TagNull Immortalis

Robert Williams, Into the Trees (2014)

WilliamsIt begins with a knock on the door: Harriet Norton answers to find four masked men, who want a word with her father. We move back eight years, when Thomas and Ann Norton move to their secluded barn conversion in the forest, purely because it seems to be the only place where baby Harriet doesn’t cry. This is a nicely handled opening by Robert Williams: it evokes the characters’ mixed emotions (a combination of guilt at doing this, and resignation that something had to be done). It sets a theme of decisions being taken at a particular moment, and going to have longer-term consequences. And it throws the reader off balance, because it’s a tragicomic situation following that dramatic prologue.

We may then expect (which is to say, I expected) Into the Trees to start working towards that confrontation with the masked men. This it does, but more quickly than I anticipated, so the actual confrontation plays out about a third of the way in. For the whole of that first third, I had the wonderful sense (rarer than one might imagine) of not knowing at all where the book might head.

It settled down eventually into a thoughtful exploration of the personal consequences of such a dramatic event. Besides the Nortons, Williams’ other key characters are Raymond Farren, a misfit farm labourer who becomes friends (of sorts) with Thomas; and Raymond’s neighbour Keith Sullivan, who feels short-changed by life and is determined to set things right. Each protagonist is challenged by the novel’s events: Thomas is shaken by the thought that he can’t protect his family, which puts strain on his relationship with Ann; Raymond finds the stability in his life under threat; Keith may get what he wants, but struggles to hold on to it. All in all, Into the Trees is engaging stuff; thanks to Ray Robinson for bringing it to my attention.

Tim Nickels, ‘Supermarine’ (2010)

The longest and last story in Null Immortalis (and therefore the last story in all of Nemonymous) takes us to wartime Gibraltar, focusing on a number of characters, but most notably Kay Keating, an ex-film starlet who has travelled to the Rock on the orders of — well, that’s for the story to tell, not me. As with ‘The Green Dog’, I feel I haven’t been able truly to get to grips with this piece. I loved the flow and atmosphere of Nickels’ writing, but couldn’t piece together the deeper connections in the story.

Rating: ***½

Bob Lock, ‘Haven’t You Ever Wondered?’ (2010)

There have been stories in Null Immortalis which draw on their context of being in this particular anthology, but none more so than Lock’s contribution. Anthology editor D.F. Lewis is himself the protagonist, approached by the alien Tullis in a tale that casts the entire project of the Nemonymous series in a rather different light. This story comes across as a big in-joke, but, to be fair, I did find it rather amusing.

Rating: ***

Steve Rasnic Tem, ‘The Green Dog’ (2010)

I’ve got to be honest: even after several readings, I haven’t been able to puzzle this one out. The lives and identities of a green dog, a man, and his mirror image flow into and out of one another. I couldn’t get under the skin of this story, but the prose is lovely.

Rating: ***

Mark Valentine, ‘The Man Who Made the Yellow God’ (2010)

Valentine’s subject is J. Milton Hayes, author of the dramatic monologue ‘The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God’, here cursed with immortality and obscurity. What makes this short piece works so well is the narrative voice, which combines old and contemporary in a way that utterly convinces as the voice of a man who has remained physically young for a hundred years. There’s also an effective contrast between the vein of humour running through the narration and the more quietly spoken terror of the events described.

Rating: ***½

Stephen Bacon, ‘The Toymaker of Bremen’ (2010)

In 1938, young Scot Tullis’s family are on a motoring holiday in Germany when their car breaks down. Scot falls asleep, and wakes to find that his parents have disappeared; going off in search of them, he instead finds a house inhabited by an old man and his seven children, and full of strange toys. The old man offers Scot a place to stay; the days turn into months, with no sign of Scot’s parents. I like the idea of this story, but it doesn’t quite flourish for me in practice, as the prose doesn’t reach the level of texture and atmosphere for which it seems to be aiming.

Rating: ***

Cameron Pierce, ‘Broom People’ (2010)

The newly-single narrator  opens his dresser-drawer to find a tiny wooden girl who announces herself as ‘a broom…come to clean the cobwebs.’ Oh, but our man doesn’t know the half of it. This story is wonderfully creepy and odd, and leaves one guessing just what’s going to happen up to the very end.

Rating: ***½

Roy Gray, ‘”Fire”‘ (2010)

Three pages in the mind of a man in front of a firing squad: short but intense. A superbly pitched voice, and very effective ending.

Rating: ***½

Rachel Kendall, ‘Holesale’ (2010)

The short tale of a market trader selling handy portable holes leading to a pocket dimension that can be used for storage. This is a bit of a shaggy-dog story, but it’s fun and does its job well.

Rating: ***½

Reggie Oliver, ‘You Have Nothing To Fear’ (2010)

An artist recalls his friendship with an aristocratic photographer, and recounts the tragic fate of the model who became his friend’s chief subject. The object of fear in this story is nothingness, and ‘being nobody’; there’s also a subtext of people being driven to destruction by others in the pursuit of fame or success. It’s interesting as it goes along, but I never really felt the emotions underpinning the tale.

Rating: ***

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