Tuesday, February 16, 2016

An exquisite sadness

Ecstatic Inferno

By Autumn Christian

Publisher: Fungasm Press

Pub Date: February, 2016

Rating: 4 & 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Autumn Christian is first and foremost a science-fiction writer. This may not be obvious at first because many would not associate the dense wordplay, the deep intimacy and emotion in the writing .and the almost nihilist philosophical tones with what the mainstream sees as science fiction. Even when the theme does not seem to be science fiction, we are immersed in a feeling of other dimensions and alternate realities. It may help to understand this if you can catch the heavy Philip K Dick influences. Even though Dick developed his skills in the pulp press he was soon taking science fiction to philosophical and meta-physical levels that were not seen before. Christian is still a young writer and, even in the pages of this excellent collection, it is clear she is still developing her unique voice. But, and some will consider these words heresy, she is in the truly literary sense already writing better than Phillip K Dick.

Ecstatic Inferno is a collection of ten short stories. Some are clearly science fiction. Others may be less obvious. All are fantastical in a surreal and somewhat nihilistic way. In some stories it is a little hard to know what she is really writing about. Death and identity is a safe bet but they are not stories that lends themselves to simple interpretation. For instance, "The Dog That Bit her" seems to be another variant of the werewolf tale yet we are let in at the beginning that the protagonist is not what we might expect and this is not the usual dog bites girl tale. These stories do not lend themselves to non-attentive reading. partially before they go where you least expect them to go and partially because the author's poetic style is too complex and beautiful to give less than your full attention..

"They Promised Dreamless Death" is another odd nightmare/dreamscape where a corporation promises years of dreamless sleep while your body continue to work and strive. This one really affected me. As a retired therapist, i knew there are people out in the world that would love to live a fantasy like that. They would prefer a life of death rather than a life of dreams. Yet the author, through a character who does not want this dreamless sleep, explores the illusion of reality and identity and perhaps the futility of even caring which one is illusion or reality. I am not even sure what "Crystalmouth"is about except that it is about conjoined twins that are haunted by an incubus. It still scared me in a way that was deeper than the usual scare. Which brings up another point. These are stories that need two, even several, readings. The real horror is between the lines.

Other stories worth pondering include "Pink Crane Girls" which is about a strange experiment where women fold paper cranes and eventually explode. "Honeycombed Heads" is about a group of settlers on a strange and disagreeable planet where their children are taken and then transformed into something else. I couldn't help thinking if, removing the science fiction, this isn't something every parent experiences and dreads. The aforementioned not-a-werewolf story "The Dog That Bit her" has some exceptionally beautifully dialogue that captures the character quickly in lines like "You're smart and kind,...and you have eyes like an owl that once broke his wings in my backyard and died in my arms."

That is half of the fiction but each of the ten works has a special attraction that both eludes and pulls at you. Autumn Christian is one of those authors that can only get better. Considering how good she is now, that is a scary thought just by itself.

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