December 2003
©2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Book Cover

Magic Realism In the Library of Infinite Imaginations by Iain Emsley

Bibliomancy by Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing HCVR 09/30/03)
Hardcover 300 pages ISBN: 1902880749 £60 
Floater by Lucius Shepherd (PS Publishing 08/15/03)
Hardcover 150 pages  ISBN: 1902880803 £25, £8

Magic Realism has under gone a subtle transformation and broadening of its boundaries. No longer can it be seen as purely a fictional construct to deal with the complex social and cultural cauldron of Latin America, but as a more widely accepted mode which allows the fantastic walk exist in the mundane world. The vibrancy and passion underlined by a strangeness is more acceptable to the modern eye, especially when it comes from the Americas.

Both Elizabeth Hand and Lucius Shepherd continually resist attempts to be placed into any particular genre, cheerfully playing around with whatever tools are available to them to tell their story. Both are keen observers of their surroundings and sense the patterns that underlie them. Both are respected writers yet neither has achieved the sort of mainstream popularity (certainly in this country) that they deserve.

Book CoverElizabeth Hand's latest collection, Bibliomancy, is made up of four previously published short stories - "Cleopatra Brimstone", "Pavane for a Prince of Air", "Chip Crockett's Christmas Carol", "The Least Trumps" - each with their own voices and atmospheres, yet complementing each other. In "Cleopatra Brimstone", a young lepidopterist discovers the animal side to sex, a story of intense transformation on so many levels as Hand allows the reader to watch the dramatic birth of a rare and beautiful creature in the fetish underbelly of North London. Both "Pavane for a Prince of Air" and "Chip Crockett's Christmas Carol" have a memorial tone to them (as explained in the notes) but there is no sense that a life has ended, just that it has become something else - a locus for the living. In "Pavane...", Carrie relates the death of a close friend and the neo-pagan ritual that is initiated to honor his life. In the flames of the funeral pyre, all that was flesh is stripped away, freeing the attendees to remember the life. In many ways, the novella reads as a keening cry, a way through a personal trauma, whereas in "Chip Crockett's Christmas Carol", the death of the eponymous Chip Crockett, a faded television presenter, acts a mirror for a close group of friends to re-examine their lives. Hand strips the Christmas Carol back to Dickens and removes the mawkishness that it has accreted, delivering a Christmas that in fact has a mundane personal meaning, despite the supernatural television program. "The Least Trumps" is a strange novella that is very reminiscent of John Crowley's work, especially Little, Big, as a tattooist creates her own designs on her body.

Hand is a writer of transformation on so many levels - from the personal to a wider group. She is able to morph the matter of the world into something new and to make it lyrical. Her writing erupts in a myriad of color (or lack thereof) and the atmosphere moves from the Techno-Industrial fetish scene to the aging proto-punks and New Agers.

In Floater, Lucius Shepherd tells the story of Dempsey, a New York cop currently on suspension for shooting an unarmed Haitian man with his partners. His vision becomes impaired by a floater, microscopic pieces of protein in the eye, but his optometrist tells him there is nothing to be afraid of. A niggling question grows in his mind, mirroring the floater's continuing growth, and he embarks on a journey of self-transformation, opening himself up to the possibility that he has been cursed in a Voodoo ritual.

Shepherd takes the real events of a New York police shooting and deftly unweaves the Haitian society, writing with a sensitivity to all parties. There is no judgment made about the case or that an immense god game is being played out. Rather Dempsey, and by extension the reader, is opened to the Haitian world and the mythos that is Voodoo. Once again, the fantastic is in existence but is never commented upon.

In each of the stories, there is a sense of the fantastic which sometimes intrudes but always hovers in the periphery. It is, however, never commented upon by the protagonists. Indeed the main milieu is the recognizable, tangible world around us but not one which crosshatches into fantasy. Both writers have taken magic realism and have re-imagined it within their own boundaries. They take hold of the nature and histories of their settings and explore them within their realistic boundaries. What emerges are the needful patterns of the extant world and the transformations therein, open to us should we wish to see them.

Both writers utilize whatever form and style is suitable for a particular story in the same vein as the New Weird writers and they both show the incredible force that genre writing can be. From this they appear to be carrying on the tradition of Carroll, Crowley and Hoffman in broadening magic realism to accommodate North American writers and broadening our visions of Fantasy. Such deeply powerful and strange writing should not be ignored, certainly in this time of the New Weird.

©2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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