Paula Guran Reviews Chasing Whispers by Eugen Bacon

Chasing Whispers, Eugen Bacon (Raw Dog Screaming Press 978-1-947879-44-7, $15.95, 198pp, tp) September 2022. Cover art by Lynn Hansen.

African Australian author Eugen Bacon’s latest collection offers thirteen stories – an astounding eleven of which are original to the collection. The publisher describes Chasing Whispers as “a unique Afro-irrealist collection of black specula­tive fiction in transformative stories of culture, longing, hybridity, unlimited futures, a collision of worlds and folklore.” In the introduction, D. Harlan Wilson states, “Irrealism is a thing in it­self, but it’s also a methodology wherein authors might express themselves and explore motifs intimate to their purview and personal history.” Fair enough. For me, Bacon’s writing uses the speculative to make a profound connection with humanity in a singular voice.

When a relationship goes sour in the lead-off, titular tale, Zeda’s world becomes full of whispers:

The whispers are a brush of bottles and blurs, keys and tingles gathering speed around her ears. They rub against her skin, rotten camel hair imprinting bile-green images and afterimages of recursive disbelief in the shape of intestines.

In “Memories of the Old Sun”, a bio-robotics engineer is torn between his love for another man and his mother back in West Africa who depends on him for money and is hoping for grandchil­dren. Then there’s Jazz, one of the four robots he has engineered. Jazz has “excessive individual thought.’. In “When the Wind Blows”, Suyema discovers her lover has a child he has never men­tioned. “Family is everything….How does a man not lead with that?” In “The Shimmer”: Big-O is a star footballer, Fontasia is, well, from another world. Big-O starts to see a shimmer beyond the goalposts and his ability to kick goals leaves him. In “Nyamizi, the Skinless One” (previously published): Nyamizi is the daughter of warring tribes. On her deathbed, her Otomi mother sends her to Sumba, her An’fre mother. The story ends but one feels it is the beginning of a larger tale.

In “A Visit to Lamont”, Petal has been hexed. Acha left belief, magic, and the like behind long ago, but something must be done to save thewoman he loves. He and his cousin Lumumba manage. One of the most complete tales here, it combines humor with a telling look at modern society. In “Industrial Pleasure”, Mayasa inad­vertently sells something rather dear to her that’s being developed as a “revolutionary source of re­newable energy that’s naturally replenishable and sustainable to the planet.” Short but a real giggle.

“Black Witch, Snow Leopard” is the story of a leopard cub and a Black woman healer accused of being a witch in 18th- or early 19th-century Cape Colony in what is now South Africa before slavery was abolished. Full of dark truths but delightfully entertaining at the same time, I would have liked a few more details.

In “Neuter”, Neuter shows up at Jim-O’s night­club night after night. Whatever you might be thinking at the beginning of this one most likely is not what you will think at the end because the core truth of Jim-O’s life turns out to be quite different than he thinks. Beautifully written, a fascinating read. In “A Deep and Terrible Sadness” a “travel­ler of the past, present, future” arrives at a place that seems to be Australia. Irreal but quite real.

“Sita and the Fledgling” (the other previously published story here) is a truly winning tale of a witchdoctor named Knuckles; three ravens named Ja, Ze, and Sexton; vaccination; love; and life.

In “Fire Fall on Them”, Stu Joseph Reynolds is sent to the library for calling Miss Jumanne a cunt. He is to research and write a five-page essay on great women in history, due by lunch­time. Some “weird-shit eldritch” happens. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. In “Namulongo and the Edge of Darkness”, set in a (probably) post-apocalyptic world, Namulongo lives in the Submerse, her underwater home. She learns her spells from her mother, the Magus of their coven. This novelette, the longest story in the book, is indescribable, totally original, and utterly enthralling. All in all, the prolific Bacon offers up plenty of good new fiction here you will not find elsewhere.

Paula Guran has edited more than 40 science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and more than 50 novels and collections featuring the same. She’s reviewed and written articles for dozens of publications. She lives in Akron OH, near enough to her grandchildren to frequently be indulgent.

This review and more like it in the November 2022 issue of Locus.

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