Archive for the ‘Michael Cisco’ Category
published in 2010
where I got it: received free e-book, and then purchased a new print copy
It’s the atmospheric beauty of Sofia Samatar’s A Stanger in Olondria, combined with the dense verbal wordplay and visual magic of China Mieville’s Embassytown,and gilded with the lyrical poetry of a Catherynne Valente, Michael Cisco’s The Narrator is a very special book for a long list of reasons.
I don’t gravitate towards military fiction. I don’t even like military non-fiction. Neither does Low, the protagonist of The Narrator. As he says on the first page of the novel:
“An army is a horror. It’s a horrible thing. They say you might change your mind about that when the country is invaded and your people are suffering wrong, but for me this is all just more horror, more army-horror.”
He’s a student, he shouldn’t ever have been drafted. But drafted he got, and off he went to a war he knew nothing about in a place he never wanted to go. Why didn’t he just run, or hide, you ask? Because he fell under the view of a Edek, creatures who need a human handler to function in our societies. Once an Edek sees you, you will never be unseen.
This novel is solid prose poetry and literary experimentation. That makes it sound uppity I know, but The Narrator is a surprisingly easy book to read for how dense it can feel. Every page is illuminated with metaphor and alliteration and grammar that shouldn’t work but it does and words that sent me to the dictionary, words like ambuloceti, velleity, clayx, and quiring. Choose any page, any paragraph, and you’ll find a miniature work of art surrounded by a million other miniature works of art.
As a trained narrator, Low’s profession is part biographer, part translator, part bard. He speaks many languages, and knows the unique linguistic quirks of each. He has even been trained in the arcane arts of creating personal alphabets. He’s a scholar, not a soldier. This forced journey he is on will make him, or unmake him. Or perhaps a bit of both.
On an almost Gene Wolfe Severian-esque journey to the muster site, Low finds himself on the death-worker side of the city and has a strange affair with a mysterious woman who has been accused of horrible crimes. Once he joins up with his unit, they end up at a mental institution / prison to recruit what functioning adults are left who can be made into soldiers. And then, into the war zone and towards an island with a mysterious interior that outsiders never return from. Every minute, Low wants to run. He wants no part of this war that makes no sense. This is a story of Low’s misery, of his coming to be comfortable with the inevitable.
Jeff Vandermeer wrote the introduction to this edition of The Narrator, and it was through Vandermeer’s Shriek: An Afterword that I learned of the literary trick of describing the grotesque via the sublime while at the same time leaving seemingly important details purposely out away in the periphery. As a lover of metaphors and adjectives that are not known for working together, Vandermeer was and Cisco is speaking my language. That is to say, if you like Vandermeer, you’ll really like Michael Cisco.
Published July 2011
Where I got it: rec’d a review copy from Harper Voyager
Why I read it: have been following this doctor for a while, and I want to get my hands on anything Jeff VanderMeer is involved in
In homage of the Neatorama game that would have an utter nerdgasm if faced with Dr Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities, I offer you the ultimate meta’d “What is it?” game: The Thackery T Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities itself.
Well, what is it? Exhibition? Self guided museum tour? Self referential satire? A massive inside joke? Eulogy? An unearthing of the madness of a harmless eccentric? I think a line from the movie Catch Me if You Can, (which coincidentally came out the year before Lambshead’s death) sums it up nicely: “people only know what you tell ‘em”.
Dr Thackery T Lambshead was born in 1900. Trained as a physician and scientist, but a true renaissance man, Dr. Lambshead travelled the world, collecting things here and there, making sure other things got back to their home countries, filling countless diaries with descriptions along the way. Briefly married in the 1950’s, the doctor may have never fully recovered from his wife’s tragic death in a car accident. Filling his home with collectibles and oddities, and occasionally culling the collection by permanently lending items out to museums, he became more and more eccentric. After his death in 2003, appraisers made their way through his home, discovering wonder after bizarre wonder, and trying to connect the objects to descriptions and references found in Thackery’s diaries. And then they happened on the secret underground bunker, a cabinet of curiosities that made the upstairs collection look like nothing more than a museum gift shop.
The Thackery T Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities then, is a collection of remembrances of the doctor himself, descriptions (and some outright guesses) of the strange items found in his home, and most importantly it is an attempt to discover what would cause a man to fill his home with such strange and disturbing things. With entries by Ted Chiang, Rachel Swirsky, Charles Yu, Michael Cisco and Reza Negarestani, Lev Grossman, Naomi Novik among many, many others, along with corresponding artwork and photographs, this is a book that’s more than a book. It’s a curiosity unto itself, an experience, a portal, a self guided tour through the mind of someone whose collection created him as much as he created his collection.