Sunday 30 December 2018

Book: Bryn Fortey 'Compromising The Truth'


Book Review of: 
(The Alchemy Press, 2018, ISBN 9-781911-034063, 340pp) 

‘As time went by I learned how to compromise the truth 
what’s wrong is right, what’s black is white’ 
(“The House That Time Forgot”, Bryn Fortey)

You can’t compromise the truth, it knows no regulation. Unless…

Ludwig Wittgenstein says that truth is merely an abstract semantic construction with no causal relationship to so-called reality. While quantum physics indicates that all is constantly in flux, making anything resembling the whole ‘truth’ and nothing but the ‘truth’ a shifting nonsense of fake news and conspiracy theories. Fiction blurs the edges. Bryn Fortey’s fiction blurs the edges more than most.

I never heard the killer Blues of Jackson ‘Truth’ Monroe. But when you read “Ain’t That The Truth” you’re damn-sure you heard it. Wasn’t he tracked down by Alan Lomax who did field recordings of him? No. Or maybe it was Mike Vernon who tasked Alastair Drake with tracking down the elusive Blues legend for his Blue Horizon label? No, not that either. Bryn knows his way around a twelve-bar so intimately you feel your fingers pressed against the fret. This is a tale wrought from the very guts, sweat and bone of vinyl. You meet it at the voodoo crossroads of midnight and sign away your soul into its inexorable crawling horror. Can de Blue man sing the Whites? He sure can now…

Music threads this collection, a recurring riff or looped motif. Poems to Blind Lemon Jefferson or Charley Patton. The ghost wannabe session-voice “Singing Sad Songs” in the haunted Indie recording studio. The resurrected zombie horn players of “Trumpet Involuntary” who freeze the world into the soulless bleakness of their dead vision.

Frederik Pohl wrote “Let The Ants Try” for ‘Planet Stories’ (Winter 1949). There, it’s the radioactive residue of the Three-Hour Nuclear War which destroyed Detroit that mutates super-growth in bugs. Bryn never takes such an easy option. For “The King Is Dead” (originally in ‘Tigershark’ no.9) he traces his mighty mighty Stag Beetles back to reports of an eccentric electrical inventor in 1907 editions of the ‘London Mirror’. And just for good absurdist measure the bugs choose Elvis Presley as their god-deity, legitimising a spattering of song-references. The singer-emerging-from-the-coffin thing was once done by Screaming Lord Sutch, although Screaming Jay Hawkins probably beat him to it. Noddy Holder stole the idea for a sequence in the ‘Flame’ (1975) movie. I’m not sure how Elvis fans would embrace a Dead Elvis tribute act quite like the one that Bryn conjures here. But it makes for a great tale.

Yet there are other gears, he does hard-boiled pugilistic noir, and serial-strangeness in which he totally inhabits character. “After The Harvest” opens as history lesson, a Family Saga of First World War separation, that gradually insinuates the terrible truth of what combat-trauma really means beyond smug patriotic ritual and polite remembrance, where honest well-meaning lives are ripped from simplicity to unendurable awfulness. As Bryn’s bone-hard poem says with such dreadful concision ‘sometimes love is not enough.’ Here is Horror stripped of supernatural element, yet starker because of it. Into the crafted mood-piece “Cracked Concrete” where the forces of nature in resurgence conspire against transient human pretentions.

Then “Space Jocks: Yes! No! Yes!” rampages through every Space Opera you ever read, and all the science fiction you’ve not yet got around to. Veteran Sci-Fi of days gone by had mad scientists inventing backroom Time Machines, for “The Road To Salamis” Bryn sees events from the Beef’s perspective instead, the bought-in security who watches mega-wealthy Arman Kazemi’s attempts to shift history in Persia’s favour. Then the odd wrangling dialogue of the post-death entities in “The Place Of Small Misdemeanours”, lost in a purgatory the size of a small planet. An idea suggested, says Bryn, by George Saunders novel ‘Lincoln In The Bardo’ (2017). Until “Vengeance” begins in Carry-On farce style as the self-styled Big City Playboy escapes the angry husband dressed in his amour’s pale-pink bathrobe, only to run foul of rampaging Zulu warriors time-lost from Rorke’s Drift Station cast into Newport, Wales.

Bryn describes himself as a ‘Short Story Hobbyist’, yet there are eighteen finely-crafted examples here, too many to list. “Even The Klin”, with centuries of benign alien occupation, or the moving “Messages From” balancing the death of a father with unsettling strands of extraterrestrial oddness. To the scandalous truth about the 1947 Area 51 UFO encounter (“El Homestead Notorious”). There are a couple I’ve read before – in ‘Tigershark’ or Jon Harvey’s excellent ‘Worlds Of The Unknown’, although they’re worth reading again, and most of the others are newly-minted previously-unseen titles. These are storyteller’s tales that both rip into your mind like fishhooks and soak into your consciousness like high-grade toxic bootleg hooch, then hang around like the earworm hook you can never get rid of, leaving aftertastes of joy. Bryn plays games that tie truth into conundrums, beguiling anecdotes, unreliable memory or alternate worlds of sly wonder. The stories that happen to be poems, or the poems that happen to be stories.

The second short-story collection by BRYN FORTEY 
is available now from Alchemy Press at:

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