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25 June 2010

Review: Green Monkey Dreams by Isobelle Carmody

When I was at university I took a sociology subject called Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in Popular Culture. Half of the class were sociologists, the other half, like me were either nerds or nerdy sociologists! So the class was an absolute riot. We learnt a lot, and it is fascinating all the cultural motifs present in speculative fiction (Übermensch and superheroes, Neo is Christ, as well as concepts like Zero Worlds, The Other and The Abject etc). The main assignment was to take all we had learnt and to make a fanzine. That sounds like easy task to you, but the thought behind all aspects of it, as well as appealing to a fan base meant there was a whole semester's work put into it. I got a high distinction for mine, and my lecturer was genuinely interested in my project. I couldn’t choose to do simply "fantasy" or "science fiction", I had to find a niche market. That was about the time I was getting into urban fantasy, so I choose to focus on Alternate Realm Fantasy. I can't remember what I called it, but it was basically dealing with faerie, parallel worlds, heaven and hell dimensions etc. I hooked up with some artists from the World of Froud forum, and my friends contributed reviews, short stories and artwork. I bundled all together in an attractive parcel and made a website. I was just getting into web design back then, so it was built on geocities (in its heyday) and unfortunately when geocities died, I had to move it. I saved a copy of two of my reviews, and I though I would share them with you. Just be warned that these are from when I was 19, so they are fairly... obvious in their youth.

Green Monkey Dreams
A Collection of Short Stories by Isobelle Carmody

This is a book of strange short stories. Carmody's writing style is beautiful and simple and she is the author of various series including the Obernewthyn Chronicles, the Legendsong saga and books such as Greylands and Scatterlings. Typically her novels can be found in the young adults fiction section, but I believes it limits her appeal. Her new series Legendsong: Darkfall, Darksong and Darkbane (yet to be published - I'm waiting with baited breath) can now be found in Adult Fiction. She has been one of my favourite authors since first reading Obernewthyn nearly fifteen years ago and I can truly recommend all to read her novels. Green Monkey Dreams is a collection of short stories, all are worth reading but for the purpose of this article I will just cover the relevant stories. The blurb on the back cover better invokes that which is stored within, so I will quote it here:

Within it you will roads of paradox on which an angel might be a torturer, or a princess reject a prince to save a rooster. These are paths travelled by seekers of the difficult deepest truths never found on straight road; here a boy searches for his truename, a group of pilgrims is led by a song on a ancient journey and a beast discovers hope.

Enter this world and you will never again be sure where reality ends and imagination begins, for sometimes the greatest truths can only be told through the imagination...
(Back cover of Green Monkey Dreams)

The Glory Days
This tale is truly magical! It is breathtaking and haunting, and anything I write will never capture that magic. This is a story you need to read for yourself - if it was legal I would type it up for you as it is a wonderful piece - but as it is not you will have to find the book and read it for yourself...

This is the story: a girl of the citystate called Freedom is sent to spy on Glory, the citystate which worships a figure called the Angel. She meets Angel who calls himself Sorrow while she is Anguish, for their love can only cause pain. The Angel cult of Glory is preparing for the Geddon, the days when the lives of humans will finally be extinguished - when the spirits will loosen their grasp on the flesh and rise to heaven.

It is the time after the worldwars, when the world killed itself. The people are now living in 20 or so citystates: Freedom is home to democracy and believes all have the right of choice, Serenity is where peace is the ultimate, and drug use is common place, Winter is the sister-city of Freedom and its walls are built of whitest stone, and Glory where the populace live for Glory, following the High Path of Harrowing.

They ask me to write down all I remember of the Glory days. A hard thing, because there is so much of Sorrow in the telling. My mind shies away from it, looping backwards and forwards in time.

Last night, I thought of a girl I grew up with in the sister-house who told me that minebirds sing a song just before the deadly gases kill them, to lift their souls to heaven.

Wakened this morning by the bells that toll the beginning of the solar day in Freedom, I tried to remember her name, and found I could not even recall her face.

Hearing the bells ring now, for dusk, I realise an entire day has passed like the blink of an eye, and it comes to me that if death is a kind of a song that lifts the soul out of the body, sorrow, too, can steal a soul and carry it away.

Perhaps that is what is wrong with me.

Yet the story must be told, and there is no other but me to tell it. I must make them understand that there are many Sorrows in heaven, waiting to be sent to us as Angels of death. I have told them of course, but they nod soothingly and their eyes glide away. They think I was too young, blaming themselves.

But if I learned on thing in Glory, it is that flesh is the greatest lie.
(page 3)

Seek No More
This is about a boy living in an orphanage. He is ostracized and teased because he is pale of skin and silver of hair. One day Buddha and his gang chase him into the cemetery. He starts to read the headstones to find his parents name, as he was abandoned on a doorstep. Noah has dreams where a man speaks to him a shining man of Faerie. This is when Noah knows he has Faerieblood and starts to search for his truename.

Noah is about to be adopted by a family and so his search becomes more important. His search is unexpectedly aided by Buddha and his bullies when he stops running and scares them (he looks anaemic and haunts a graveyard - would you be scared?)....

William hails Ragnar as princess and she gets dragged into a make-believe 'game' that she is a princess exiled from another world where she is a child of the gods. William is a soothsayer, a sage, here to help and guide her. All this is fine until they see Torvald her prince come to rescue her. But in this world he is a student at Ridhurst Grammar School, home to the bullies who mistreat Ragnar. As Tor and Ragnar are destined to marry all is well until Ragnar overhears Tor with his school mate.. then everything goes wrong and their worlds are shattered.

The Worldroad
This is a disorientating piece to do with dreams. Dream upon dream upon dream upon dream world upon world upon world; just when you get to think this is Reality you wake and realise it was a dream. All these worlds/dreams have three things in common. Jilia the Dreamer, Random the guy who is lost or becomes lost and green flying monkeys trying to get in. Every time you wake you question your last experience and every time there is something really weird about identities. It is a breath-taking read and you are thrown when the ride halts and you thought there was more -I had to reread it, just to relive it and try and make heads and tales, it sure was an experience - the fascination and revulsion you feel for the green monkey beasts is strong:

‘Why don’t you let them in?’ Jilia asks, starting at the face pressed at the window, small and wizened with greenish fur. The creature’s eyes are as white and soft as peeled grapes. Behind it, there is a milky blur that might be wings. (page 198)

Carmody, Isobelle. 1996. Green Monkey Dreams. Viking: Ringwood, Victoria.

You can find out more at Isobelle Carmody's homepage:

Just FYI, this was written in 2003 when I was 19. God I feel old!

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