Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Book Review: Towards Absolute Zero by Karen L. Newman

Toward Absolute Zero

By Karen L. Newman

$6.00, Sam’s Dot Publishing

Karen L. Newman has an MS in chemistry which has contributed greatly to her writing in addition to working a variety of jobs in academic, industry and government. She lives in Kentucky where her cat, Tri-Paw, helps her write occasionally. Her work has been nominated for both a Rhysling and a Dwarf Star Award. She edits the online magazine Afterburn SF and Illumen, Sam’s Dot Publishing’s magazine of speculative poetry. Her most recent collection is Towards Absolute Zero.

Speculative purists may balk at many of the poems in this book which are not truly speculative. Instead of pondering speculative situations, Newman instead creates metaphors using speculative tropes as the vehicles to describe non-speculative ideas. Thus, in the poem “Blue Vapor,” cigarettes and their smoke become “a mystic genie appearing/from a battered bottle/that has been tossed about the sea.” In the piece “Living Dead Girl,” a young lady who is “friendless/loveless/dreamless” imagines her emotions as ghosts “haunting the cemetery of her mind,” which is “buried in a decaying heart.” This use of speculative tropes, though not unique, certainly adds a dark horror to otherwise common people and ideas, and creates a resonant juxtaposition of these poems against the others in the book.

The other poems of this collection are quite speculative. For example, in “Frankenstein’s Monsters of Tomorrow,” Newman carries the idea of plastic surgery one step further, where people who have already received “enhanced breasts,/clipped flesh wings,/tucked tummies, respun varicose veins” now begin to receive other augmentations from “unwilling donors,” to horrifying allegorical results. “The Sands of Kentucky” imagines a future in which Kentucky has become beachfront property after “powerful men/polluted the sky with smokestacks” and “the second flooding came/from creeping icecaps.” Even this future is dark, though, as the narrator discovers not shells on the beach, but a piece of coal, and the sounds it makes are not those of the ocean.

Using her degree in chemistry, Karen L. Newman has concocted some explosive poetry. From one-night stands to breakfasts after Tiffany's, from little red churches to Titanic survivors, Newman lights the speculative fuse to our human and social foibles and rearranges our molecules.

(Published in Star*Line, July/August 2009)

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