Thursday, May 21, 2009

“By the (Not So) Beautiful Sea”: A Review of The InkerMen’s Land’s End

(InkerMen Press, 2008)

Land’s End, the follow-up anthology to 2007’s Green and Unpleasant Land, is a fairly dark and sinister collection of tales covering a broad range of themes within the confines of that narrow strip of land betwixt the sea and the larger world.

Consisting of twelve stories and a Preface (“Didn’t we have a Lovely Time?”), Land’s End covers, for example, mythology, seaside entertainments, sea creatures, and plenty of ghosts.

Lucy Ann Wade starts off the stories with her take on the Calypso and Odysseus episode from The Odyssey (“Calypso”), doing so with great success as she explores the always treacherous nexus of naiveté and sexual lust. The “do as I say, not as I do” two-facedness of Calypso’s fellow Naiads made them read like a pack of modern high-school girls and not the far-off subjects of what is often (wrongly) seen as an irrelevant and antiquated tale.

Over the past several years of reviewing InkerMen titles, I have made no secret of my fondness for the tales of James Scott, and his contribution here (“The Face in the Curtains”) resonates with his strong voice and engaging explorations of the notions of time and memory. The story is enhanced by black and white photographs of a model by Hannah Taggart.

Obby Robinson’s “The Church Near Trevance or The Piscean Parliament” takes the Biblical metaphor of the fish and turns it on its ear¬—or rather, fin. Robinson conjures images that are all at once comical, fantastical, and unsettling. I could not help but think of Gregory Peck’s turn as Father Maple in the 1998 version of Moby Dick starring Patrick Stewart and wondering just what the great white whale would say if he were allowed to tell his side.

A noteworthy new “conspirator” among the InkerMen (as they call their contributors) is Oliver Smith, who has two stories, “Magdalene” and “Magdalene Regained,” in this collection. Smith, who is a visual artist as well as a writer, combines his skills to create a strikingly visual style of writing, richly textured and shaded through a dark and subtle palette of alliteration and religious/gothic imagery.

A far cry from the normal noise and madness of post-apocalyptic visions, Peter Griffiths’ “Outer Hope” is a quiet, reflective piece that examines our compulsion to go right back to where we were, no matter the damage it may have caused. Ironic that it takes place by the ever-renewing, never-the-same sea.

Alexander Mack’s “The Ebb” is an off-kilter, out-of-keel first-person tale through the eyes of a man more than slightly mad. There are a plethora of quirky phrases and interesting jumps in thought and logic that set up a series of circumstances where things are never what they seem.

For fans of H. P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, there is D. P. Woveweft’s “Erbach’s Emporium of Automata.” Every seaside town has its tourist attractions, be they dark or jolly, and Erbach’s is a little bit of both. Woveweft’s vivid descriptions of the automata bring to mind simple times and toys, the days before the Wii and MMOs took over our children’s minds and imaginations. It’s pure irony when the narrator says “Children are pure rationality, mechanisms of truth. Then we teach them lies.” Indeed.

Land’s End closes with a tale by Bleak Summit (“Stay Where I Can See You”), the charm of which lies in its utter predictability. A seaside collection of this type would be completely incomplete without it, and Summit rises to the task, reminding us that many of the most sinister things happen before the darkness falls.

Land’s End brings together a highly talented group of InkerMen conspirators. This up and coming publisher has yet to hit their full stride, and I look forward to what is coming next.

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