Book Review: DREAMERS ON THE SEA OF FATE

SF Poetry cover

I’ve been re-reading “DREAMERS ON THE SEA OF FATE” (an anthology of SF poetry) edited by Steve Sneyd. It was published by SOL PUBLICATIONS but is now unfortunately out of print. You may be able to find a copy, though – just don’t ask me for mine!

SF (or Speculative) Poetry can record the moment of awareness as Mystical Poetry does. Take the rag-and-bone man in a poem by W. Corner-Clarke:

He’s got rusty pots and pans
and Black Holes glistening
beneath the edges
of a dirty burlap rag
like greedy vacuums
sucking in
the summer light …

Or the “bloodless rents in the fabric of space” that P.E.Presford sees

Sometimes …
when the streets are quiet in
that hazy half-hour before supper

For what is SF? At its simplest, in a poem by Marion F. Eadie, it can be the impressions of “The First Man on the Moon”: in a world without sound, “might I but hear my cry!”

But that is not enough. Stephen Bowkitt writes:

I live for turned corners, the shock of where next;
green skies that swirl
in my coffee:
through office windows
smashed moons hang …

We imagine visitors like the “golden hosts” aboard the Carbonek in K.V.Bailey’s “Envoi”:

A jewelled ship, the Carbonek flies by,
now in, now out of Time …

Or look back the past with the same poet’s “Those Who Watch”:

We watched when earth was but a wisp of gas.
We watch it now.

We witness the arrival of an alien race in Dave Calder’s story of the legendary “dwarf”:

we who carry
the error of our ancestors around with us
in shrivelled wrinkled frames, huge heads
& eyes that shrink from light
[…]
nothing lasts on this planet & we
form no attachments with the natives
even the race of superapes who have
recently come to power are too large
& clumsy, childish, to talk to …

These apes

play a complicated
game called right & wrong which permits
ritual murder to settle their differences …
The dwarf meanwhile keeps
to my deep shelter
[…]
re-read the classics and write poetry …

Or was it us who journeyed once? Andrew Darlington (in “Vertical Frontiers/Prisoners of Mars”) writes of

This man frozen in
volcanic glaze
carbon-dated
50 million years old
shows
we’ve passed this way before,
he points at
the Earth,
and he smiles …

Certainly now and in the future we do. Writing of the “lady moon”, Fay Symes says

Dark visored, heavy shod,
He walks upon her breast …

While Michael Moorcock (a more masculine viewpoint) writes of being

Stranded on the bloody
moon …

And Paul Donnelly writes

it’s not the miserable whine of black holes
that you remember. i expected that somehow.
even the melancholy rustle of dead stars
only made me think of home. what i couldn’t
stand was the awful smell of the moon.

Back on Mars again, John Francis Haines (in “Time, Gentlemen Please“) envisions missing the good things of this world:

Crates of brown ale were stacked against the wall,
OFFICERS ONLY stencilled on them all
[…]
One time I palmed a can and sneaked it out,
Expecting to be halted with a shout,
But I was not and made it to my berth
And drank a stolen pint that came from Earth.

Andrew Arlington’s “metal traveller”, Derek,

is 18,
predominantly male, but
with occasional doubts
[…]
adrift
between Mars
and Manchester

he experiences

silent storms of
700mph cyclones
[which] race behind his retina
as the Pakistani girl
in the corner shop
smiles at him

Yes, sex as always rears its head. At the thought of “the whores on Hydra”, J.C.Hartley’s hero’s

prosthetic hard-
on nudged the under-side of the table.

How many prosthetic devices does it take to make a man an android? At what point does a robot become not an android but a man? John Francis Haines again:

Because it was a formal ‘do’ I wore
Blue jeans, T-shirt and my leather jacket
(The one with ‘Robots – built to lose’ embossed
In large gold studs right across the back)
[…]
While skirting topics likely to offend
(Like Android Rights) I must not tread on toes …

A wonderful collection. One wants to quote from all of them.

In a prose poem showing four “Still Lives”, Mike Johnson’s “Exhibit 4″ depicts

… a careful man on a tight-rope […] The thin balancing pole he carries is a fallible mind […] He leaps upwards, trying to fly into the heavenly spaces of pleasure […] Far below, in the feathery shadows, there is no safety net.

Or (one last peak) from “Delta At Doom” by Malcolm E. Wright:

The rains of eternity no longer fall,
The springs of life are dry.
[…]
We drift into a sea of homelessness
And drown.

The dark night of the soul?

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