A Review of Here Be Monsters: Tongues and Teeth Edited by Duane Burry, Vincent Mackay, and Alexander Newcombe (Here be Monsters Speculative Fiction issue seven, September, 2012)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Here Be Monsters: Tongues and Teeth is the first of the Here Be Monsters anthologies that I have read, and I am extremely impressed with the quality of work in this volume. It is great to see that an epic battle for which stories should be included in the volume, that, according to the editors involved “fighting with tooth, tentacle and claw… eldritch summonings [and] chaos magic” still proves its effectiveness in producing an incredible volume of speculative fiction – the old methods still produce incredible results.
The magical and monstrous suffuses every page of this volume, summoning the reader’s attention and passions. The stories in this volume question reader pre-conceptions, encouraging them on their own adventure into the darkness of their own subconscious to find the root of their social confinement and dig it up.
The volume itself becomes like a body of text or a textual body, laying out each section with a depiction of the body, illustrating that horrors come not from without, but from within.
Claude Lalumiere’s short story The Ministry of Sacred Affairs evokes the threat of a society that demonises others, a society where fear prevents any form of inquiry or debate and supporting the supernatural is viewed as a terrorist threat. Goblins and golems become figures that question the status-quo and shake up a society that has become complacent in its fear of others.
Numbered by Duane Burry continues the theme of questioning social fears. When communication technology is discovered that allows for interplanetary conversations and connections with aliens from other worlds, instead of viewing it as a method of discovery, it is perceived as a militaristic threat. Humans, unable to travel to the stars, are able to speak to other civilisations, talk to people from distant worlds who have foreign experiences and knowledge to share, but in a universe of fear, all they share are threats of war and questions about possible dangers. It is not the silent vastness of space that cuts off interplanetary voices, but the vast terror of the sentient mind and the secrecy that terror imposes.
Karl Johanson’s The Airlock Scene illustrates a different danger with encountering new worlds: beauraucracy and the need to perform for an audience at the expense of the adventure of exploring a new environment. Johanson portrays the need of scientific minds to mediocritise the fantastic through their pedantic ego battles. Like Burry’s story, Johanson’s is about political issues interfering with the sense of wonder the pervades exploration.
Universal questions are turned domestic in Amy Bright’s Private Transit where the monstrosity of domestic assault is displayed and one can see that abuse is as alienating as any landscape from space, causing the victim to lose all pieces of themselves to feed the monstrous abuser.
Pickle’s Story by Alexander Newcombe reveals the power of myth and legend as well as the bond that can develop between the human and the animal. Newcombe shows the power that gossip and tales can have in creating a reputation, and the power of a thief who wields lies to create his own mythology.
Tarquin Steiner evokes nostalgia in his story Cobbled by modeling it after a text-based computer game.
Camille Alexa casts us back into space in her Children of the Device where, despite being the fifth generation of inhabitants on a colony ship escaping from a doomed Earth, our traditions continue from New Year’s resolutions to war and greed.
Tyler MacFarlane brings the search for identity and the inescapability of ourselves back to the Earth in his Antennae. MacFarlane illustrates that despite the desire for a distraction, the next new thing, we always are brought back to ourselves.
We are reminded that we can’t escape from ourselves again in Carl Roloff’s If Not the Moon, Then the Exquisite Sun where humanity faces the destruction of the Earth by our own sun, and, in an attempt to save something about the human experience, decides to transmute the remaining human beings into crystals – converting individual human thoughts and experience into art that will reflect the burst of the sun into the universe. But Roloff reminds readers that eternity is an experience that is alien to humanity and transcendence is a form of loss itself.
Where Carl Roloff presents the mind as a form of escape and transcendence, Vincent Mackay’s Brain Freeze warns readers of the dangers of technologies of the mind. The mind becomes something that can be used for terrorism and war, converted into supermindbombs that can only be decoded through a process that seems equal parts psychology and computer programming. The Earth’s surface has been made uninhabitable by a field that requires inhabitants to control their own thoughts to the point at which they become insane. Thought becomes a weapon.
Thought is further explored as a vehicle for terror in Sterrennacht by Cat McDonald as art itself becomes a place where kidnap victims and stolen items can be stored. McDonald explores the idea of a world where people can enter into paintings and the terrifying effects of experiencing impressionist art from the inside. Van Gogh has never been so absorbing as McDonald explores the physical, auditory, and other sensory experiences of being totally enmeshed in the world of art. But art has an effect on those who experience it, and the danger of art is that it can consume you.
Ann Ewan explores the loss of humanity in a different way, through literal consumption by an ogre. In Ogre Baby, human beings are infected with ogreness (through ogre mud placed in the body of dead human beings) as a means for the ogres to reproduce. They depend on human beings as an infusion into their own tribe, as a way of expanding their numbers. The familiarity and difference of the human being and the ogre horrifies both species and, in the ogre, excites a deep hunger that may stem from their need to be partially human, to incorporate humanity into their monstrous form.
The body further fascinates Rich Larson in his Strings. The body becomes a marketable commodity, and re-shaped for sexuality. It is divorced of its thoughts so it can become a vessel for sexual pleasure, conveying the notion that as a society we tend to look at bodies in isolation, separate from their fundamental humanity.
Here Be Monsters: Tongues and Teeth is as much a voyage into the self as it is a voyage into the realm of the Other. Like the monster itself, the pages of this volume are dark mirrors reflecting all of the hidden things we like to forget. It is a volume that is fundamentally about the search for a deifining feature of our humanity, the fear of a loss of our humanity, and the dangers that are presented in the human spirit.
To find out more about this volume of Here Be Monsters and other volumes in the series, visit their website at http://herebemonstersanthology.blogspot.ca/