Tuesday, August 24, 2004

A couple days ago, I finished reading the advance uncorrected proof of The Dry Salvages.

Written by Caitlin R. Kiernan, a lady whose work is invariably good to read, this thing is an absorbing shade, a terrifically fascinating story that successfully demonstrates the awesome potential for fear inherent in the literally strange. Performing the deliciously ingenious trick of taking us beyond what we hate or fear or know, and reminding us that the darkness always waiting under the trap door is absolutely alien. She reminds us how little we know of the truly alien--of what the word "alien" really means, after all--and brings us to the logical conclusion inside ourselves, which is fright.

The story is of a team of scientists who're sent to a distant moon called Piros, where they are to rendezvous with another ship, one which has already met with some interesting misfortunes. The story is told in first person narrative, a form which Caitlin has expressed some displeasure with as she feels it's inherently artificial. No one could possibly remember everything everyone said, or all of the small minutiae that are typically revealed in fictional first person stories. I don't agree that this weakens the form, but Kiernan's dislike of it has fostered some fascinating techniques that very cleverly become part of the story, almost subverting the readers' conscious mind.

So the story is not only that of the scientists' strange and terrible encounter, but also of a whole human world where some of the more quietly terrible faults of the species have risen to the fore.

What's wonderful about this book is the elusive definability of what is frightening, even at the same time that the threat makes a fierce impression. It's even fiercer, in fact, because of this. There are no psychological safety barriers the mind can construct against something more mysterious than wind, or currents, or light.

Anyway. An excellent book.


Gods, writing in this thing always feels more serious at night . . .

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