Tesseracts 14, the latest installment in what has been called a Canadian literary legacy – the first Tesseracts anthology was published way back in 1985 and edited by the incomparable Judith Merril – was a good albeit uneven read. Anthologies are like a box of chocolates – very rarely do I savor every single selection – and while there were no glaring weak links in Tesseracts 14, there were a fair share of unremarkable stories.
That said, this anthology does contain some impressive speculative gems, namely Claude Lalumiere’s “Vermilion Dreams,” Brent Hayward’s “The Brief Medical Career of Fine Sam Fine,” and “Harvest Moon” by M.L.D. Curelas.
Curelas’s “Harvest Moon” was a beautifully dark, hauntingly lyrical story about an eight-year old girl coming home from an annual Harvest Festival with her family when the old truck her father is driving is set upon by werewolves. Although the storyline is fascinating in and of itself, it’s the author’s poetic narrative voice and sublime mastery of atmospherics that makes this a superb read:
“The moon overwhelmed everything in the night sky. Orange – not yellow or ghostly white – but muddy orange, a perfect round blob of dried blood, the moon cast its cold light down over the land, illuminating the harvested fields.”
But unarguably the standout selection is Lalumiere’s insanely brilliant “Vermilion Dreams,” a comprehensive account of the complete works of novelist and adventurer Bram Jameson, “one of the twentieth century’s most significant writers.” Set in the thematic shadow of Venera, an archipelagean city-state that is famous for its production of vermilion (a euphoria-inducing spice manufactured from a plant that reputedly only grows in the soil of Venera), Lalumiere explores the mysterious life of Jameson through in-depth analyses of his 12 novels. The boundaries between reality, hallucination and myth blur as the story progresses – who was Jameson? Was he really a pirate, aviator, astronaut, sexual adventurer, and cannibal?
Readers will find themselves quickly immersed in this wildly entertaining storyline. Here’s an account of Jameson’s first novel, Pirates to Nowhere, in which Jameson leads a crew of criminals to Venera only to get lost in the surreal cityscape:
“Often, he can barely see the sky through the overhanging maze of passageways, balconies, arches, bridges, and vegetation. For days on end, the vegetation grows so dense that he comes to forget that he is in a city at all, believing himself lost in a labyrinthine primeval forest. Eventually, albeit temporarily, the jungle becomes more recognizably urban, although the bizarre geometry confuses his sense of logic and, even, of self. Throughout his journey, Jameson encounters visionaries, prophets, lunatics, sadomasochists, holy whores, defective automata, and deformed doppelgangers of his former crewmates…”
And here's another excerpt, this one regarding Jameson's futuristic thriller, Millenium Nights:
“As the weeks roll on in the artificially controlled environments of Supermall, times loses meaning. Danvers’ megalomania becomes increasingly overt, as he encourages tribal rivalries among the shoppers, whose devotion to consumer goods lead them to create new rituals, to forge alliances based on allegiances to popular consumer brands. The abandoned stores become the temples of this new atavism. Wars break out between the faithful of different branded sects.”
Simply put, “Vermilion Dreams” is classic Claude – and I sincerely hope that he considers revisiting Venera soon.
For me, reading beloved familiar authors – like Ben Bova, Kim Harrison, R.A. Salvatore, etc. – is like consuming comfort food. But sometimes it’s nice to sample new literary fare. That’s why I love anthologies like Tesseracts 14 – there are stories from authors that I know and love (like Robert J. Sawyer and Claude Lalumiere), as well as stories from authors that are new to me, like the aforementioned Hayward and Curelas, to name just a few. Fantasy, horror and science fiction fans who are looking for something, well, weird should check out this anthology of delectable literary morsels of Canadian speculative fiction.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.