Reviewed by Jerry Golland
The late, revered science fiction writer, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote:
"..my interest is in what goes on inside. We all have forests in our minds. Forests unexplored, unending. Each of us gets lost in the forest, every night, alone."
In Venera Dreams, Claude Lalumière takes us on a journey through his personal forest on a phantasmagorical odyssey populated by shape- and gender-shifting humans and beasts who dwell in the mythical island city of Venera.
The lifeblood of Venera, vermillion wine, is fiercely desired and sought by royalty and commoners alike; all seeking to imbibe the liquor and experience mind-bending perceptions and orgasmic ecstasy as they are propelled through time and space.
The subtitle "A Weird Entertainment" is an understatement. Lalumière has magically woven a clutch of his previously published stories featured in recent periodicals and anthologies. The double thread which binds these stories into a fantastical tapestry intertwines intoxicating vermilion wine and Sheherazad, the ephemeral Nubian goddess who infuses Veneran life with energy and mystery. She appears throughout the book in a kaleidoscope of personae, exuding primal eroticism, passion, euphoria, terror.
In the chapter "The Secret of Imperial Power," we are transported to 1515 and the hedonistic Chinese empire of Zhengde. The emperor's lust for potent vermilion ignites the convoluted intrigue of a plot to invade and conquer Venera.
"The Agents of the Vermillion Eye" then transports the reader to 19th century America, where the femme fatal, the International Mistress of Mystery, lounges luxuriously in a Portland Hotel, toking pinches of vermillion snuff. A telegram sends her and her male flunky on a transcontinental chase and hair-raising ocean voyage to Barcelona, where they fall into convoluted plots as they seek the Vermillion Eye.
In "The Surrealist Lanterns," we encounter the power of Dali's pulsing orbs. It's 1982 and Dali, on the verge of death, is carried through air and water on his space elephant, desperate to revive a crushed, moribund Venera by means of the power emanating from his multifaceted, light-emitting lanterns.
This is a book that both fantasy neophytes such as I, as well as those who have long immersed themselves in this genre, can savour. Two readings of Lalumière's gripping tales gave me only a tantalizing taste of the richness of these thrilling stories. I will certainly delve into them again, most likely when my brain, freezing in an Ottawa winter, craves the vermillion-soaked frenzy of Lalumière's rich imagination.
Venera Dreams is published by Guernica Editions.