormentors into ghosts through the medium of fiction, giving literature a redemptive power in her life. And, as a side issue, she also comes to a realisation of who she really is and how to deal with that, ways in which to take life on her own terms. While very much a work of historical fiction, set in a period when women were struggling to find a voice and path to empowerment, Little Ghosts is at the same time a work with powerful resonance for our own age, where many of the same problems persist. And, last of all, it is a truly beguiling work, written with a unique voice that demands to be heard. I loved it.

NEVER NOW ALWAYS (Broken Eye Books pb, 98pp, $9.99) by Desirina Boskovich presents us with a future in which children are kept in a facility run by the Caretakers and overseen by the Voice, subject to a strictly regimented lifestyle and occasional experiments. One child, Lolo, is plagued by memories of the past, particularly of a sister she once had, and so revolts against the system to find her sister, but what she learns is anything but comforting.

This is a book of two parts, the main thrust of the narrative embodied in subtitle ‘A Future of Lost Memories’. For most of the story, with Lolo struggling to grasp a past that constantly eludes her, a quest that is told through her eyes with an occasional departure to those of sister Tess, it is a convincing depiction of the struggle against both memory loss (you could make a case for this being a metaphor for dementia, albeit self-induced on the part of the human race) and a tyrannical and arbitrary system of government. In this sense it fits in neatly with other “reality” scenarios such as The Matrix and much of Dick’s work, and there is even a feeling of Logan’s Run to the book’s end game. Overall it is impressive for the way in which it portrays the fog of mental confusion and Lolo’s fight to make sense of what is happening to her.

Where the book fell short for me, and also contrarily its most original element, is in the rather vague explanation for what is taking place, the justification for mankind’s collective amnesia. It’s a revelation that didn’t quite ring true, seemed more like an excuse or pretext for the reality Boskovich wishes to portray rather than a credible rationale to underpin the story. In conclusion, I’d characterise this as one of those books where the journey is far more rewarding than the destination.

In Richard Farren Barber’s PERFECT DARKNESS, PERFECT SILENCE (Hersham Horror Books pb, 150pp, £8), Hannah is head of the clean-up crew in a world that has unravelled. Every day the crew go out to dispose of the bodies that have gathered in the field approaching the small community where plague survivors have found hope of a kind, under the auspices of the charismatic Andrew Hickman. But Hannah is on the brink of making discoveries that will lead her to question everything about their community and the way in which it survives, the morality of the whole enterprise.

This is perhaps the bleakest of the books I’ve read by Barber. The backdrop is almost infernal in nature, with the destruction wrought by the plague brought to horrific life on the page, Hannah and her crew wandering through a landscape composed almost entirely of dead bodies. The effects on the group are powerfully evoked, with tensions between them and the pariah status they have with others in the community all part and parcel of being the ones who perform a dirty but necessary function. Hannah herself, a lesbian whose lover is lost somewhere out there in the “bad lands” (probably dead) is a straightforward individual who nevertheless gives rise to complications in her response to others and their actions, such as her rejection of co-worker Patrick’s amorous advances and her naïve belief that Hickman will do the right thing.

Underlying all this is the consideration of power and what those who have it will do to preserve their positions. While it feels like the author is on Hannah’s side, he does a good job of making Hickman and his deadly pragmatism a convincing alternative. The central question posed so effectively by this book is what, if any, is the difference between the mercy killings that Hannah commits and the killing of others for the greater good. Short and powerful, the novella confronts such moral quandaries and frames them in a way that is as entertaining as it is challenging. Bleak and uncompromising, Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence is a read that is as uncomfortable as it is rewarding, not least for its lack of easy answers.

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