Review of Instagrimoire//Fax Screen Sect: The Cancellation of Graham Greene, Volume 1: Tales from Orthographic Oceans, or: A Room with a View (Self-Portrait in a Concave Mirror with Interior Landscape & Key to the Scriptures) by Justin Isis

“The Ghost of Hana Kimura” is one of the finest poems I have read anywhere in a long time.

These are utterly unique, rereadable, poignant statements about our times. Dissectable, dense glimpses into a mind steeped in the light of liminal “inner flame.” Landscapes of the cyber-dead, and the obsolete kings of our renown. A hallowed and unholy godlike goading toward bleak imperatives. A harrowing and stylized recording of your exact search history. Don’t gloss over this Snuggly Slim; savor its timely dispensation of wit and esoteric terror.

Marked to Die: A Tribute to Mark Samuelsby Justin Isis

The Weird Tale, as a genre, plays host to stories of far more diversity than most other genres.

It can combine elements of horror, literary fiction, historical fiction, humor, adventure, science fiction, and fantasy. Examples abound of Lovecraftian experiments in cosmic dread and Machen-esque descents into sub-realities, but no author better epitomizes the trend than Mark Samuels. Alongside Ligotti and a host of infamous small-press authors, Samuels has infused the genre with staying power, primarily by concocting reams of nightmarish visions which haunt the reader’s psyche for years afterward.

This volume contains a dozen and a half tributes to the power of his storytelling. From recognized names in the sub-genres of s-f, we are treated to a lengthy sampling of gruesome and ingenious stories featuring charming cameos by “JBon” Quentin S. Crisp, and of course Samuels.

The anthology maps the human condition in all of its diverse interpretations, charting the heights of ecstasy and the pits of despair, the outskirts of human striving to the dark interior of the soul. David Rix should be commended for finishing the collection with a powerful novella about slag glass. Reggie Oliver provides another elegant foray into the subtly weird, while James Champagne embarks on a surprising and satirical quest toward an unsettling abyssal discovery.

Key notes of alienation, loneliness and piquant encounters with the unknown punctuate this eclectic grouping. Justin Isis’ fiction contribution was impressive and hypnotic, as usual, but actually stood out as more straightforward than expected. Several other tales spin into startling and experimental territory such as Yarrow Paisley’s. You’d have to dredge to the bottom of some of the stories to find the Mark Samuels references or influences, but they all embody the mystique in some way, and tend to culminate in spine-tingling climaxes, occasionally forsaking the technique of dénouement in favor of an aftertaste of memorable discomfort—take “The Singular Quiddity of Merlin’s Ear” for instance.

Some wacky psychedelic exercises congeal into startling imagery and a harrowing accumulation of sinister atmosphere. Having read three collections of Samuels’ stories so far I can attest that the tributes do play off the general feel of the weird aesthetic and can be appreciated by readers unfamiliar with Samuels’ works. Though plenty of references will go unrecognized by the uninitiated, there are many delectable riddles and unique literary panoramas to delight any connoisseur of vibrant speculative fiction.

The impressive array of authors and keen editing that went into this book produce a cohesive work which can only be fully fathomed with careful reading and open-minded enthusiasm. There were moments I doubted whether the stories could grapple with all their disparate ideas, or if they were spinning out of control, and many of them verged into quirky territory, lassoing in esoteric concepts and indulging in asides, only to swerve back on track by the end, justifying their eccentricities through sheer bravado and annihilating my preconceptions. Isis and Co. have conspired to sacrifice their time and shun easy categorization on a mission to enrich the body of literature about less conventional humans and do something different for a change.

Having read Marked to Die at a slow pace, I feel the need to revisit it. For the second half I did not want it to end, and it took more than one adjustment to orientate my reading mind. But use your peripherals, scratch past the ink with your fingernails and you’ll uncover deep and mesmeric emotional resonances worthy of the label of Samuels-esque.

Review of I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like by Justin Isis, Quentin S. Crisp

The struggle of young people to understand their place in the world, within society’s context, or outside of its proscribed categories, considered from a multitude of perspectives, at differing stages of fatalistic contempt, solipsism, wanderlust, and obsession.

The Japanese setting, conjured with sublime authenticity, was absolutely convincing. Equal parts startling nostalgia and enigmatic yearning. With the tenacity of Mishima and the crystalline clarity of Tanizaki, Isis attains timelessness. In a style bereft of posture, the author zeroes in on a generation of media-savvy, dislocated characters who possess a shattered sense of empathy or are psychologically tethered to abstract or actual idols, who are at times depraved due to the sheer weight of loneliness. It depicts delicate sensibilities in a mature way, reaching a salience of aesthetic purity which perfectly demands the reader’s active consideration while memorably encapsulating beautiful lived-in moments.

A sublime and poignant collection of long stories. Atmospheric, mesmeric, down to earth, and unhurried as the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa or a darkly tinted Ozu. The desolation of empty public spaces, littered with wind-swept memories. Leave your innocence at the door. The book embodies the act of stepping off the precipice of youth into the abyss of adulthood, forcefully straining you through a contorted filter of sex, philosophical hunger, and the inseparable gulf between disparate human understandings.

I would’ve continued reading this book for another 1000 pages.

Review of Dadaoism by Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp

One must look closely at the cover to appreciate the art. Words, portmanteau or apropos to the content, beginning with the longest word and decreasing slowly into the four-letter expletive at the bottom, cascading into one another. These key terms suggest some of the tricksterism to be encountered in the anthology. Finally, there are the two gender symbols merged at the base, encompassing the two halves of the human experience. It reminds me of a funnel, a filter of language.

But what is Dadaoism? Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp posit two partial comments on the theme in their superb introductions. Isis explains that authors erect armor around themselves in the form of writings, feebly increasing the durability of their spiritual vessels. In my mind, the metaphor extends to ephemeral mansions and worlds constructed by authors to escape reality, in the hope for the endurance of our personal brand of imaginative expression. We each craft a golden disc, but instead of the great void, we cast it into the supersaturated information exchange permeating our culture.

Crisp cites Zhuang Zhou’s well-known parable of the butterfly’s dream. Which makes one wonder, is our reality a personal interpretation? A flood of interpretations is likely to result from reading this anthology.

It begins with an intriguing story by Reggie Oliver – a controlled, subtle, philosophical tale in which the main character comes to identify with a fancy chair. It hints at the mingling of souls with inanimate matter, or the Asian trope of inanimate objects which inherit souls after reaching sufficient age.

The range of authors and stories (and poems) is immense. At times cryptic, impenetrable, irrelevant, and oddly hallucinogenic, this collection defies as it entertains. Whether they are advocating an elimination of style or motive, or relishing these things, this collection subverts whatever expectations you bring to it. I found Nina Allan’s tale one of the more traditional. Peter Gilbert’s “Body Poem,” seems to extrapolate into fiction of what Shelley Jackson has been doing in real life for years. It was one of my least favorite inclusions. Whenever several inexplicable twists occurred in this unpredictable collaboration, the intrusion of the imagination was everywhere evident. “The Autobiography of a Tarantula” by Jesse Kennedy might have been my favorite. Haunting and creative, unhurried, ruthless, and profound. A skewed perspective is often a leaping-off point for these microcosms, branching into unaccustomed spaces of neurally stimulating territory.

A good example was “The Lobster Kaleidoscope” by Julie Sokolow, wherein the chance existence of homonyms dictated the slant and content of the tale. A surreal and brilliant slide into uncanny dreamscape.

“Koda Kumi,” a ‘remix’ by Isis of Crisp, was particularly mesmeric, combining traditional storytelling elements with characteristic artful atmosphere and lyrical prose.

The unsettling dystopian “Poppies,” by Megan Lee Beals, though abrupt, added layers and dimensions of weird.

Totaling 29, these wildly different and stirring works contain something for everybody, as well as some things for nobody, and no things for somebody, etc. The permutations of the human mind are practically infinite, but our prevailing sensibilities latch on to easy interpretations. Be baffled. Wander through the labyrinth of hyperbolic experimentation. In its heart is the luscious fruit of enlightenment, sprouting from a rhizosphere of dark, subconscious exploration.

Review of Pleasant Tales II by Justin Isis

Isis doesn’t disappoint. In this collection, he shows versatile and snide talent, facetious and chameleonic mastery, satiric and oneiric brilliance. 

He is a stark commentator on modern mores and a profound pursuant of personal stylistic innovation. A mesmeric and elegiac offering from a grossly under-appreciated storyteller. I think you will want to read all of his work once you dip your toes in. My favorite so far has been I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like. Check it out.

The handful of stories presented here do not represent the sum total of the author’s powers but a sampling of his fluctuating concerns. A quick read, but a memorable one. They concern young and old people (and a chimp) encountering surprising and skewed fates. The astute reader will notice that the language takes part in the story, sliding into overwritten purple prose to emphasize the exuberant willful tone. These are exercises in style, and simultaneous explorations of outré concepts. Every move is made with intention and veiled playfulness. Any approach toward contempt is a retreat from treacly predictability. Any advance toward ruthless experimentation is a disturbingly effective joust with the reader’s perception.

His most compelling techniques are evident in the masterpiece ‘A Walk in the Park,’ where we are made to witness a perfect storm of rapid-fire mordant set-pieces adorned with meteoric wit. One can easily discern the social awareness within the stilted portrayal of self-cultivation and rampant business acumen on display.

With consummate skill, the other tales switch up their modus operandi, delighting as they defy convention. If they do not give you a warm, tingly feeling, they will slide under your skin and burn. With this infectious and addictive volume, I am committed to reading everything else he has written or shall write – such is my enthusiasm. You will not find a prequel to Pleasant Tales II unless you look under the bibliography of Brendan Connell. Spoiler alert: I’ll be reading that soon.