Saturday, 26 September 2009

Cern Zoo Nemonymous Nine

He has a somewhat unusual modus operandi, Des Lewis—accomplished writer in his own right and founder of the Nemonymous series of anthologies. In the nine volumes of the Nemonymous family so far (we'll talk about number six shortly), Des has operated with writers at various degrees of anonymity.

Early on, just the stories were presented, and nowhere would you find the barest reference as to who had created them—at least, not until the next Nemonymous, when all would then be revealed. Lately, Des has lessened that stance, and both story titles and author names are included, although not linked together, so we are still left wondering who wrote what.

From the writer's perspective, it makes for an interesting submission process. For the reader, it's an experience to read fiction without any prior expectations that may come with a 'named' writer, or conversely any prejudices that may precede an 'unknown' talent. A level playing field all round, where stories stand or fall purely on their own merit.

The latest edition to the Nemonymous family is Cern Zoo, Nemonymous Nine. It's a trade paperback, and provides excellent value for money at 265 pages with 24 short stories. For this anthology, writers were asked to submit stories written around the theme "Cern Zoo". What this means to each writer was left to their own interpretation. The result is a somewhat mixed bag of stories revolving around Cern and its physics, of stories set in a variety of zoos, and of stories nothing like either. Of course, it's too much to comment on all the stories here, so instead I'll pick out a few and leave the rest for you to judge should you buy the book (you will buy it, won't you?).

There's a good deal more shorter fiction in Cern Zoo than I remember ever featuring in any of its older siblings. In this respect, the issue reads differently from anything Nemonymous that's gone before.

The anthology opens with one such shorter piece: "Dead Speak". It's a tale of Cern and one woman discovering that Cern's physics will indeed destroy the planet if allowed to continue. It's a good opening, albeit with a jarring change of setting mid flow that in truth isn't adequately explained. Another shorter work, "Pebbles", is skillfully written with a wonderfully poignant undertone, but again because of its length feels incomplete. I suppose it's a general malaise of ultra short fiction that not everything is often explored fully.

With this in mind, I think it's safe to say I preferred the lengthier works in Cern Zoo. More substantial, they feel more akin to what I've come to expect a Nemonymous tale to be.

The first of these more substantial offerings is "Artis Eterne". While we may live complex, divergent lives, it's the constants that ultimately we return to, and in Artis Eterne the first person narrator returns to the town of his youth to discover the secret of mad Arthur, a pub regular whose odd behaviour had been a constant source of intrigue. I like the fact that the speculative nature of this story is somewhat understated, a trait I've admired in many Nemonymous stories before.

Another is "The Lion's Den", which starts fairly slowly, but gathers pace to become compelling reading. Down at the zoo, there are strange goings on in the lion enclosure. There's a building intensity in this tale as we see the keepers' control of the animals slowly dwindling away, until we're left wondering who's caged whom. There's also a certain irony involved here that the very keepers who quite clearly care deeply for their animals look set, at least in the short term, to lose most. A nicely composed tale indeed.

A third story I particularly enjoyed is "Mellie's Zoo". It's an empowerment story; an extended metaphor for Mellie finding inner strength to deal with her parents' failing relationship. Set against the backdrop of an abandoned zoo (perfect for an abandoned girl), the tale moves along nicely.

There's also the rather strange "Another Day Down on the Farm", whose play-on-words ending relating to Cern made flinch somewhat, yet still left me wondering 'why would someone do that?' long after I'd read it. A further story, "Sloth & Forgiveness", is of a similar vein. Though "Sloth…" is more whimsical where "Another Day…" is decidedly darker, both are short but entertaining reads.

All the stories are entertaining in their own way. Of the shorter offerings, "Dear Doctor" is a fun read, for example, but again, having read all previous Nemonymi, its rather pun-ish raison d'etre marks it as a somewhat atypical Nemonymous story.

And it's interesting from a writing point of view looking at how each featured author interprets the "Cern Zoo" theme. On the face of it, it's a fairly ambiguous concept, after all; what is a Cern Zoo when it's about? The end product is a loosely based entirety, if that's the right way of expressing it, that still manages to work very well.

It's not the first time Des has coaxed this kind of cohesion in Nemonymous. I hope he continues to do so for many years to come. I suppose that depends on enough people digging deep and supporting the projects.

Cern Zoo Page

Cern Zoo may be bought here

While you're there, take a look at the previous Nemonymous editions, too. Knowing Des, if you buy back issues as well as Cern Zoo I'm sure he'll 'do you a deal'. Issue Six is a classic—it has no cover, no pages, no stories—at least none that you don't have to dream up yourself—and is available at the special price of $0.00.

Only with the anonymity of Nemonymous can a 'missed' edition take on such physicality. Issue Six most definitely exists, and given it can contain nothing but my own stories if I want it to, it's a must for any non-bookshelf.

Zencore, Nemonymous Seven, includes my story "Mary's Gift, the Stars, and Frank's Pisser". But don't let that put you off. This story, along with several others in Zencore, won an honourable mention in Ellen Datlow's "Year's Best Fantasy and Horror" anthology. If I remember correctly, I think one story did indeed make it into the Year's Best.

Win Immortality

Des has a now seemingly annual competition: guess which author wrote which story. He or she who guesses the most correctly wins a unique prize. The submission guidelines for Nemonymous Ten will require each entry to include the winner's name as a character in the story. An entire anthology of 'you'! There's no purchase necessary, so use the list below and send an entry in. It'll take two minutes and you've nothing to lose.

Enter here

The competition closes 31st October, 2009.

Of course, you could buy Cern Zoo, narrow things down by listing each story into obvious US or UK writers, scour the Internet comparing word use and writing style, bribe Des, and who knows you might tip the balance. But, if you do this, I think you should probably get out more. Or get laid. Or both.

Cern Zoo Stories:

Dead Speak
Artis Eterne
The Last Mermaid
The Lion’s Den
Virtual Violence
The Rude Man’s Menagerie
Window To The Soul
Salmon Widow
The Shadow’s Departure
Being Of Sound Mind
Dear Doctor
Mellie’s Zoo
Turn The Crank
The Devourer of Dreams
Just Another Day Down On The Farm
Strange Scenes From An Unfinished Film
Lion Friend
The Ozymandias Site
Cerne’s Zoo
Sloth & Forgiveness
City of Fashion
Fragment Of Life

Cern Zoo authors:

Rosalind Barden
Gary McMahon
Amy Kinmond
Tim Nickles
Bob Lock
Lelsley Corina
Jacqueline Seewald
Dominy Clements
Brendan Connell
Daniel Ausema
Gary Fry
Mick Finlay
Robert Neilson
Steve Duffy
Geoff Lowe
Stephen Bacon
Rod Hamon
Lee Hughes
Lyn Michaud
Tony Lovell
Roy Gray
Travis K. Weltman

Go on, go nuts; mix and match and send them in.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Interesting review of CERN ZOO.
Lovely publicity for the anthology!

All the best,

Jacqueline Seewald
The Drowning Pool, Five Star/Gale 2009
The Inferno Collection Five Star hardcover, Wheeler large print 2008

Steven Pirie said...

Thanks, Jacqueline, as you can probably tell I've a great fondness for Nemonymous.

I could have said a good deal more about many of the other stories in Cern Zoo, but the post was getting a bit long as it was.

I look forward to finding out who wrote what.