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Tabula Rasa

Review Copy

First Appeared in Tabula Rasa#6, 1995

Little Deaths: 24 Tales of Horror and Sex, edited by Ellen Datlow, Millennium, London, 1994. $19.95 pb.

Well, here we go again, horror and sex and things that go bump in the night. The editor points out in the introduction that this was originally conceived as a book of erotic horror, but that once the contributions came in it turned out quite differently. Not too surprising, I think -- but as I intimated in issue 4, I don't like erotica as a genre. Like staid bloodbaths, it's too self-serving, safe and characterless. When it comes to literature I don't want my sexuality soothed, my ego flattered or my ideals given tidy solutions -- I want something dangerous. Which is what this book turned out to be.

These are not stories about sexual awakening, interestingly enough, as there are enough horrors in that premise. Lucy Taylor's Hungry Skin and the two overtly gay stories follow this pattern, the rest are about experienced lovers for whom the experience turns sour (or extraordinary), corrupted by outside pressures. It's also a very human collection, of consequences and individual liberation, where sympathies are divided (in many cases the narrator or protagonist is at the bottom of the scale) and motives are confused.

There is certainly variation -- the oddest story being Clive Barker's On Amen's Shore, a story of Quiddity which is more successful in my mind than the two novels concerning that dream sea. On the down side, I'm not exactly sure what was going on in Joyce Carol Oates' Fever Blisters, though only K W Jeter's Black Nightgown annoyed me by being incomprehensible. And Ruth Rendell's An Outside Interest just wasn't very good.

Otherwise, Little Death's is an outstanding collection. Highlights include Stephen Dedman's The Lady of Situations, Harry Crews' Becky Lives, Wayne Allen Sallee's Lover Doll, Nicola Griffith's Yaguara, Jack Womack's That Old School Tie and Pat Cadigan's Serial Monogamist.

The trick, when it comes to the successful use of sex in fiction, is to portray it in the same manner as the remaining elements of the story - part of a whole. Perhaps an extraordinary event in a character's life, but not just the reason for a reader to keep reading. As Lucius Shepard showed with The Last Time, you can portray the most extreme of situations without toppling into absurdity. Highly recommended.

The X-Files: Goblins, by Charles Grant, HarperPrism, New York, 1995. $9.95, pb.

This book could be significant to you in one of two ways: it is the first novel based on the successful and often rather good TV show, and it is Charles L Grant's latest book (who seems to have dropped an 'L' somewhere in the process). Grant is both highly prolific (over forty novels, numerous anthologies and such, my source at hand informs me) and well-respected by his peers, so the news he was handling this book, and the two to follow, was all rather exciting and much anticipated, by myself certainly. Unfortunately, I don't think he's done a very good job.

The main trouble is an akwardness in moving the characters around, as if the author is never quite sure what they are there for. The plot is pretty standard fare, a government experiment that has spilled over into criminal activity, bringing our two favourite (well...) FBI agents into the scene, a New Jersey army base. It's all tied in somehow with a disappearing man in Louisiana and an old friend of Mulder's, a sports reporter no less.

Mulder and Scully (referred to mostly as Dana) come worst off in the fracas because they don't seem to do much past some perfunctory detective work. Their characters aren't particularly recognisable from the small screen versions, Scully in particular coming across as a blank. The writing itself is well done, but often a little out of place. In something like Raven, the Charles L Grant novel I recently read, he was able to deftly capture the mood and character of a group stranded in a bar in a similar area. The difference here is that he seems to be chaffing inside the format of pre-allocated characters and a narrative format closely following the show itself. He has professed his admiration for the show, but I don't think it suits him.

There is lots of potential for a series of these novels, and I hope they are successful enough to continue. But if there is one problem with the X-Files as a TV show, it is that the writing is often too shallow for its excellent production values. Goblins has the former problem without a great deal of the latter compensation.


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