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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late Review: The Road to Neozon

29th Mar, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Released by Obsidian Sky Books in 2018, The Road to Neozon (tpb) is a book that seems to change between readings. I'm sure when I read it for the first time there were only eight stories in the book and then on the second occasion there were ten, but now that I'm pulling my finger out to write a review I see that there are actually eleven stories. Of course this is down to the fickleness of my memory rather than something that actually occurred, but if it did occur then it would probably be with a book by Anna Tambour. She's that kind of writer, the kind where it feels like absolutely anything can happen. To foreshadow a story in the book, with Tambour there is no certainty principle, except for the principle that you'll almost certainly be surprised and delighted by what she produces. Now can I get to the end of this review before that number increases to twelve, or even thirteen?

Opening story "A Drop in the Ocean" consists of a dialogue between the ocean and a person considering suicide, and then we have a soliloquy by the moon in which it considers the nature of oceans. It's a playful piece, on the one hand considering the frailty and ephemeral nature of human life and on the other questioning the romantic qualities we bestow on things like the moon and the oceans which are so often divorced from their actual substance, the anthropomorphism of the natural world. A gaggle of godlings take a trip to our world in "The Godchildren" and have various misadventures, with one of them deciding he'd quite like to run an ice cream parlour. Again the playfulness shines through, with ceaseless invention, an ability to keep the reader off balance, and delight in word play. And who wouldn't choose to run an ice cream parlour if that was an option? The world might well be a far better place if Moses had brought ten tubs of Ben & Jerrys down from that mountain.

"The Slime: A Love Story" tells of how sentient slime tries to understand love and what came of this knowledge. It's a piece with levels and subtexts aplenty. You can choose to see the story as a metaphor for emotional nullity in certain people, or simply enjoy it for the craziness it is. Ultra-short "Care and Sensibility" has Justine visiting the care home where her mother is staying to make sure that she isn't taken out of the will in favour of some android care worker. It's brief, pithy, and makes its point with a razor sharp ending.

In "Cardoons!" young Riri is reconciled to the life of a dragon, which involves eating pap and living in heated caves, until she attends a concert by dragon superstar C, who shows her that another way of living is possible; she may even be able to eat genuine milk maids. I loved this. It's so gloriously over the top, like The Flintstones with dragons instead of cavemen, and in the figure of Riri, even though she is a dragon, it has a word perfect picture of the dissatisfied teenager, arguing with her parents, hanging posters of pop stars on her bedroom wall, and finding inspiration in the most unlikely of places. I can't begrudge the dragons their milk maids and salties, regardless of the consequences for mankind.

There's a mock noir feel to next story "I Killed for a Lucky Strike", which is told from the viewpoint of a gun, relating all its past adventures to the man who is about to use it to commit suicide. Despite the end, this is another delightful and inventive outing, with a whole gamut of larger than life characters and assorted scumbags, making us wonder how our tools feel about the ways in which we use them. How does my laptop feel about this review I'm writing? Has the review you're now reading been filtered through machine consciousness? "None So Seeing As Those Who've Seen" is the story of Kjell Kvak and his lifetime spent becoming a painter, only to be overshadowed by contemporary and friend Edvard Munch. Again there is some fiery wordplay, a wealth of invention, moments that border on the epiphanic set alongside scenes of incredible grimness, while the dividing line between art and pornography is touched on. It is, all things considered, a tour de force of a story.

In what could very well be a sequel to "Care and Sensibility", "Code of the New Fourth" gives us a group of elderly ladies waxing lyrical about their boy toys, the story pithy and witty, but frowning at the idea it could be considered wise. Golden Girls meet the robots. Shortest story in the book, "Nudgulation Now!" has the machinery in a man's life trying to improve his physical well-being, whether he wants it to or not. Again, as with "I Killed for a Lucky Strike", the idea of devices having their own viewpoints comes across, and here they seem to have taken the hint from their owner that doing good is a desirable end, albeit they don't have the wisdom to decide what good is except within limited parameters. You could, at a push, see the story as a critique of the forthcoming age of AI. "The Beginnings, Endings, and Middles Ball" does exactly what it says it does in the title, with various parts of language conspiring to change the world. It's a crazy idea, but with her tongue firmly in her cheek Tambour makes it work, questioning really what purpose do those pesky middles serve.

Finally we have "Vedma", the story of Neozon, its founding mother, and her son Nikolai, who others refer to as The Certainty Principle. The heart of the narrative lies in Vida's back story, her physical 'deformity' which makes her think others will see her as a witch, her career as a nurse in WWI and struggle to survive, how she became wealthy and what she did with that money. It's a complex and gripping tale, immensely moving and provocative, perhaps the most realistically pitched in the book, ending on a note of female triumph and empowerment. A grand finale to a collection of stories that are as fabulous as they are quirky, tales that as you read them feel as if they could go in absolutely any direction except the one you expect them to go. I hope I've done the book justice and placed you on The Road to Neozon.

PS I should also mention that there are four eye-catching black and white photographs and an afterword in which Anna Tambour generously recommends a load of books by other people. But that's another story. Oh, hang on a minute...




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