Saturday, January 24, 2009

Book Review: Night Ship To Never

More than 250 poems
by Kendall Evans have appeared in numerous sf, fantasy and horror publications. He is the author of two chapbook-length poems, "In Deepspace Shadows" and "I Feel So Schizophrenic, The Starship's Aft-Brain Said." He is now at work on his own ring cycle of 4 connected chapbooks. In 2006 he and David C. Kopaska-Merkel shared a Rhysling Award for the best sf poem of the year (long poem category) for their collaborative poem, "The Tin Men".

David C. Kopaska-Merkel is the editor and publisher of Dreams and Nightmares magazine, and was for six years the editor of Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Fourteen previous chapbooks and hundreds of poems and short stories have been published in dozens of venues since the early 1980s. David lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with 2 artists, 3 cats, 1 dog, 2 bunnies, and thousands of books.

These two poets recently published a collaborative collection, Night Ship To Never, from Diminuendo Press, an imprint of Cyberwizard Productions. This collection is a mixed bag of genres, primarily science fiction, but occasionally teetering into folklore and horror. There are eighteen poems in this collection, all illustrated by Richard Svensson.

At their best, these poems can be seen as cautionary, working with themes of science fiction or fantasy to ask and answer questions of humanity. For example, "I Am He As You Are They And We Are All Together" uses the metaphor of interspecies relationships and colonization to discuss and question the human need to belong, exploring what can be lost in pursuing this needs.

In the beginning the word was, I’m told,
We all wanted to be a part of something bigger
We sacrificed mobility but gained collective strength,
Our numbers covering a great deal of territory
In inner and outer space.
We colonized new worlds, made the aliens
A part of us, indivisible--
We were close.
Things began to get a little confusing
Admittedly, at times,
But it was worth it.
Why, communication is so much faster
Now that “we” have become “I”
High-speed analog connections
To everyone, everywhere
(sorry about the riffraff)
Shared libraries and data-collection ports―
But, you know, that “I go where you go” thing
It’s just not working, it’s getting a bit old,
I’m sick of the “you” part of “me”,
I want to be
Myself again
Alone and insufficient

However, in the same way that the genres of these poems are mixed, so too is the tone of the pieces. At times, it was difficult to balance the serious or exploratory poems with the playful and silly. It is hard to transition, in such a short space, from the introspective questions of poems like "Princess P, In A Spin" to the haunting darkness of "In Wicked Hollows, On Darkling Plains" to the silliness of "Robo-Cat®," which reads like an advertisement, including lines like:

At no additional charge, Robo-Cat® comes complete
With a framed pedigree certificate;
And no more need to “let the cat out” late at night
Your mechanical pet does not defecate.
But let it out of the house if you want to; Robo-Cat® won’t rust

Other Robo-Cat® products you will want to order immediately:
Decorative cat box with festively colorful kitty litter
(For ornamental purposes only; not recommended for living pets)
Cat bed fully wired for remote Internet access
Sturdy Mouse Cage, with metal bars and cat-proof lock
Protect your computer mouse from Robo-Cat® (strongly recommended)

While I have never been a fan of light verse, my issue is not with the tone of this individual piece, or any of the other poems. However, in such a short collection of only eighteen poems, the leaps between seem too great. Every poem is rendered well, but this collection doesn't hold together as well as I'd like.

Taken on their individual merit, these poems are solid. It is always difficult to critique collaborations, because usually one poet dominates the other, but it is extremely difficult to tell, in this collection, where Evans stops and Kopaska-Merkel begins or vice versa. This, for me, seems like a good thing; the two voices mesh seamlessly, and the pieces, as individuals, work well. Other highlights include the folkloric exploration of genetic manipulation in "Dragon's Teeth" and the discussion of questions concerning artificial intelligence in "Death and Life on Enceladus".

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The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau