I am honored to include this guest blog post by fellow writer Aniko Carmean regarding her experience reading my chapbook, No Songs for the Stars. It is a thrilling and satisfying experience for a writer to find that her work resonates with others…..
The sand near the water’s edge is cool and densely packed. There are dunes, too, inland and sprouting the autumn stubble of dried grasses. Beyond the tactile, scrubby rise of the dunes there is a field of crisp snow, untouched by humans – but not untouched. Indecipherable marks of some otherworldly language are etched at intervals, dark glyphs on the pristine landscape.
A man sits at a table. He wears the maniacal look of one who has seen an inhuman truth. He has read there is no song for the stars, and he has destroyed the child-masks of The Other.
I’m reading a story. No. Not just reading. Feeling it, immersed by it. My fingers play across the coarse, cool sand of the chapbook cover, trip through the brushy liner sheet, smooth along the snowy quality of the printed pages. I pause to look at the illustration. The man’s pose is that of madness leaning into a terrible truth. Gorgeous alien glyphs slide down the frontispiece. I am enchanted by the textures, and captured by the intricate flow of the story that the pages transmit. The chapbook entreats me to touch it, even as it devours my world. In my forgotten mug, the chrysanthemum tea flowers bloat and grow cold. This is decadence. This is magic.
No Song for the Stars by Mary SanGiovanni is printed in a gorgeous chapbook by White Noise Press. The marriage of form and content begins with the cover, where glyphs juxtapose the vertically stacked title. This visual effect lends itself to the sensation that the reader has apprehended the meaning of the glyphs, an effect which is in visceral harmony with the story. Glyphs trickle onto other pages. They serve as section breaks and reminders that the characters, and by extension the reader, are in the presence of what we can only partly grasp with our human intellect.
No Song is set at the meeting place between worlds, and the chapbook is crafted of textured papers indicative of passing between different locales. The pages where the story is printed are high-quality, and bright as enlightenment; they are a stark contrast to the assured, dark strokes that trace out the illustration of a man who has absorbed the source of the enlightenment.
The chapbook is offered as a signed, limited edition. The signatures invite you to touch the palpable furrows where some other hand has pressed a pen. Like the glyphs in the story, the signatures could be written on the walls of an interdimensional nexus, and maybe they really are, for what is more transporting than being absorbed and carried by a story?
When I finished reading No Song for the Stars, I continued to sit and sip my lukewarm tea. I touched the pages, reveling in a sudden insight: in a world where access is instantaneous and digital, the snail-mail delivery and physical experience of reading a tactile piece of art was almost overwhelming. There was something sensual in knowing an autographed story from one of my favorite contemporary writers would appear in my mailbox. It was a thrill to remove bubble wrap and find the chapbook in a perfectly fitted envelop emblazoned with an intricate glyph. It feels good to feel, not just with our imaginations and our hearts, but also with our hands. Neither e-books nor mass produced pocket editions can provide the beauty I experienced sitting quietly and reading this slim chapbook.
No Song for the Stars exemplifies the surreal themes I’ve come to crave from Mary SanGiovanni’s fiction. She makes the intrusion of alternate, hostile worlds into our reality seem not only plausible, but irrevocable. Any of us could be the man in the illustration, or the Detective who unknowingly stumbles to the terrifying conclusion that madness is the only true sanity.
The seedy location of the primary action is one way SanGiovanni grounds her horror and gives it the feel of something implacable. Her characters are modest, the kind of average people that we are, know, and love; there are no superheroes here, just people who stumbled into terrible knowledge. The details of the story are carefully chosen to build tension between the otherworldly and the prosaic, and nothing breaks the reader’s ability to believe.
The key to the story is the premise that some humans have an inborn ability to read and absorb the alien language scrawled on the walls of the nexus. The adventure (and peril) of reading is that you cannot know what you are going to learn until it is too late. The characters in No Song for the Stars read truths that set them at odds with human rationality; they are like religious visionaries or scientific “heretics” burned on the pyre of prevailing commonsense. In SanGiovanni’s universe(s), evil is dangerous, but so too is knowledge that cuts against what we have agreed is reality.
No Song for the Stars is art in triplicate: form, illustration, and story. Only 158 copies exist, and of that number, only 150 are available for purchase through White Noise Press. Each copy is numbered and signed by both the author and illustrator, and makes a worthy addition to any literary collection.
Aniko Carmean is a speculative fiction author living in Austin, Texas. She loves ancho-chocolate milkshakes, October, and dogs. You can read her stories for free by visiting Odd Sky Books and signing up to become a member of the Odd Literati.