“34” Tanith Lee ( writing as Esther Garber): Darkly erotic queer fantastika

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Immanion Press has reprinted 34 in an extremely handsome edition that even has illustrations and pictures. 34 was written Lee, who claimed to channel the work of the enigmatic Esther Garber. The novel is a darkly surreal lesbian quest, part Colette, part Angela Carter.

I wrote about 34 when it first came out in 2004.

If you are expecting a straightforward dive into lesbian erotica by Tanith Lee (or Esther Garber), you will be pleasantly disappointed. This brief, dense and somewhat experimental book explores the erotic imagination, the nature of memory and mediates on aging. Sexual obsession is the focal point through which many discursive images and ideas flow.
The plot finds 17-year old Esther fleeing London after her mother’s dramatic death. She absconds on a boat across the Channel, and ends up in drab hotel in rainy Paris slum. The amoral and jaundiced Esther is mistaken for a prostitute by the front desk clerk and her services are bought by a virago named Julie, who poses as a man. The sexual chemistry between them awakes passions in Esther, who leaves after the tryst. Thus begins Esther’s quest, almost mythic in scope, to find Julie.
If “34” is not a fantasy, it does not happen in the real world. Rather than a traditional `other world’, the action takes place in the clouded, magical world of memory and perception, as the first person narrator encounters patently incorrect or wrong things (such as a dog that is part wild boar) or too surreal (such as a Gothic mansion).
The main narrative is interrupted by glimpses into a distant childhood past in Egypt and visions of a future Esther, who is going through menopause in London, and may or may not have a sister (or alter-ego, Anna). Both the future and the past Esthers live in a reality closer to `normality.’ The child faces loss and dislocation; the old woman is trapped by her illnesses and indolence. Both are prone to extensive fantasizing.
All of these disparate threads are held together by hypnotic, feverish prose and a dark, sardonic wit. Mythology intersects reality-Demeter, Persephone and Isis all have cameos here. Female ciphers, villains and strange children cavort on the stage. Eroticism and desire infuse everything, obliterating logic and reason.
This novel isn’t for everyone, though. The vaporous, meandering storyline and the disturbing, politically incorrect sexuality on display here will stop many a reader. But those who like sophisticated erotica and experimental fiction will find this Angela Carter meets George Bataille work entrancing.

Tanith Lee’s Weird Fiction

I wrote an article on Tanith Lee’s weird fiction on Weird Fiction Review in honor of her 70th birthday.

While Tanith Lee (1947-2015) is mostly known as a fantasy writer, much of her short fiction existed in that interstitial region between genres. Not quite horror, or fantasy, her work in this mode would most comfortably fit in the weird tale category. Lee’s ‘weird’ fiction had a distinct gothic tone, and was often underscored by her eccentric wit.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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A magnificent tribute to Tanith Lee

It has been a year since Tanith Lee passed away. She died on May 24. I just read a stunning tribute to her by a fan on Tumblr.

Take a moment to read A Year Without Tanith Lee

Tanith used to correspond to me every now and then. I will share a brief note she sent me along with a copy of her then new release TURQUOISELLE. She sent both because I was recuperating from a minor surgery. She was kind as she was talented.

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2015 Roundup — Of Nectar and Awards

2015 was very productive year
Ups include:

–SKIN DEEP MAGIC was on a couple of college syllabi, and I got to do two author visits with college students, and it was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.
–BEREFT, my YA novel about bullying, racism and homophobia, won a Bronze Moonbeam and a Silver IPPY Award

–I got to assist with editors choosing the fiction in QUEERS DESTROY HORROR.
–I got to go to WORLD HORROR in Atlanta, which led to several professional friendships.
–My novelette THE NECTAR OF NIGHTMARES was published and illustrated got good reviews
–My first collection, SEA, SWALLOW ME & OTHER STORIES was turned into an audiobook.
All are bucket list accomplishments.

Downs include:
The death of Tanith Lee. We used to exchange emails and she was very supportive of all of my work. I only met her once. We had planned a visit before her illness. I dedicated THE NECTAR OF NIGHTMARES to her.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

BOOK RECOMMENDATION:Legenda Maris by Tanith Lee

Today is Tanith Lee‘s funeral.

Per the request of her husband John Kaiine, her collection ‘Legenda Maris’ (Immanion Press) is released this day.

‘Legenda Maris’ collects Lee’s sea-themed fantasy short fiction, and is an excellent introduction to her darkly lyrical work. It includes some of the first fiction I read by her: the excellent ‘Because Our Skins Are Finer‘ and ‘Magritte’s Secret Agent.’ An added bonus is the artwork–the cover and the frontispiece are by Tanith herself.

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Night’s Daughter–Tanith Lee: September 19, 1947 – May 24, 2015

 “Gothic poetess, comic young-adult author, robust adventure-fantasy novelist: Tanith Lee has more writing personas than Sybil. But in her short fiction, all these aspects come gloriously together. Such stories as ‘Antonius Bequeathed’ or ‘The Persecution Machine,’ with their death-defying mixture of prose poetry, genre trope reversals and ominous wit, could be written by no one else.”–from my tribute in Weird Tales.

Craig and Tanith at Eastercon

I just learned that Tanith Lee passed away on Sunday.

I first encountered her writing in 1986, with the novel Delirium’s Mistress and the short story collection, Dreams of Dark and Light. Her poetic prose and soaring imagination astounded me. She was a versatile storyteller who wrote in many different modes.  She published children’s and young adult, mystery, horror, science fiction, historical and fantasy.

I got in contact with her when she published Fatal Women, her collection of dark magical realist tales of lesbian fiction she channelled as Esther Garber. I met her shortly after in London during a con. We kept in touch via email and the occasional surprise snail-mail post. I had the honor of working on Disturbed By Her Song, a second collection of channelled fiction, which included work by Esther’s half-brother, Judas.

I will miss her fiction, and her lovely correspondence.

I am keeping her husband,  John Kaiine, in my thoughts.

Tanith Lee’s “Ghosteria 2: Zircons May Be Mistaken”: a poignant zombie novel

Ghosteria Volume 2: The Novel: Zircons May Be MistakenGhosteria Volume 2: The Novel: Zircons May Be Mistaken by Tanith Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The new Tanith Lee novella combines elements ghost story conventions and zombie apocalypse fiction in an truly unique way. The “twist” is clever, but the short novel is more a contemplative character study. The assembled cast are ghosts from a variety of eras that are all haunting a historic Great House in the moorlands of England. They share their histories in monologues that range from tragic to humorous. The faceted narrative mode shifts from contemporary to gothic and even has a smattering of Old English (Anglo-Saxon). Simultaneously, humanity has been plagued with zombies, which do not affect the undead company. The fantastic contrivances, though crucial to the plot, take a back seat to the leisurely character reveals. In this way, the novel reads more like a play. (“The Ghost Monologues” would also be an apt title). Zircons May Be Mistaken might be the only zombie novel full of pathos and an exploration of the “human condition.”

BOOK REVIEW: TurquoiseLLE (Colouring Book No. 7) by Tanith Lee. Kafkaesque espionage thriller.

TurquoiselleTurquoiselle by Tanith Lee

There was a British miniseries in the late 1960s called “The Prisoner,” which dealt with a Secret Agent who was mysteriously transported to a remote location, where he was subjected to sinister experiments in drug and mind control. The 7th entry in Tanith Lee’s cross-genre loosely-connected series of dark character studies, references that seminal work, adding her own distinctive vision.

More cannot be said about the plot, which occurs in contemporary London and its suburbs, save that the aloof main character Carver belongs to a shadow security corporation called Mantik Corp, and he gradually becomes aware that he is being manipulated. There are allusions to mythology, and elaborate textual puzzles made up of word and image/color repetition. Lee uses a tight third-person limited narrative style, so the reader doesn’t know more than the character. As a result, the author is messing with the reader’s mind as much as she is the characters’.

As for the genre? I’d call it a Kafka-esque esiponage thriller, but the ending is completely unexpected, both in tone and execution. You’ll just have to read it…

Out of Print Tanith Lee novels: shades of Steampunk and The Wicker Man

Reigning Cats and DogsReigning Cats and Dogs by Tanith Lee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reigning Cats and Dogs isn’t her best book by a long shot. But it is interesting, none the less. It’s an early entry into the Steampunk genre, crossed with the as-yet-unnamed Mythpunk movement set in an alternate Victorian England. It’s a fever dream novel of secret societies, magic prostitutes, Egyptology, gin palaces and opium dens. It is about a metaphysical battle between Anubis and Bast, and cat and dog imagery abounds. The best parts concern a demonic ghost dog and a cute pair of gay cutpurses. Should be back in print!

When the Lights Go OutWhen the Lights Go Out by Tanith Lee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The mistress of dark dreams tries her hand at contemporary weird fiction. It’s set in a small British beach town, in the off-season. The town is home to a strange cult involving sea worship, ritual sacrifices and transformative magic. The plot concerns the rise of a new high priestess for the cult. The novel kind of has the feel of the Wicker Man. The aura of the 90s pervades–references are made to the AIDS crisis and the yuppie class. When The Lights Go Out mixes scenes of supernatural horror with moments of comic tenderness.