THOSE WHO DREAM BY DAY, a visual journey inspired by Edgar Allan Poe
Those who dream by day”, opening doors on the 15th of March at Strychnin Gallery, celebrates the imagination and oeuvres of the great Edgar Allan Poe.
The mysterious man, whose life was short and filled with tragedy, left behind one of the most admired, questioned and influential literary body of works.
While alive, his writings were ostracized and put under heavy scrutiny; many denied reading his publications. However, the public did yet not realize that Poe was profoundly ahead of his time. A pioneer of the gothic, macabre and thriller genre, he paved way for many detective-story authors to come.
Poe’s popularity soared after his seemingly suicidal death on the 3rd of October, 1849, especially through French avant-garde writers and artists in the late 19th century. Finally, many came to understand and appreciate the psychological depth he sought to convey through his emphasis and curiosity of the dark, imaginative and “strange”. Multitudes were not only intrigued by his ingenious mind, but desired to understand his source of inspirations and meaning of his work.
Thus, over the course of time, more and more distinguished artists have hoped to be associated with and emulate his writings through the visual medium.
Strychnin Gallery wants to re-establish this admiration for Poe and thus was “Those Who Dream by Day” born. A handful of international artists were gathered and given a short story by Poe to take inspiration from. The pieces displayed will transcend only the personal connection and interpretation that each artist has to their given story. Making the gallery walls into a visual library of Edgar Allan Poe’s legacy.
The artists involved will be; David Hochbaum, Kathryn Carr, Daniel Van Nes, Luisa Catucci, Bethany Marchman, Eliza Bolli, Joey Remmers, Yann Gobart, Akiza, Virginia Mori, Loredana Catania, Saturno Butto, Hara Katsiki, Danny van Ryswyk, Ufocinque, Lola, Leila Ataya, Robert Tirado, Nom Kinnear King, Nick Sheehy, Mandy Tsung, Seiko Kato and many more.
BY ELI AUGUST AND THE ABANDONED BUILDINGS
Review by Josh Aterovis
A driving guitar is joined by evocative cello and the singer asserts, “No one wants to hear a sad song.” It’s an interesting beginning to an album that is mostly full of sad songs. Impressively, though, the overall feeling isn’t one of depression, thanks in large part to the fact that the main theme seems to be finding hope in a dark world. Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings have crafted a lush, string-filled album that offers a balm to “The Weak and the Weary.” That opening track is called “Alone,” but singer/songwriter Eli August goes on to assure us “you’re not alone” in the chorus.
That tone of hopeful melancholy continues throughout the album. The next two tracks, “The Sounds of Trains” and “The Living World,” both explore themes of loss and yearning. The fourth song, “Warm,” offers a welcome jaunty note that comes with a bit of a gypsy feel. “If your heart has been torn, don’t lose those memories, keep them warm.”
Things slow back down with “Fool’s Philosophy,” about a love gone wrong. “Where No One Knows” finds our narrator searching for a place where he can find a little peace, far from the beaten path. “Kind” picks up the tempo again as Eli loses his faith in humanity.
Track number 8, “Petals,” one of the album highlights, keeps up the upbeat feeling despite moody lyrics like “let the blight eat the petals and your leaves” and “there’s no redemption from the way that we were.” Another standout, “Riverbend,” has some of my favorite lyrics on a lyrically rich album. “Take me down to where the river bends, hold me closer than I’ve been, take me down to where the city lights are fireflies.” In “Rise Above,” Eli hits his most hopeful note yet, singing “I want to rise above this world, I want to learn not to assume, I want to change, you know I do.”
He draws the album to a close with “Ghosts in the Dark,” a beautifully simple song that pairs his voice with just a plucked guitar that almost sounds more like a banjo. He pulls his theme together, echoing back to the opening song with the lyrics, “if life’s not loved, then it’s no life at all, to the weak and the weary this is a call, if you think you’re alone, well, friend, I’m with you, let’s find a road and follow wherever it leads us to.”
According to his website, www.eliaugust.com, Eli August considers himself dark Americana. He often performs at steampunk events and conventions — he’ll be at Steampunk@Gettysburg in March — and with a description like “devoted to romantics and those who reflect upon their days with a certain longing for the past,” it’s easy to see the connection, but he has an appeal that will likely reach beyond the community. If you’re a fan of thoughtful, dark folk music, this is an album for you.
BY CLAY AND SUSAN GRIFFITH
Review by Anna Burwell
Jumping forward a sub-genre, the war arrives in a strange display of World War I tactics. Cesare has since stolen the throne for himself, which leaves Gareth homeless and friendless. Adele, in the meantime, is left to heal the rift created by her father’s death and to keep up the morale of her troops (and her subjects at large) while they’re all dying horrible deaths in trenches along the northern fringes of the empire. Mamoru’s cabal finally sets its plans into motion, only to find that Adele is not so willing to cooperate (neither is she so easy to coerce) as Mamoru expected. Someone who was once a trusted friend and confidant turns into a danger for both Adele and her supernatural lover (a fact that doesn’t seem to bother many of the other characters, strangely enough). To make matters worse, Cesare has called in allies from around the world, and the annoyingly stereotypical Senator Clarke returns, once again, to grate on the reader’s nerves. Of course, the big questions are required: Will Cesare win? Will Adele be robbed of her crown early in her reign? Will she survive what Mamoru and the others have planned for her? And, most importantly, are all pulp love scenes this boring?
Whereas The Greyfriar had well-paced action scenes and The Rift-Walker introduced delightfully troubling undercurrents for the protagonists, The Kingmakers has no redeeming factors. In fact, reading it was an almost painful ordeal. Within the first few pages, I began to question whether or not the Griffiths had actually written this. To make matters worse, a villainous monologue happened immediately after the introductory paragraphs, and brought back the predictability of The Greyfriar with a vengeance—and proved that, alas, it was the same authors. Overall, the book suffered from a narrative that was both lazy and badly-constructed. My biggest complaint, however, lies not with a plot that seems strangely inspired by a randomized search of fantasy-related tropes, but with the characters and their interactions.
First and foremost, every exchange between Adele and her lover contained two components that confused me: her lover’s hugs are much the same as what I’d imagine being in a trash compactor is like, and that he seems to want to take her by the scruff and shake her with every show of affection. It’s not that they’re both awkward lovers—it’s that the writing truly is that horrible; every love scene is identically described. The second is that almost every antagonist is identical, as well. They are all dangerously self-absorbed, and are consistently underestimated by those who are used to their treachery, and had no logical reason to overlook this flaw (in other words, perfect yet badly-executed examples of the Starscream character trope). On top of that, the woeful stupidity that ran rampant in The Rift-Walker seems to have turned into a pandemic by the time any sort of plot rears its malformed head in The Kingmakers.
Of course, the rest is pure formula as far as bad writing is concerned: lack of logical progression, plotlines that lead nowhere, over-abuse of amor vincit omnia, special snowflakes everywhere, and prose so clumsy that even the reader trips over it—while sitting still. On top of being sloppily constructed, The Kingmakers shows the disgusting underbelly (figuratively speaking) of the pulp side of its genre, and leaves the reader with a feeling of disappointment and a desire to read something of actual quality. Despite my general ambiguity toward the first two books, this one isn’t something recommended to anyone—whether they enjoy pulp fiction or not.
BY CLAY AND SUSAN GRIFFITH
Review by Anna Burwell
[For the review of Book One of the Vampire Empire series, go here]
After her excitement in vampire-controlled Britain, Adele faces equally daunting challenges on the home front. While she is next in line for the throne, there are those in the Empire who would see her removed from the line of succession at all costs. Even, perhaps, through allying themselves with the vampire menace. While a coup builds in the background, Adele travels deeper into Africa, guided by her teacher, Mamoru (who, along with his cabal, seem to have a number of ulterior motives). During the power shifts in Alexandria, Adele and the Greyfriar find themselves fighting vampires on the southern front while Adele learns to harness her powers as a rift-walker, learning to channel the very energies of the earth. Unfortunately, her power comes with a price—and it could very well kill the man she loves. This proves an unnecessary distraction when someone is trying to steal one’s throne via assassination, and all of humanity lives in the shadow of a gathering vampire menace.
Unfortunately, The Rift Walker retains much of The Greyfriar’s predictability. While the occasional surprise might suddenly pop out of the closet to make itself known, it is still a slave to formula. The only small consolation is that the clumsy foreshadowing doesn’t ruin all of the main conflicts as it did in the first book. Hubris and its very obvious (and very inevitable) after-effects are everywhere, however, and it’s still painfully easy to see things as they really are—before the authors have even brought said person or plot thread into play. Much to the chagrin of those who detest a poorly-constructed love story, The Rift Walker has more focus on romance (as it’s since been established as part of the story). It seemed to me that some of these scenes mimic the genre’s forebears in dime novels, and sometimes smack of the tableaus a reader is subjected to in mainstream urban fantasy. Fortunately, the same good qualities of The Greyfriar continue on to salvage the second installation’s plot.
Remaining one of the saving graces of the series, Adele isn’t the shrinking violet—not completely anyway. Her continued and active presence during the nearly-constant swashbuckling (and said swashbuckling really is the vast bulk of the storyline) may draw the occasional smile from the reader’s lips, even if some of the scenes are mightily overplayed. Even more startling, though, is that The Rift Walker is a book where the heroine is loved because she is powerful rather than overly sentimental or just a pretty bauble. After all, it isn’t every day that a female protagonist is portrayed as appealing because she has the destructive potential of a tornado. Unfortunately, this is nearly cancelled out by a lack of depth on the part of the other characters. They all seem to share the exact same sense of bravado and tendency to rush in without thinking (at all), which makes some of the (painfully inevitable) conflicts more than a little tiresome. It’s almost as if the author duo didn’t know the difference between a character flaw and outright stupidity.
With that aside, the characters and the action scenes still drive the narrative, and the reader is propelled from one end of the volume to the other without being too bogged-down with purple prose and forced romance. The alternate-Africa setting is a breath of fresh air, even if the rather unrealistic cultural issues niggle at the back of the reader’s mind. Continuing from their first installment, the Griffiths make sure the alternate-history timeline doesn’t force the reader to concentrate on the background rather than the characters. As such, it remains a recommendation for those who enjoy the incredibly pulpy side of steampunk. And, if anything, the series continues to be a sort of fluffy read for amusing oneself during free time. It remains squarely in the ‘mediocre’ range.
BY CLAY AND SUSAN GRIFFITH
Reviewed by Anna Burwell
As the final decades of the 19th Century wound down, a plague of mythical proportions struck the Northern Hemisphere. Vampires rose up from the cool, dark places of the earth, slaughtered every human in their wake, and plunged the entire world into chaos (and an inevitable dystopia, of course). Two hundred years later, the descendants of the northern refugees have created new empires around the equatorial regions and the Southern Hemisphere. The warmth, antithesis to the vampires, keeps them in relative safety. Enter Princess Adele of the Equatorian Empire, touring the fringes of human territory. This is, of course, an effort to stall an arranged marriage with the boorish American, Senator Clark, as her father’s empire stands on the brink of war and she loathes such a distraction. A sudden vampire attack separates her from her brother and retinue, and plunges her into vampire territory and the company of the enigmatic, vampire-slaying folk hero known only as ‘Greyfriar. ‘ As her sword-wielding compatriot leads her far north into the heart of what was once the British Empire, two questions remain: Can she keep her father from plunging their empire into a catastrophic war, and—of course—can she escape a poorly-matched marriage to a blinkered warmonger, intent on stealing her own crown and inheritance?
For once, the synopsis on the jacket reveals to the reader precisely what they will find inside. What it doesn’t prepare the prospective audience for is the woeful predictability of the story. Even one of the characters’ big reveal is ruined almost as soon as they are introduced thanks to particularly ham-handed foreshadowing. It seems the pulpy nature of the story makes it formulaic in a very painful way. And, indeed, The Greyfriar is one of the pulpiest books I’ve ever read. While the authors make a valiant attempt to both combat this, as well as spice up the prose (which often waxes purple), it lacks a certain finesse. Puns are scattered throughout the narrative, but they barely distract a reader from the awkward pulpiness. Even more mind-boggling is the fact that, despite being a refugee group in this world, Europeans still seem to own everything. The same can be said of Americans, as well. Some very heavy-handed attempts at social commentary seem to be present, but the characters involved aren’t written well enough to make them a driving point in the story (in fact, it makes said characters incredibly annoying). However, the authors are to be commended in their own way.
There are some readers who find their stomachs turned by the very mention of a vampire novel (myself included). Very few authors can write one and come out of that mess seeming even halfway competent. The Greyfriar is a different story. The vampires, thankfully, are actually terrifying in their own world. For the most part, the vampire characters aren’t overly romanticized—thankfully. They are meant to be a nearly-insurmountable obstacle, and the Griffiths most definitely present them as such.
Furthermore, while the usual vomit-inducing romance is still there, it is downplayed. The focus remains on character and action instead. There is even enough momentum in these action scenes to catch and throw a reader through a fourth of the book at a time. Adding to the narrative pace, a heroine who stands her ground (the usual damsel in distress and tower-rescue scenes aside) without worrying about her clothes (even though she worries about her love interest) every waking moment was a breath of fresh air—especially in a genre prone to such juvenile stereotypes. On the subject of genre, the first installment of this series seems to accomplish something most steampunk books do not: steampunk as an atmosphere rather than a contrivance. Not only does it work well with the somewhat post-apocalyptic world, the genre elements are in the background where they belong, rather than being used as a blunt object with which to bludgeon the reader senseless.
With all that in mind, while The Greyfriar is squarely in the ‘mediocre’ range, it makes an enjoyable fluff read for anyone who likes a bit of pulp with their supernatural fiction. Well, if you can ignore the confusing cultural structure of the Equatorian Empire, that is.