01/11/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Immanion Press. 345 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK) $21.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-904853-57-2.
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One of the questions that annoy authors is the naïve but innocent, 'Where do you get your ideas from?' Anyone who writes or has tried writing knows the answer to that one. Only to those devoid of imagination is it a mystery. Most authors have developed their flippant answer. It is not the origin of the idea that is fascinating, but how a writer will develop it and the convoluted illogic that stems from the original notion. (Notions are for sale in corner shops on most Caribbean islands.) In her introduction to this volume of short stories, Storm Constantine provides a very brief suggestion of the genesis of each story. Some have been written as a result of an invitation to contribute to a theme anthology, some from a desire to overturn an accepted mythology, others from chance comments by friends or the discovery of a phenomenon she was previously unaware of. What is missing from this volume, though, is a list of the original appearances of these twelve stories (especially date of publication), as some of them have been collected previously.
All the stories here can be described as exotic and include some kind of deception. All of them are dark. Many of the characters are obsessive. Although some of them can be regarded as contemporary, they also exist in a mythical limbo that only the best writers can express.
'Kiss Booties Night-Night' is a futuristic Gothic fantasy. It combines the desire for fetishistic entertainment by a rich woman with the obsessional desires of a gardener to spy on her. Both of them learn, separately, that following where curiosity leads can be a bad idea. 'An Old Passion' is also about obsession. In this case, it is a woman who becomes convinced that a dead poet is trying to reach her from beyond the grave. To help her, she invites psychic questors to her home. This story contrives a delicate balance leaving the reader to decide whether there are a supernatural happenings or merely a descent into madness.
'Just His Type' deals with another kind of obsession. Noah is a writer who runs a group exploring historical enigmas. At one meeting, he takes a fancy to a new member, Lara. She turns out to be a psychic with a deep interest in finding the origin of the vampire myth. He finds she is able to tap into primordial energies.
'Night's Damozel' (also collected in 'The Thorn Boy' and 'Other Dreams Of Dark Desire') describes a man's obsession with poisonous plants. He then meets and marries an exotic woman to whom he transfers his obsession. As in many of Constantine's stories, she has other, non-human sides to her character.
Many good stories revolve around obsessive love. Often betrayal forms a part of the potential tragedy. 'The Heart Of Fairen De'ath' is one such. When Filerion fled from a difficult life in the city, he discovered peace in an abandoned house in the forest. In a rare moment of loneliness, he wrote to an old friend who turned up with a beautiful youth, Fairen, in tow. Filerion falls in love and thinks Fairen cares for him the same way, but Fairen abandons him. Obsession and grief are a dangerous mixture.
Obsessions can change people. In 'The Oracle Lips', Sheila has a talent for fortune telling using the tarot but she doesn't like using it as a parlour game to amuse her mother's friends. She prefers to keep in the shadows, not drawing attention to herself, until she meets a woman in the toilet at Euston who is almost her antithesis. This woman leaves behind an imprint of her lips, in bright red lipstick on a tissue. Sheila picks it up and begins to see possibilities in the pattern left behind. She feels she can deduce the other woman's personality and fate from the imprint. Slowly, an obsession with her develops and Sheila begins acting out of character.
'Remedy Of The Bane' is a pure fantasy story. A young soldier, Orlando, is physically and mentally tormented by the Princess Phedra. The sentries guarding the palace grounds at night are not permitted to move or speak. After succeeding once, Phedra becomes obsessed with making Orlando succumb to her torments again His grandmother, sensing something wrong, supplies him with a solution - if he dares to use it.
Constantine has a love for re-telling traditional folk and fairy tales and adding a twist. 'Sweet Bruising Skin' combines two. The idea that aristocratic skin is very sensitive (as in 'The Princess And The Pea') provides the first element. The other is the suggestion that a magical being can be created by ritual from inanimate things. The thrust of the story revolves around a widowed queen's need to provide a wife for a son who has scorned all previous choices put before him.
'Poisoning The Sea' is a re-telling of the Circe myth but from Circe's perspective. It strips away the magic and portrays her as a wilful woman who has a good grasp of the psychology of men. After all, all men can be persuaded to expose their inner animal, given the right circumstances, can't they?
'Curse Of The Snake' is one of Constantine's earliest stories (from 1976) and is a fable. It tells of a cowardly prince fleeing from the sacked city ruled by his family. He is lured into another, dead city and used to try and break a curse.
'Nocturne: The Twilight Community' has the same kind of ambience as 'Kiss Booties Night-Night', but in this case the focus is on Carmia who desperately wants to be accepted as one of the group of bright young things, until a stranger arrives who seems to only have eyes for her. As might be expected, he is not what she thinks and things turn nasty.
Publishing collections of your own work provides opportunities that other circumstances would not permit. Often stories are required to be a certain word length to suit a particular market. While some stories benefit from trimming, others need the extra space to breathe. Constantine has reproduced here, 'Such A Nice Girl' at its original and proper length. It is a contemporary story hinting at magic that concerns the masks people wear. When Emma Tizard disappears all her neighbours are concerned. When her body is found and her house is opened it becomes clear that the real Emma was not the shy person everyone though she was.
The most powerful stories in this collection are those that deal with obsession because they make us stop and think about how the mind works. Overall, this is a good companion volume to 'Mythanima'.
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