Nemonymous Ten: Null Immortalis Reviewed

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Nemonymous Ten: Null Immortalis, edited by D.F. Lewis, is the last in an illustrious line of anthologies devoted to making fiction stand squarely on its own legs. Previous Nemonymous volumes did this by famously leaving the author's name off of each story until months after publication, making readers guess at the faces responsible for the often excellent fiction. Since Null Immortalis is the finale, there is no guessing here. However, there is little lost by breaking with tradition, because the lineup of tales in this capstone book more than makes up for lost anonymity (or is it nemonymity?) in sheer quality.

Like previous anthologies, the editor's eccentric and very open guidelines have set the parameters for this last literary venture: all stories here are conceived from the phrase "Null Immortalis" and contain a character named Tullis (from S.D. Tullis, winner of the last Nemonymous competition), and many reference the ghostly fan blades adorning the anthology's front and back covers. Naturally, there are a lot of references to oblivion and eternity to be found, almost two dozen completely different Tullises, and story lines fired from pure imagination.

The stories crafted and laid out by Lewis' impeccable editorial selection amounts to nothing less than a feast for all the senses, and a gallery of literary iconography for the intellect that cannot help but prompt deep contemplation. One such story is "Lucien's Menagerie" by David Fitzpatrick, where a tormented woman must spend the night with her dead ex-husband's haunted taxidermy in order to inherit the mansion. Fitzpatrick's piece tugs on fear from two angles--the realistic and the supernatural--and skillfully portrays the unheard of cruelty that can surround immortality. This is hardly the only story where emotions run deep, hand-in-hand with horror. Cameron Pierce's "Broom People" pairs self-loathing with surrealism in a story that runs purely on its own logic--and it works. Gary Fry's "Strings Attached" delivers a deeper melancholy experienced by a man who hopes to settle in a small town, sandwiched between bureaucratic corruption and hazy memories of a clown dabbling in darkness rather than laughs.

Although Nemonymous books have traditionally been an eclectic mix without genre boundaries, many of the stories in Null Immortalis exude the heavy atmosphere of weird fiction. How could it be otherwise with some of the writers featured here? Reggie Oliver's contribution, "You Have Nothing to Fear," exhibits a slightly more subtle terror than those that have appeared elsewhere in his oeuvre. Yet, the "nothing" festering just beneath the surface of Oliver's tenuous relationships is no less powerful, and the villainous aristocrat who takes center stage will linger repugnantly in readers' memories well after absorbing this tale."The Man Who Made the Yellow God" by Mark Valentine is another story cross referencing the weird with Null Immortalis. An accursed elder recounts how he came by his immortality after one eyed idols bewitched him long ago. Stephen Bacon's "The Toymaker of Bremen" is another effective sample of high strangeness. A Tullis boy learns about his own limited mortality after staying with a mysterious German family following his parents' disappearance. Bacon's offering is exceptionally original, and one of the book's richest in atmosphere.

Immortality is certainly a heady subject, but several authors chose to take it along more lighthearted avenues. Richard Gavin's "Only Enuma Elish" introduces us to a loner whose elderly female neighbor believes she is a Babylonian goddess. Gavin's story is a balanced concoction of unease and humor floating just above the mysterious overlay that has always characterized his fiction. "Holesale" by Rachel Kendall is a palate cleansing dark comedy, chronicling the last frenzied misadventure of a black hole salesman. Andrew Hook's "Love is the Drug" illuminates a future where emotions are distilled into recreational substances. Hook thoughtfully portrays the love drug as a blessing and a curse. Meanwhile, Bob Lock's "Haven't You Ever Wondered?" stars D.F. Lewis himself and Null Immortalis as meta-fictional constructs threatened by inter-dimensional interlopers. This is an inspired and unusual sci-fi story that is especially pleasing to longtime Nemonymous devotees.

More serious meta-fictional boundaries are breached in the real S.D. Tullis' story, "The Return." The young Tullis girl has returned...changed, following a curious disappearance. Her soullessness and startling actions make this the most directly chilling horror story in Null Immortalis. D.P. Watt's "Apotheosis" similarly draws outside its fictitious borders by presenting a sort of literary experiment by which all writers' words are collectivized into an entity named Tullis, the greatest author in the world. Watt's stylistic repetition lends an extra jolt to his story, a play on language very at home with the Lewisian fondness for coining new terms like "Nemonymous."

S.D. Tullis' potent horror is virtually equaled by a couple other works. Derek John's "Oblivion," which imaginatively drags its horrors up from history's depths and into the daylight, is particularly haunting. Insane dates and incantations lead an inquisitive narrator to a place where immortality is oblivion, an intelligent and eerie meditation on these dichotomies clothed in fiction. A handful of other stories utilize more tangible real life threats to generate anxiety. Joel Lane's "The Drowned Market" pans in on a disgruntled author whose implied rampage is cut short by a confounding transformation mirrored in his literature. "The Scream" is a story about an invisible tumor, a sinister business empire spearheaded by Tullis, and a secret society, all impressively woven into a coherent and engaging narrative by Tim Casson. The Great Recession (or Depression 2.0) looms in the background of both tales by Lane and Casson.

Megazanthus Press, which has "published" the first spectral anthology in existence (Nemonymous Six), has never been shy about experimental styles. This boldness continues with Null Immortalis, where several stories demand a deeper level of focus from readers to unravel. Tony Lovell's "The Shell" brings into view a couple's daily life and the husband's nocturnal existence, ultimately blurring into mutually inseparable realities marred by subtle cues that will easily provoke heated interpretations.  "Violette Doranges" is a mystery buried alive in the meaning of this name, a febrile quest after the eponymous character in a phantasmal environment painted by its author, David V. Griffin. As with "The Shell," interpretations of who or what Violette Doranges actually is are sure to be diverse. "The Green Dog" by Steve Rasnic Tem links up a green dog, a bizarre mirror, and a dying man in a painful and moving relationship that subsumes a mildly absurd character into a believable one through vibrant prose. Tim Nickels' tale "Supermarine" is exploratory by several more orders of magnitude. A mythic wartime invasion on the liminal rock of Gibraltar is overshadowed by rich doses of magical realism, an almost decadent journey illuminated in a layered style certain to delight those who love a literary challenge.

The unifying theme in this last roundup of stories can be applied to the whole of Null Immortalis, and perhaps all of Nemonymous too. These tales, these books, are nothing less than dreams laboriously rendered into prose. The horrors, the heavens, and the gray voids in between preserved by the editor and his authors are attempts to communicate their visions on a common theme in a dialogue as labyrinthine as any philosophical discourse, and far more entertaining. Null Immortalis' probing into space, psyche, and time is four-dimensional, and few story collections ever chance at achieving this. For this reason, Nemonymous will be missed, and will one day live on in collectors' clutches, occasionally crossing vast distances for large sums of money. Null Immortalis is a distinguished epitaph for the series, but it may also drift into the future as relentlessly as the fan blades on its cover, a subversive ark intent on spawning new literary flora when and where they are least expected.

-Grim Blogger

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