Eye for the Irish
By Cheryl Morgan
Back during Worldcon I made a point of highlighting Nova Scotia, the anthology of work by Scottish writers. Neil Williamson and Andrew Wilson had made a point of talking to me about it, and given the location of the convention I could not ignore it. And it was certainly worth some attention. Little did I know, however, that an anthology of Irish fiction had also been published. No one told me until afterwards. I am making up for missing it now.
The big worry with such books, of course, is that they will contain a few reprints from big names, and a lot of material from budding writers who arenít quite good enough to get published yet. Looking at the contents list for Emerald Eye, I was rather worried. There were reprint stories by Anne McCaffrey, Bob Shaw and James White (two of whom are dead). The other names were largely unfamiliar to me. As it turned out, this was not because they were unpublished. They just published mainly in venues I donít read.
Why? Well, if you look at the cover of the book you will probably conclude two things. Firstly that it is self-published (which it isnít, it just has a cover that doesnít do the book justice), and secondly that it is a collection of fantasy stories. It is predominantly green, and features a girl with a long braid that transforms into Celtic knot work. To be fair, the introduction does say the book doesnít contain any leprechauns. But it doesnít contain any fairy princesses or handsome, muscle-bound swordsmen either. Indeed, the stories by McCaffrey, Shaw and White seem very much out of place, because Emerald Eye is mainly a horror anthology.
Not that this is a bad thing, but it does come as something of a shock. The first tale, "Thomas Crumlesh 1960-1992: A Retrospective" by Mike McCormack is a particularly striking tale of an artist whose gimmick is to remove and display his own body parts. It is short, sharp, and darkly funny in its own odd way. It is also my favorite story in the book.
Two of the next three stories conform to a particularly unpleasant horror stereotype, being about men who abuse (and in one case kill) prostitutes for pleasure. I can see that this is an obvious setting for a horror story, but when I find this sort of thing I immediately wonder why people write this stuff, and why they read it. Do they find it erotic?
I did read Mike OíDriscollís "Hello Darkness" all the way through because he made an honest attempt to explain why his "hero" was the way he was. With Robert Nielsonís "Pleasing Mr. Ross" I quickly skipped to the end to see if it was as predictable as I expected, and it was.
A much more interesting story is Dermot Ryanís "The Burnished Egg". It is about a teenage boy who reads so intensely that when he does so an egg-shaped space opens in the air beneath his head within which can be seen images of what he is reading. It is live 3D cinema, complete with authentic sound track. Naturally the boy becomes a popular entertainer, but as with many such people he has a strong interest in serious art. If you happen to develop this talent, please, donít read from Paradise Lost. I think the execution of the story could have been better, but the idea was top notch.
As for the rest of the book, wellÖ In her book, Storyteller (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), Kate Wilhelm talks about the "The Red Line of Death". This is a technique that she and Damon Knight used to use when teaching at Clarion. The line represented the point in the story at which the tutor felt an editor would stop reading and reject the story. A very similar red line, albeit metaphorical rather than physical, gets drawn in anthologies at the point at which Cheryl gets bored reading a story and either skips immediately to the next one, or checks that she guessed the ending correctly and then skips on. There were an awful lot of metaphorical red lines in Emerald Eye.