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  • Writer's pictureMike O'Driscoll

Des Lewis and his Gestalt Real Time Reviews

Featuring a review of my novella Pervert Blood.

Over at at the Gestalt Real Time Reviews, Des Lewis has reviewed the latest issue of Black Static #81/81.

I guess like many writers of horror and fantasy, I've been subjected to the Des Lewis experience. And like many I've also been a keen reader of his reviews for many years. When I first started writing and getting stories published in the small press, Des was already something of a legend. He was ubiqutious, with stories--written individually or in collaboration with others--popping up in almost every genre small press being published in the UK and US. Few, if any of the magazines--Works, Peeping Tom, Vollmond, Auguries, The Edge, Maelstrom, Back Brain Recluse, Grue, Strange Attractor, Freezer Burn, Indigenous Fiction--are still around, but Des is. As is Black Static, a magazine that evolved out of what was originally conceived of a vehicle for Slipstream fiction, The 3rd Alternative, which itself first appeared amid the small press boom of the late 80s and 90s. It's no co-incidence at all that Des was an early contributor to the 3rd Alternative, having stories appear in issues 3 and 7, back when it was printed in A5 format.

I've also been published by Des, when he himself became a publisher and editor with the Nemonymous series, starting in 2000. My story Double Zero for Emptiness, a loose reimagining of Stephen King's June 1999 encounter with a dodge minivan, appeared in the first issue. The brilliant conceit of Nemonymous was that each story was published anonymously, with the authors' identities only being revealed in the subsequent issue. In the spirit of anonymity I reviewed that first issue for a website called The Alien Online, that had been created by Mark Chadbourn (himself another veteran of the small press), and took pleasure in criticizing my own story. I think Nemonymous ran for 5 or 6 volumes, before, under the banner of the Megazanthus Press, Des edited and published The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies, a book in which each story celebrated or commented on aspects of horror fiction and horror anthologies. I was lucky enough to have my story, The Rediscovery of Death, appear in it.

Since around 2000, Des has stopped writing fiction, or at least submitting stories to other opublishers and has, since 2008, concentrated on publishing his Gestalt Real Time Reviews. For writers lucky enough to be reviewed by Des, his reviews are a treat. He takes the time to read and comment on each of the stories he reads--in fact he reviews pretty much everything he reads--and he does it in what I guess is as near to real time as possible. Which I guess means that he's writing pretty much immediately after reading a story, and perhaps sometimes when he's in the middle of it, noting a phrase here or a sentence there. Such spontaneity means his reviews are largely impressionistic which is precisely what makes them such a delight. Rather than a sense of detachment from the fiction, of critical distance, Des' reviews offer a raw and unmediated response to what he reads; he tells you what the story makes him feel, how it sits in relation to the other pieces it nestles among, pointing out sometimes deliberate but more often than not, unconscious connections between them; he traces intertextual patterns, revealing signs and portents, uncovering previously hidden meanings, meanings of which the authors themselves were frequently unaware. There's a quote on this treasure trove of a site that perfectly encapsulates what I feel about Des' approach to reviewing:

"I mean that being a reader is as much a skill as being a writer. There's no shame at all in being a really good reader and not writing a word."

The breadth of Des's reading is staggering, but if you're a fan of Elizabeth Bowen, Robert Aickman or Thomas Ligotti, then you should defintely read what he has to say about their works. In between devoting time and space to these personal favourites, Des takes the time to read countless anthologies and year's best collection, as well as covering pretty near every issue of Black Static. He reviews Rhonda Pressley Veit's The Humdinger, calling it a "widely huge novella ... plain-spoken yet deceptively subtle -- and indeed inspirational." It is indeed a remarkable story, beautifully crafted in its characterisation, and in the way it builds tension and a growing, palpable sense of dread.

As always, he takes the time to read every story in the issue, offering his extraordinary insights on Steve Rasnic Tem's (another writer he likes a lot) Fish Scales; Claire Rudy Foster's dazzling and emotionally wrought Adaptation, about which he says, "Whatever the meaning I sought in this work, I shall recall its intermittently soaring horrors and breathtaking catharsis"; Sarah Lamparelli's Stolen Property; Jolie Toomajan's Elizabeth Frankenstein is the Saddest Girl on Earth; and Françoise Hardy's Traps.

Commenting on my novella, Pervert Blood, in his own dizzying and inimitable way, Des describes it as "a story that flows like an inchoate river of connected bloodcourses", one that is about "a cosmic surge of pachydermal energy that perverts the course of blood towards a better course, the animal way." Here, as so often, he manages to describe a story in a way that conveys the subtle meanings and intentions of which I was barely aware.

It is, as always, a privilege and a pleasure to be reviewed by @DF-Lewis.

You can read the full review here.

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Des Lewis
Des Lewis
Feb 04, 2022

Thanks so much, Mike. I am enormously grateful for your words, I thought you would be interested to know that one of my stories published in the 1990s in ‘The 3rd Alternative‘ from TTA Press that you mention was showcased recently in ‘The Big Book of Modern Fantasy‘ edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. :)

Des Lewis
Des Lewis
Feb 04, 2022
Replying to

‘A Brief Visit To Bonnyville’

Thanks for your comments, Lucan.

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