Monday, May 9, 2016

Review: Brutal Pantomimes by Rhys Hughes

Egaeus Press is a publisher that consistently prints beautiful hardcover editions, and has become one of my favorite small publishers of the past few years. Their most recent offering is Brutal Pantomimes, a new collection by Welsh author Rhys Hughes, who writes absurdist fantasy and horror. Humor is a large part of his work, which consists of several novels and hundreds of short stories. Michael Cisco provides the introduction.

For awhile I've been familiar with who Rhys Hughes is, but this collection is the first time I've read his fiction. And while it wasn't my favorite release from Egaeus Press, it was still a solid collection, further proof that this is a publisher worth following. Physically, this book is a beauty. Lithographically printed, cover and endpaper art by František Tichý, and illustrations by Jacques Callot.

Humor can be truly hit or miss, and sometimes depends upon the mood of the reader. Hughes writes fiction that is imbued with humor, and at times I found it tiresome. To remedy this, I took my time reading the book, and found that I much more appreciated it in that manner. The stories within show a clever mind and a dangerous imagination. Hughes manages to find the whimsical in nearly everything, and considering this collection contains his 500th written story (500!!!!) I would dare say he has one of the most powerful imaginations working today.

Some Stories:

The Jam of Hypnos is a great opener for the collection, and one of my favorites. A young man is given a power by the Deity of Dreams. Any food the man dreams of will materialize next to him while he slumbers. The man ends up marooned on an island, where he must use his power to survive and escape. The story plays with the gift/curse duality. Worth noting, this story first appeared in a Poe tribute anthology.

The second story, The Private Pirates Club, is a funny set of stories with a story. A barroom full of men, each one telling his own story about the pirate they believe to be "the world's second worst pirate." These tales eventually lead to the punchline about the World's Worst Pirate, and the story is quite a fun little tale of adventure.

Corsets on the Outside pokes fun at Steampunk fashion, but overall fell a bit flat for me. Wise Man follows, and while at times I found the story really funny, it seemed overlong and embodies the tiresome comment I made earlier, although there are many moments of brilliance in the story.

Another adventure story that I quite enjoyed was The Inflatable Stadium. This absurd adventure story begins with a man who puts wheels on his ship, and finds himself blown miles and miles inland. In a silly town he meets an assortment of oddball characters, including an inventory with multiple pocket watches, a cruel but pretty woman acting as the town's tyrannical leader, and a fractured version of the town's former mayor, who knows appears as copies of himself in all different sizes. The man finds himself trapped, and schemes to escape and take his revenge on the town in the form of the inventor's inflatable stadium. The story moves long briskly, and was definitely a favorite of mine.

The Eeriness That Lurks on the Far Side of Furniture is one hell of a story title. The story itself is quite short, but doesn't find itself lacking because of that. A man seeks shelter in a mansion filled with bizarre furniture, the failed experiments of an inventor hoping to turn ordinary furniture into weapons for war. The majority of the story is the conversation between the two men as they thread their way through the labyrinth of cupboards, chairs, couches, tables and cabinets.

Overall, an enjoyable collection and a nice introduction to the work of Rhys Hughes. Even though I found the humor to be a mixed bag, I feel that his imagination may be unmatched, and I'm very much looking forward to digging into more of his work.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Rejoice in the Madness of the xPulver!

Come rejoice and dance and sing
Rejoice in the madness of the Yellow King
And if your city turns into a city unseen
I'm sure that the madness has been... enough

-For Greater Good - Le Jugement Du Roi En Jaune

"Dream is the key."

It sounded like cliche bullshit, but instead of turning to leave there was something in the woman's eyes that made me hesitate. She knew.

I handed over a large chunk of my cash, and she gathered what I would need. My American ears struggled with her German accent, and I worried that I would miss an important part of her instructions, and that the entire trip would end up being a wash. Once I had everything in hand, she repeated the steps and escorted me out of her shop.

The streets of Berlin were quiet as I walked back to the empty apartment. A small, old building tucked onto a corner, it looked like a large stone wedge. The apartment was a suite of rooms on the sharp corner, and the building was dark and quiet enough that it was obvious I was the only person staying there.

As night fell, I laid out the items I obtained from the woman and began the ritual as she described. I felt sick when the substances kicked in, and seemed to enter a feverish state immediately. I could feel each drop of sweat on my body, and they had entered a cycle where they would freeze before melting and dripping down a bit before freezing again. I curled into a ball on the mattress that was the apartment's sole piece of furniture, and after what seemed hours the fever passed and I felt a serenity take it's place.

My body relaxed, and I laid back on the mattress and steadied my breathing, allowing sleep to overtake me. "Dream is the key."


I don't remember entering a gate, a portal or a door. My surroundings didn't slowly rematerialize. I was simply there, and I knew I was where I wanted to be. The room was made of rough stone, and lit by candles which  were placed on the floor around the room's edges, I didn't know how much time I had, so I walked out of the room's only entrance.

After following a short hallway I found myself outside, standing in a small forest glade. It was twilight, but two giant moons in the sky provided plenty of pale illumination. The air was cool and moist, and nearly beyond earshot a lute played a sad, slow song.

I followed the path out of the glade and realized I was walking a path in a large, wooded garden of some kind. The music grew louder, and as I neared it I began to notice others wandering the paths. Their clothing was dated. Robes, simple outfits made of rough cloth, most in tatters. Several of my fellow wanderers were crying, some were mumbling, but all of them were smiling. Big, idiot grins on every face, but not smiles of happiness.

The music led me to a courtyard, where there were many of these people gathered. Some conversed in small groups, while others cavorted in dance around the lute player. The murmur of conversation seemed off, and something about it bothered me. I walked through the courtyard and continued to be unnerved by the murmur of voices, although hearing snatches of conversation more clearly only served to further confuse me. None of them were talking about anything that should cause worry, but something about their speech itself blanketed my mind with anxiety. 

It wasn't what they were saying. It was how they were saying it. It was the punctuation. They spoke as if they were reading aloud from a paper riddled with excessive and abnormal punctuation. Pauses were longer than they should be, as if multiple ellipses were strung together. Some words were emphasized out of proportion, one exclamation point wasn't enough. Some words were slurred like they had been shortened.

I didn't know how much longer I could listen, so I pushed my way through the courtyard. On the far side was a gate into another courtyard, flanked by guards. They wore rusted plate, and had pale, sickly faces. The guards looked at me intently as I neared, but without saying a word they opened the gate and ushered me through.

The second courtyard was smaller, and appeared to have once been extravagant. Ages of decay and decadence had taken a toll, and the place wasn't much more than a pile of rubble and refuse. The people in here still wore tatters, but their garments appeared to have once been finer than the clothes of the revelers from the previous courtyard. Nobles, once, they all wore masquerade masks, but I could still see the grins. They milled about and socialized, stuck in an endless party. Several looked at me as I passed but none said a word. I had found what I had sought.

In the center of the yard stood a broken throne, and seated upon it was the reason I undertook my journey. The man seated upon the throne did not look kingly. He was shorter than average height, slightly rotund, and wore garments more tattered than any of the other inhabitants of his realm. His cloak was yellow with age and decay, as were his pants, shirt and boots. He had a large, grey bear and a thick mustache that began to curl up at the edges. His face alone did not have the grin of madness that was a fixture on every other face in his court, including the wretch at his feet.

The wretch wore nothing but bright, torn, red trousers, and a metal collar fastened around it's throat. It held a large scroll in its one claw, and a quill in another, and was writing at a furious pace, copying every word the King uttered.

I approached the throne and heard the King reciting words to his scribe in a language that was foreign to me, but I recognized the bizarre manner of speaking as being the same as his subjects. He beckoned me forward and stopped his bizarre rant. His eyes were keen, and I realized that although he must have been as mad as his subjects that hidden underneath that madness was a powerful cunning.

He coughed, and then spoke to me in my own tongue. Smoke poured out of his mouth with every word, and curled upwards, question marks floating above his head.

"U.....Come Frwrd. Do you kno where u are?????????????????????"

"I know this place. But I don't know it's name."

"Iz a name.......... importnt? Some call it cArcosa, some names in tongues long forrrrrrgotten. it NOTHING.........."

When he spoke to me directly I felt sharp pains in my head, and I wondered how much longer I had.

"Do you know why I'm here?"

He laughed, and leaned forward, and I noticed that every one of his facial hairs was an exclamation point. The dot on each one hovered slightly away from the tip of each hair, creating a sort of shimmering effect as he moved. His eyes were two, coal black periods. 

"I knowzzzzz why yrrrrr herrrrrrrrrrrre boyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy..........There;s only one reason any1 comez here.!.!.!"

He reached into his cloak and pulled forth a red pen. Seeing it was almost too much, and I nearly snatched it from his hand.

"nowww,,,,,, are you SURE......SURE......sure...this is what you want?"

I knew that it wasn't what I wanted. It was what I needed. I nodded, and reached my hand out. He laughed a wicked laugh, but his eyes wept tears.

"Open yur shirt boy..........."
I did what he told me, and he used the pen to carve a word into my chest. The blood and the red ink ran together and dripped down my stomach, and then my pants. I looked at the word he had scrawled but could make no sense of it: xPulver


He handed me the red pen, and as my hand clasped it I could feel a spawm of pain spreading from my fingers and up my arm. I tried to open my hand but the muscles were locked into place. The King and the wretch began to laugh, and were soon joined by the revelers in the court, until a chorus of laughter drowned out all other sound. The pain spread and I was rooted in place, losing conscious as my body could no longer handle all of the stress. The last thing I saw were the moons, ugly and broken in the sky.


I awoke to pain. My head hammered, my mouth was dry, and my chest burned as if it were scratched although there appeared to be no wounds present. Everything was as I left it: the mattress on the floor, the candles I used for light, the remnants of the supplies I bought from the woman. There were no scars on my chest, no red pen brought into my world. But there was something. A stain of red ink, smeared on my right hand.

For Joe, A true friend and mentor