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Cinnabar

Cinnabar by Edward BryantCinnabar
Bantam Books, 1977
Price I paid: 50¢

To experience the magic of Cinnabar
use this book as your map.

Here are some of your traveling companions:
Tourmaline Hayes, Network sex star.
Obregon, the star scientist of the anti-city
Leah Sand, melancholy media artist.
Jade Blue, the computer-womb-born catmother.
Cougar Lou Landis, once a pudgy kid, now the last hero.
Sidhe, the great white shark that sprang from oceans 350 million years deep!

What’s this? More short stories? Yup!

After last week’s debacle I figured it would be neat to tackle more shorts, this time from something that made itself a bit clearer that’s what it was. Not by much, though. You’ll still note that there’s nothing on the cover that says “short stories” or “short fiction” or anything of that nature. All I got was an introduction from the author that talks about this city he’s created and written stories in, and a page that I’m sure has a technical name but I don’t know what it is. It’s the page at the beginning of a proper short fiction collection that tells you the copyright information for each individual story along with it’s original publication date. In this book it was called “Acknowledgements,” which is weird.

Another good reason for me to do short stories is because my friend John has decided to launch his own review blog, which he is calling Rocket Shorts. Schlock Value readers might remember John for his excellent write-up of the first Cybernarc book. John’s deal is going to be short fiction reviews, a story at a time. I think he’ll do some excellent work on it, so head on over and check him out. You won’t regret it.

On my side, I’ve got Cinnabar to look at. Like I said, it’s more short stories, but this time (haha) they all take place in a city named Cinnabar, which is some kind of nexus of time or something. From the stories, we gather that the city is very large and has a great diversity of inhabitants. I think it’s suggested that the inhabitants come from various chunks of the time stream but honestly we don’t get a lot of that. The stories tend to focus more on how the folks we meet are uninhibited sexually. It comes up a lot.

We also get some other things: simulacra, a scientist who researches time and time travel, a woman who is also a cat, and so forth. But we also get some really weird sexual things. Some of them are less weird and just more about how much happier people can be if they reject what nature and culture have told us is “normal,” such as monogamy, strict heterosexuality, and natural childbirth. I’ll cover a lot of that when I talk about the story “Hayes and the Heterogyne.” Other things are more disturbing, and I think I’m going to indicate which stories need it with a [Trigger Warning].

First, though, here are some of the other stories, in order:

“The Road to Cinnabar”

This one introduces us to a few of the core concepts of Cinnabar, namely that it’s surrounded by a big desert and it’s got some weird things going on. A guy has crossed that desert and has just arrived in the city, where he meets a few people and sees some of those weird things going on. He’s confused by it all.

The guy turns out to be named Wylie Cafter and he can’t remember where he came from or how long it took him to get from there to here. He tells a lot of this to a woman named Leah Sand. Around him, some strange interpersonal shenanigans go on, like a barmaid drops a drink and gets physically abused by her boss. When Cafter brings this up to the barmaid and a few other employees, they all look at him like he’s crazy. He tells them they’re being exploited and should quit. They freak out.

He also sees some people hanging around who, when they notice him notice them, freak out as well.

Cafter confronts Leah and asks what’s going on. She says that she’s a director who does historical documentaries. She talks to him for a while and then he gets hit in the back by some kind of stunner. It turns out that he’s not real, although he seems to think he is, and that he was a simulacrum created to play the part that Leah is trying to film. He went a bit wonky, so they’re going to send him back to get fixed before trying again.

As an introduction to this crazy city of Cinnabar, this didn’t do much, but as a story itself it was okay. Bryant captured the feeling of the tired old gunslinger walking into town, which I think was supposed to be the point, before breaking away to establish that this is a science fiction story and that the tired old gunslinger (or whatever he was supposed to be) isn’t a real person at all, was actually a sort of actor in a drama, but he didn’t know that. Not bad.

“Jade Blue”

[Trigger Warning]

This story is our introduction to Timnath Obregon, a character we end up meeting several more times throughout the short stories. He’s a scientist, supposedly one of the greatest in Cinnabar, and he does some things sometimes that start or solve the story he’s in.

In this one he’s invented a “time editor.”

Meanwhile, there’s a little boy named George who lives with him. George is being cared for by a woman named Jade Blue. Well, she’s kind of a woman. The story did a pretty decent job of making it clear that she’s not just a regular woman but never coming right out and saying it until later in the story, so we get this weird Twilight Zone-y effect for a bit. That kind of thing is hard to pull off right. Too much detail and it’s pointless, too little and its frustrating, especially if there’s no payoff and it just comes across as vague and unfinished. This story did it pretty well. Jade Blue is a cat-human hybrid and was designed to be the perfect governess.

George is being haunted by “nightmares.” At least that’s what Jade Blue tells him. In reality it seems that he’s actually being harassed every night by some kind of “shadow vampires” that come into his room and sexually abuse him. I’m not sure what reason is given for this, but it seems to have something to do with another scientist who is trying to spy on Timnath. It didn’t make a lot of sense in that regard.

So the story ends when Jade Blue convinces Obregon to use his time editor to make it so that George’s parents never left him, so maybe he won’t be constantly harassed by shadow vampire child rapists. It works, and I guess that means it’s a happy ending.

“Grey Matters”

This one introduces us to Tourmaline Hayes, “Network sex star.” She’s at a party hosted by some dude, Jack Burdon, whose Network show has just been renewed for its hundredth season. There are other people at the party, and mostly what they do is sit around and talk about sex.

There’s a guy named Sternig who is obsessed with a woman named Francie. Apparently they used to be together but now they aren’t. He talks to Tourmaline about it and she suggests he just get over it.

There’s a writer named Kandelman. He stares at Tourmaline’s breasts a lot.

As the story ends, Kandelman hooks up with Francie, who proudly shows off the enhancements she’s had to make her body even more sexually pleasing. Kandelman doesn’t like it, says something about how he wants a “woman,” and the story ends.

This one didn’t seem to have much of a point. Again, I didn’t get any kind of feeling over wonderment for this city and its futuristic craziness like I feel I’ve been promised. Instead it’s a little interpersonal drama about people at a party trying to get laid and generally failing. I don’t need to read a story about that. I can experience it fairly easily on my own.

“The Legend of Cougar Lou Landis”

A farmer named Yakov lies dying when a mysterious woman shows up and puts a thing on his head. He experiences an entirely new life as a rich chief of police who has all sorts of amazing experiences and it’s all very nice. Yakov then dies.

We cut to Cougar Lou Landis, who it turns out is that mysterious woman, and is also a regular woman named Mary Elouise Olvera-Landis. She’s got three husbands, which isn’t frowned upon for moral reasons so much as it seems excessive. Her mother wants her to settle down and stop having all these fantasies of romance and adventure. Lou has a conversation with one of her husbands about how she used to be fat and ugly but she got all that fixed, but the one thing they couldn’t fix was what that did to her personality, namely making her crave fantasies of romance and adventure.

Later we find out that the chief of police, the one that Yakov dreamed of being just before he died, has had his memory stolen. We find out that one of her husbands knows that Lou did it and turns her in.

The story ends with Lou running off and escaping punishment, I guess. I also guess the memory transfer thing and its relation to fantasies was pretty interesting. I like the idea of a perpetual dreamer deciding that his or her mission in life is to help other people have dreams that comfort them, all the while creating a dream persona that does that. So that’s neat.

“Hayes and the Heterogyne”

We revisit Tourmaline and Obregon in this one, and I guess they’re lovers now. We also meet Harry Vincent Blake, who gets to be our eyes in this city and let us see it in a more expositional way. Namely, he’s a regular dude from the sixties who gets flung into the city and we get to hear people explain it to him.

What I like is that he was just walking out of a campus building one day at the University of Denver and got “struck by a speeding time machine.”

Meanwhile Obregon was working on some kind of a device that captures time machines or something. Either way, Vince shows up in Cinnabar and has no idea what’s going on.

Vince is a college student, precocious, and horny as hell. He’s sixteen, so that third part makes a lot of sense, especially given the first two. He whines a lot about how he’s attracted to the co-eds in his classes and how he’s jealous of the other guys in his dorm when they go on dates. But he’s also a pretty smart biologist, so he’s got that going for him.

He shows up in Cinnabar and the first people he meets are Tourmaline and Obregon. They are both completely naked. It’s hilarious.

Some explanations happen and Tourmaline shows Vince around Cinnabar, letting him and us see its majesty and splendor. It’s technologically advanced (the author seems to have a thing for Klein bottles, since the word “klein” shows up a lot in the form of transportation tubes and hallways) and beautiful. There’s a dark side, too, namely in the form of some Luddites who believe that natural childbirth and all that sort of stuff is the only right way to do things. Some of their main targets are Tourmaline, who does the nasty on the tee-vee, and Obregon, who once decided to have a womb grafted into himself so he could see what it’s like to have a baby. At first Vince has some sympathy for them, since all of this sexual progress is really weird to him, but he comes around.

I say he comes around, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that Tourmaline sleeps with him a bunch. They later have a threesome with Obregon. It’s all very sweet.

Obregon figures that at some point Vince will get snapped back to his regular time stream. He’s scoured the news archives for anything having to do with his disappearance, but doesn’t find much, mainly because the news for that day was taken up with more important matters. Vince disappeared on November 22, 1963.

Obregon did find some interesting stuff, but doesn’t tell Vince because he didn’t want to ruin the surprise.

There’s a confrontation with some of the Luddites and Vince gets stabbed and would have died if he weren’t in the future(?). Tourmaline gives him a kidney and saves his life, basically figuring she’ll just pick up a new one on the way to work Monday morning. This is kind of important.

Vince gets snapped back into 1963 and Obregon explains to Tourmaline what he learned about him. Vince became a famed biologist, winning the Nobel Prize at some point, and it’s all because of his work in, for lack of a better way of putting it, all the stuff he learned while he was in Cinnabar, even down to doing the womb-implant-baby thing that he learned Obregon did. That baby was actually a clone, not of himself, but bred from the kidney cells that he got from Tourmaline, which is somewhere between sweet and icky.

He lived a long life and then was assassinated by people who didn’t like what he did.

This was probably my favorite story in the collection, mainly because it was the first outside-looking-in view of Cinnabar and so we actually got a good look at what makes it so special and not just weird and icky. Although sometimes it’s still weird and icky. I mean, Tourmaline took a sixteen-year-old virgin from the past and boned his brains out, eventually getting Obregon in on the action. I guess this is supposed to be yet another example of how Cinnabar is sexually liberated and all that, but so far that’s all we’ve seen.

Is that the whole point of this fictional city? To be sexual fantasy-ville?

I mean, I don’t see anything wrong with that on any kind of moral level. Let me make that clear. I’m the opposite of a prude, especially in my reading, but it bothers me that the whole point of this fantastical city that is at the hub of time (or something) is mostly used for people to live out freaky sex fantasies. Which brings us to

“Years Later”

[Trigger Warning]

Ugh, this one. It’s one about Leah Sand again. It turns out her father is getting old, which is weird in Cinnabar because of all its biological progress. He’s some kind of aberration in that regard, and it’s pretty sad.

He also has these weird sex-torture fantasies and Leah is able to use her job at the Network to get him simulacra to help him carry those out. She gets him duplicates of his wife (her mother), which he tortures, rapes, and murders, not necessarily in that order.

It turns out that this isn’t okay. Not because it’s insanely disturbing, but because the Network is going through some budget cuts and Leah can’t get the simulacra for her dad anymore.

So the story ends with him actually murdering his wife and having his way with the torso.

Hooray.

“Sharking Down”

Obregon gets hold of a shark. It’s a megaladon, and it attacks one of his colleagues who is exploring the ocean. This colleague is a bit mad about that.

It turns out that Obregon did that because of Tourmaline, who suddenly got it into her head that she has some kind of a connection with sharks.

The shark is named Sidhe. It’s pronounced “She.”

So this colleague’s complaint goes to Terminex, the city’s central controlling computer and America’s #1 choice for pest control. Terminex seems to be going a bit insane. It says that its judgement is to let this colleague create its own shark and then let the sharks fight. If Sidhe loses, Terminex will kill everyone in the city for some damn reason.

So all that happens, Tourmaline has lines and lines of dialogue talking about how great sharks are, and then the new shark (“The Black Avenger”) gets let loose. The two sharks don’t fight, they just swim off into the sunset together. Cinnabar is saved because technically Sidhe didn’t lose, I guess it just wanted a mate or something.

Also of note in this story is that Obregon is shacking up with a woman who is also a house. They have sex.

“Brain Terminal”

Last story. We meet a number of the folks we’ve already met, namely Obregon, Tourmaline, Jade Blue, and Wylie Cafter. There’s a new one, Torre, who is possibly some kind of a psychic. That’s never quite explained.

Anyway, they’re off to see the wizard.

That’s not just me saying that. The story has a subtitle, which is just sheet music for that song. And later they comment on it. And then after the story you go “Oh, right, Jade Blue is like the cowardly lion, Wylie is like the tin man, and so forth.”

I got ahead of myself.

Anyway, the five of them are convinced, mainly due to Obregon and the last story, that Terminex has gone insane. They figure the thing to do is to journey to the city center, which is where all the time comes from, and see what’s going on.

I’m not sure what gave them that idea but there you go.

Time in Cinnabar seems to work in bands extending from the city center. It goes faster the closer in you get, so a trip inward might seem like months or years subjectively, but the people you left and come back to might think it was only days.

That’s pretty neat.

Their first attempt to go via klein tubes doesn’t work. They figure that Terminex has something to do with that.

So they try to take Tourmaline’s dirigible. But it’s destroyed. Oops.

So they have to walk. And they do. There are some dangers along the way, which were presented in an interesting way. At one point the story broke into sections going “Day 1, Day 2, Day 3,” and so on. The last section was “Day ∞.” But on Days 1 and 2 and 3 the crew met some craziness, like in one of them an honest-to-god tyrannosaurus, but the story just said “Oh no a big dinosaur” and then cut to the next day. Not a trace of detail on how the group survived it.

At first I found it annoying but as I thought about it I got more and more amused by it.

They all show up at city center. There’s what appears to be a black hole. Also, there’s Terminex. The computer renders everybody but Obregon unconscious. They have a conversation about Cinnabar and how Terminex has grown insane in trying to handle all of it. Obregon responds by throwing Terminex (here represented by a small egg-shaped computer core) into the black hole. Terminex thanks him and states that now the city is on its own without any computer help. Whether it survives or not is up to the people.

And everybody goes home.

*****

And so that’s Cinnabar. I’m not sure how many of these short stories compilations I would ever do again. I tend to run long in these reviews and they’re not especially fun. I’ll hand that duty over to John at Rocket Shorts. Check out his introductory review of Lester del Rey’s “The Years Draw Nigh.”

As far as Cinnabar goes, I’m torn. There were some really interesting ideas there. I like the idea of a place that’s a sort of vortex of time, which is what the cover seemed to promise. I think the text failed to deliver on that promise. All we really got was a city that had some wonky time things going on that didn’t really matter to any of the plots of the stories any more than, say, a city on a planet with two moons or orange dirt. It was just there.

I guess what I was expecting was some sort of city-wide Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, but with fewer puns and Heinlein jagoff.

The introduction to the book talked about things like “infinite diversity” and so forth. I didn’t see any of that in the stories. What I got was a lot of sexual liberation, which is fine but man does it get old. Maybe back in the seventies it was a lot more interesting. A lot of it felt pretty tame for me in 2015, with the exception of the murder-rape-porn stuff which is just not appropriate in any time period. I get that the story may have been trying to make some kind of a statement, but that statement was lost in the execution. All I could think about was how I’d much rather be reading something else.

And I think that’s what I’m going to go do.

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3 Comments

  1. Joachim Boaz says:

    I’ve had a signed copy on the shelf for a long while… but…. should I? Or not…

    Like

  2. DaveM says:

    (Discovered this site, doing an archive run, apologies for the necroquoting)
    Your comment on how the Author seemed to have a thing for Klein Bottles reminded me of my favourite limerick by Leo Moser:
    A mathematician named Klein
    Thought the Möbius band was divine.
    Said he: “If you glue
    The edges of two,
    You’ll get a weird bottle like mine.”

    Like

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