The Big Book of Modern Fantasy — edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer


PART TWO OF MY REVIEW CONTINUED FROM HERE: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/07/25/the-big-book-of-modern-fantasy-edited-by-ann-jeff-vandermeer/

When I read this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

32 responses to “*

  1. I reviewed the next story in April 2019, as follows…


    NARROW VALLEY by R.A. Lafferty

    “So he burns leaves and bark and made a speech:
    ‘That my valley be always wide and flourish and green and such stuff as that!’ he orated in Pawnee chant style. ‘But that it be narrow if an intruder come.’”

    Perfect! Not only in itself (more later) but in its inadvertent but powerful mutual-synergy with ‘Creation Story’ that I preternaturally read/reviewed only a few hours ago in a simultaneous real-time review here. Narrow Valley in itself is a wonderful story of this Old Indian’s land fending off the Rampart family’s claim on the land (a family with delightfully precocious children) and the scientific explanations of the visual effects of narrowing and widening involved, whether seismic or not. “Nothing wenchered, nothing gained,” being one wise saw, and “looming only in reverse,” a ‘group illusion’ like this real-time gestalt, “I want my land. I want my children! I want my wife.” And “the case of Mad Mountain” like HPL’s Mountains of Madness? “Chahiksi!” Perfect!


    All my previous reviews of R.A. Lafferty: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/04/05/the-best-of-r-a-lafferty/

    As with Manly Wade Wellman, I also now feel Lafferty can be usefully compared to O Henry.
    And the new aspects of Covid lockdown?

  2. THE SINISTER APARTMENT (Excerpt from ‘The Master and Margarita’)
    by Mikhail Bulgakov (translated by Ekaterina Sedia)

    “But as everyone knows, once sorcery starts, nothing can be done to stop it.”

    Dementia, too. And I really empathise with Styopa’s “malignant memory lapses”, as he wakes up, not into one of these big books’ erstwhile metamorphoses, but into complete failure to recognise today’s visiting commitments from yesterday’s actions. Not even recognising his own voice. I sense the author suffered, too, as he wrote it, and I wonder if ‘dead Berlioz’ and ‘Rimsky’ / ‘Khustov’ are connected? And the reference to Yalta at the end, is that pointing to Roosevelt’s suspected dementia when meeting there with Churchill and Stalin? And, by the way, I primarily write these gestalt real-time reviews to prevent the slippage of books into insanity.

    “: a black cat of terrifying size,…”

    My previous review of a fiction anthology homage to Bulgakov: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/the-master-in-cafe-morphine/

  3. 596A088F-D7C9-4FD1-B370-B2E097137323THE ORIGIN OF THE BIRDS
    by Italo Calvino (translated by William Weaver)

    This story is a revelation, especially now in ‘unexpected’ covid, or corvid, times, as a possibly permanent disruptor of the normal course of our mœurs. The interposition of an event — here the sudden evolution of birds in an audit trail of what was meant to be, not necessarily by the immigration of monsters into the race non-monsters, but what appears AT FIRST to be a benign race of beautiful birds. Yet, like covid or co-vivid dreaming, the repercussions can be seen to be dire, when our narrator — telling us all this via the means of alignments with cartoon art ideas — is arguably subsumed by his bird bride!

    The story’s passage below, among many others, is important in this respect…

    “(Title: During Qfwfq’s absence, many changes had taken place.) Since the existence of birds had been discovered, the ideas that governed our world had come to a crisis. What everyone had thought he understood before, the simple and regular way in which things were as they were, was no longer valid; in other words: this was nothing but one of the countless possibilities; nobody excluded the possibility that things could proceed in other, entirely different ways. You would have said that now each individual was ashamed of being the way he was expected to be, and was making an effort to show some irregular, unforeseen aspect: a slightly more birdlike aspect, or if not exactly birdlike, at least sufficiently so to keep him from looking out of place alongside the strangeness of the birds. I no longer recognized my neighbors. Not that they were much changed: but those who had some inexplicable characteristic which they had formerly tried to conceal now put it on display. And they all looked as if they were expecting something any moment: not the punctual succession of causes and effects as in the past, but the unexpected.”

    The story, as a pure story, is also sheer mind-opening fiction to cherish.

    My previous review of Rhys Hughes’ “Thirty Tributes To Calvino”:

    by Bilge Karasu (translated by Aron Aji)

    “Annihilation is still a few hours ahead of him.”

    “deer. The horse spread its wings, its shadow almost touch-
    throws himself into her embrace, laying its head in her lap:
    ing the deer.”

    A transcendently inspiring work, a story still choosing its own day and in what weather for it to happen in. A tale of the sea in mutual but sea-scornful synergy with humans; a fish fished by a fisherman begins to swallow the fisherman’s arm, and one of them eventually swims in lockdown within the other, a rite of absorption towards death’s healing us all from suffering
    … by dint of the fish or the fisherman befriending a snake and speaking to a seagull?
    And I personally might sin-eat seagulls, too!
    “Who is the prey? the fish or the fisherman?”
    Whose is the prayer? Whose the greatest love?


    by Silvina Ocampo (translated by Marian and James Womack)

    “Someone once said to me, and I suspect it was the Devil, ‘The great writers are those who don’t understand what they write; all the others are worthless.’”

    …but this revelatory substantive Ocampo work is undeniably great even though I can understand every word of it, and I am sure Ocampo did, too. Alone worth the purchase of this big book.
    Still, if she couldn’t read English she may not have understood THIS version of it … but then it would have been doubly great?
    It felt I had somehow read it twice while knowing I had not even read it once before — so I guess it is one of those archetypal works of fiction, that was simply meant to be, and has always been, and each event is watermarked in destiny’s deep drawer even before it is printed. Printed, or in this case painted, or should I say drawn by that very drawer? It tells, without demur, about a boy called Leandro – aged 8 or 9 – who yearns to paint his mother knitting, a Proustian love for his mother, and he meets a painter with paintings, a painter who tries sell his paintings (one of a yellow tower), as if he is that very Devil who instils instead his own artwork versions into the boy’s mind projections as translated into a different language of paint or drawing, including the yellow tower where the boy draws himself sitting and meeting the talking souls or spirits of whatever else he creates, a girl, well two girls, Iffy and the famous Alice, a dog called Love, an automobile and characters for future Ocampo adventures like Iris and Bamboo, but he accidentally created in this tower “another one of the ugly rooms of my prison.” MY prison but he is also often called HE here, in tune with the Devil’s earlier strictures of writing great writing with alternate first and third persons. Some of the more sophisticated words are put in italics as if they are words beyond the use of a boy so young. But then, somehow, he writes whole epistles in italics to some of his created characters, declaring his love for them. He even painted myself. By accident, but he calls me himself! I quite like the three different types of toilet paper. And in tune with the fish in the previous story above, “instead of you eating the hen, the hen ate you.” Leandro or Leonardo da Vinci, he also made kites and a horse that looked like a marsupial, and remained unfazed by the Devil, but he must have left the top off, the now topless box and “he started leaping out of the box and painting an audience for his great achievement.” But who was the performing flea – Leandro or the Devil? Probably me, instead.
    Meanwhile, did Proust ever take photos….?

    My previous reviews of Silvina Ocampo: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/thus-were-their-faces-silvina-ocampo/

    by Joanna Russ

    “, but here the picklock spat in his face. He let out a strangled wheeze and lurched backwards, […]. On the wall someone had written in faintly shining stuff, like snail-slime, the single word Fever.”

    FIRSTLY, this is an enjoyable well-written swashbuckling fantasy romp in Ourdh about feisty Alyx as the Barbarian, Alyx being a woman at first in cahoots WITH a fat man (a mission that she is shocked to find is one to kill a baby girl in her cot to prevent her becoming an evil queen) and then battling (using crabs Alyx has siphoned from deep waters to use as if they are disposable canaries in a coal mine) AGAINST the same fat man who ends up in shorts in his lair of a TOWER. Whether he is a wizard in swords & sorcery days OR an obese man of our own Covid times, you will need to decide for yourself after hearing now about my SECONDLY ……… yes, secondly, a tale that is incredibly the exact parallel of the previous story above, THE TOPLESS TOWER, containing likewise the drawing of pictures as “world-making”, in his tower, (“and controls that work by little pictures are for children”), thus creating Alyx’s real world and ours, too, with, in several places, the lockdowns of small cubes or boxes, a world of springy walls like psychological conditions, a world containing Alyx herself, until she “cures” the fat man by facing him with what he had become infected, and, amid the dust-motes that are never absent from the earth, she, like Ocampo, even calls him “Devil!”

    “; she [the baby] grabbed at Alyx’s mouth and jumped up and down, bending in the middle, like a sort of pocket-compass or enthusiastic spring.”

    My previous review of this author: https://howivi.wordpress.com/the-big-book-of-science-fiction/#comment-418

    by Rosario Ferré (translated by Rosario Ferré and Diana Vélez)

    It’ll pay back the young doctor for pawning the doll’s eyes, duly for the prawns’ antennae to come out at him from their burrows within the now empty sockets. A tantalising story of a maiden aunt and her nieces, deploying various substances and tools, wax, porcelain, clay, lace, needles, spools of thread, later even honey to make the nieces’ dolls, even life sized ones of themselves when they get married, all of this doll creation stemming from when a prawn locked itself down inside the maiden aunt’s body itself years ago when she was swimming in the river. A feministering ulcer now healed.

    “The nephew revenges himself for this, by holding his breath and terrifying his kinswoman with the dread belief that he has made up his mind to burst. Regardless of whispers and shakes, he swells and becomes discoloured, and yet again swells and becomes discoloured, until the aunt can bear it no longer, but leads him out, with no visible neck, and with his eyes going before him like a prawn’s.”
    — Charles Dickens

    by Ursula K. Le Guin

    Is “walk” ironic, I ask? Especially because these odd defiant ones explicitly leave the bonny ville of Omelas by yearning towards the mountains at the end.
    This famous, beautifully couched, somewhat didactic story of a society with optimal happiness dependant on the forbearance of a sole nude child in cruel lockdown seems to be the nub of this book so far, just as this author’s story in the Big Book of Science Fiction (my review linked below) seemed (at its point of encounter) to be the nub there. Lo, same!


  9. Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.
    – song

    Yea, Prophesy, the Lord hath said. Again
    Say to the wind, Come forth and breathe afresh,
    Even that they may live upon these slain,
    And bone to bone shall leap, and flesh to flesh.
    – Emma Lazarus

    Inspired by Book of Ezekiel
    The bones now to be ripped from Lovecraft Country…?

    by Henry Dumas

    Sprung from Sippi or Dumas “somethin” from O Henry again…

    “His body was so rotted and ate up by fish and craw dads that they couldn’t tell whether he was white or black,…”

    Headeye, one of those big-heads people, and me, fishin the rockin Sippi and a vision of the biabellical Ark as a literal floating bonehouse, he I took to be Noah with his hair explicitly left uncut for so long, and we gather what I imply just above (and even further above) about what this mojo of a story was later bound to have told us about N words, et al, beyond the Flannery and deeper back into literature and life and our own miscegenate souls? It flows like inchoate narrative poetry or prose that we all might sing. The feisty or fishy relationship between Head-I and me … and that Ark of Bones. But the bones of who or what? Never jump to woke conclusions, I say.

    by Sylvia Townsend Warner


    Another great find for me, especially with its finale, when below-mentioned Grive “leaped into the air”, and an old man is seen amid the story’s apotheosis of a wharf’s seagulls! It tells at first of Lady Fidès in this our brief visit to the Elfin land, the beautifully caught genius-loci of Bourrasque (that “preferred small events: not too many of them, and not to be dilated upon.”) She has a child called Grive whose father she has forgotten the identity just like she has forgotten the word “chaffinch”. And of Gobelet, a more clumsy changeling. Later it tells tellingly of the hoity-toity Queen in Bourrasque. Then it tells of a pestilence that is a telling if mutant mirror image of our own plague today, as I read this amidst its various mores and pecking-orders of Bourrasque. And as I read it alongside the various aspirational soaring projections of Grive’s and Gobelet’s chequered quest amid flighted fairies, bats, moths, and birds such as doves and, of course, gulls. So much else to tell you about or to quote from its text, but you must find your own affinity with this leaping flight not only from pestilence but also from the strictures that have been imposed upon your own essential being.

  11. With the Arks above (as well as there being more winged creatures galore in the Chappell of Love below), the Ark in the Townsend Warner being the ship to Africa at its end travelling toward “black men”, toward, too, Henry Dumas’ American version of such a ‘country’, and we now have an Ark as a sort of erotic sexual spasm of nature’s plant beyond Love’s craft….even beyond Diderot, Swift, Telemann, though I love these all…

    by Fred Chappell

    “…what at first had seemed a confused mélange of twittering was, in fact, an orderly progression…”

    Linnaeus the great, aptly Swedish, botanist &c., finds more importance in forgetting than remembering. Forgetting, for me, is akin to releasing one’s knowledge into the unconscious sump of some ‘gestalt’, as so often happens when gestalt real-time reviewing special books somehow chosen for one thus to review.
    Here the gestalt is a strange plant that harbours an Arkful of that jumpstarting erotic sexual spasm within a human-like eco-system microcosm or lockdown as a Modest Enlightenment Proposal as well as a fine winged fantastical vision for its own sake…
    Linnaeus, ironically, meanwhile, also had his own such eco-system … “he established a retreat…”

    by Angela Carter

    “Introspective weather, a sickroom hush.”

    Arguably, this represents the apotheosis of this book’s treatment of lockdown and eventually, if ironically, the way to fly up from it…
    Where the word “interloper” takes on a new meaning, within this textured text of a sullen woodland. With ‘old man’s beard’ et al. Crows play tag and later “drop winter from their wings, invoke the harshest season with their cry”, their corvid cry…
    The interloper, a Little Red Riding Hood, into this latest ‘Chinese Box’ to be enfolded by even further lockdown within the wood’s eponymous denizen makes mock of any story entitled ‘However Close to Someone, You Are Never More Than Two Entities Separated by Head-Bone.’
    The Erl-King “all alone in the heart of the wood in a house which has only one room” And all those trapped birds…including a paean for rewilding? “There are some eyes can eat you.” A wondrous complicity with gravity. “…we are like two halves of a seed, enclosed in the same integument.” Their own singular ‘bubble’, however fundamental? A stringless fiddle symbolises our death of theatre and communal live music, and the only result, by the end of this classic work, is discordance. Yet, ironically, I love discordant music, always have!

    My previous review of this author: https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/59-2/

    by Sara Gallardo (translated by Jessica Sequiera)

    “Everything was loneliness, leaking, dripping, silence. The trains put out to die felt something awful was going to happen.”

    I know the feeling! And I fully understand that trains dream. “Their dreams were more varied, more confusing, and more difficult to explain.” Not mere memories.
    These older trains abandoned to railways sidings, replaced by younger ones. And by existing diesels, too. But I bet diesels can dream, too.
    If I know this whole book as well as I think I already do, I can myself dream what the abandoned trains actually did on that great night of rebellion, after initial aged brave shunting, on that night when man first stepped on the moon. But I wasn’t there to see. I could not fly like the swallows and the bats, as this story already makes clear.
    Dreams train, too, I wouldn’t wonder.

    by Samuel R. Delany

    “But why have you penned it up in here?”

    …an ironic double entendre fitting for this whole book, I found. And this segment of Tales of Nevèrÿon that I first read and enjoyed when it came out and now part of a different reading person who, like these clumsily flying dragons when unpenned and allowed worthy attempts at trans-flight, has since launched beyond, but still carries Conan, Alyx , Fafhrd within his sump. A sump that does not welter but somehow sprouts tryout wings and leaps! Even penned down where I am now in old age. And I still recognise the tantalising importance of what these tales say of slavery and what has happened in our world with Trump and Brexit and Covid, those in power and those not, amid many still trying to test their wings. Not a WormOuroBoris but a properly poised Dragon Worm with literature’s and thus life’s fetters and pecking-orders removed, and I really should read the whole Nevèrÿon series again to see how this segment of it alone really still helps me leap! Transcending any Midsommar leap or any Inquisition by masks, swords, sorceries or conspiracies.

    My previous review of this author: https://howivi.wordpress.com/the-big-book-of-science-fiction/#comment-385

  15. I wondered if the old man and old woman in the next story were those who made the Midsommar leap? For the sake of story imagination itself, for those of you left in their wake…a story, that as it says of itself, “just came up.” —>

    by Greg Bear

    “No, I never have a reason for telling a story, and neither should you.”

    …even though this story tries desperately to be autonomously didactic by installation of the boy’s aunt with her Billy Graham leaflets! A ‘camouflage’ for the Bible, self-admitted, against the grain of any fallacy of intentionality. Or the feyness of fairy stories. A boy who learns to tell and listen to stories by dint of intermittently meeting up with that cyclic legend of an old man and an old woman, their camouflage against white horse nightmares from the sea, even against the worse black ones that rose from the ground. A world of children only, nothing but children, yet children beset by the hallucinatory archetypes of threatened ageing? A wonderful discovery this story, one that jumped up at me at outset with black kites for wings, talking, inter alia, of “a handwriting manual I hated so much I tore pieces out of it at night, to shorten its lifetime…” and “the dismal inside-of-a-box-camera blackness.”
    “‘Being scared is nothing,’ the old woman said, ‘Being bored or ignorant—now that’s a crime.’” Choose your own unpolarised path, I say, even though “The world was taking sides”, and still is taking sides, even more so! The path between — toward the preternatural power of a mind’s rewilding by literary imagination.

    by C.J. Cherryh

    “You shall harp for me.”

    Does this story add its own harp, or, more likely, the young handsome harper himself? Harping as code for love and sex? Here transmuted into a fey fantasy spiced with swords and sorcery. Music discordant, music sweet and lovely. Age versus youth as a new spiritual plague’s polarity. Echoing my earlier thoughts above of live music, live performance. Here in an atmospheric wood edged by destinations, a woman or witch who guards it against whatever, but falls in love, I infer, with this harper, yet bedogged by those other more violent men who rode horses and yearned for her, Thistle’s, dreamstone and claimed rightful ownership of the harp. Another tale for our times, with my love of meaningful typos now reachIng apotheosis: “But as she slept she dreamed, of a dose (sic) place of cold stone.” With symbolic lockdown and current threats imbued throughout with the wood’s edges and with Caerdale culmination as hopeful release, despite the still cloying spiritual battles within the lockdown’s wood, e.g. “She took the Ealdwood’s own slow time,…”; “Discord crept in, the hounds’ fell voices, taking the music and warping it…”, “I’ve no wish to find the years passed in a night and all the world gone old.”; “there was no more music in her hands, none since the last had gone…”; “The wood muttered with whisperings and angers;”; “…gathered her cloak about her and offered to the harper to walk a time, while vile things stirred and muttered in the shadow, whispering malice to the winds,”; “…and the moonstone was poisoned within that iron, near a heart that beat with hate.”; “There was no mending here. The light was gone from his eyes and the wood was shattered.” Wood as eventual Wold – then World? Buoyed by a mutual synergy of selves and gifts given or taken, biding by that promise of “fair, far music.” That “otherwhere”.

    My previous review of this author: https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/the-big-book-of-science-fiction/#comment-746

    by Alasdair Gray

    “It is true that the world is so packed with the present moment that the past, a far greater quantity, can only gain entrance through the narrow gate of a mind.”

    I reviewed this novella in detail, letter by letter, in 2014 here:


    by George R.R. Martin

    Not my current ‘thing’, but I admired its well-written narrative skills. And the spectacular ‘sights’ of dragons, especially when she was very young, ‘cold’ Adara’s ice dragon that settled and watched her make her winter castles. Her characterisation and that of her family were adept. The conflicts between cold and warmth, ice dragons and other dragons, but I became confused at the war going on. I also saw the onslaught of what we are suffering today, and Adara’s refuge in caves and later submission to the inevitable, very sad. But the ice lizards still come out, but the autonomous uncontrollable warmth of the good folk’s bodies, the good folk among us, is symbolised by her, Adara’s (or Greta’s?), hands that might ironically melt the ice lizards and this seems to indicate that we humans as a potentially high temperature gestalt are the ‘warmth’ plague and the onset of the ironically so-called corona plague itself is what we are trying to resist by our own lockdown from it. Some say Covid has at least taken down the aeroplanes (the warmth of these ‘fiery’ dragons?) from the sky, just for a while …? Midsommar ever cometh, though. Whatever the cycles of frost and thaw. Just me brainstormin’.

    My previous review of this author: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/the-weird-8/

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s