I just finished reading White Is The Color of Death published by Combustion Books. it is a collection of 3 short stories including one by Margaret Killjoy, editor of Steampunk Magazine and Graceless: A Journal of the Radical Gothic, and author of What Lies Beneath The Clock Tower.
All 3 stories in this collection are authored by different people, yet there is a strong continuity between them. The stories are set in an apocalyptic version of Victorian England where snow and ash has covered the entire world transforming it into a perpetual winter shifting between twilight and night. A mysterious group known as The Afflicted terrorize and hunt the remaining communities of human survivors in this dark, desolate gothic landscape. All the stories have spiritual, & philosophical elements combined with a bit of madness on the part of the characters. As well most of the characters appear to be queer, yet this is treated in a way that rather than fetishizing their sexuality, instead normalizes it as if it just is and is not actually of any importance to the story or anyone in it.
The first story sets the tone magnificently, making the reader long to know what could possibly be going on. Designed to read as a transcription of a lecture presented by a distinguished Victoria professor of psychology to a audience of scientists, the author manages to create an emotional backdrop without giving away anything. The speech reads wonderfully encapsulating the arrogant colonial language of the enlightenment, in a way that doesn’t actually perpetuate the racist beliefs in universal his-story and cultural hierarchies of that period. Rather it felt like I was reading the views actually held by people who were writing for academic audiences of that era.
The second of the stories, this one written by Margaret Killjoy was perhaps my favorite. Following the path of a loner who travels with his dog killing other people he encounters to later use them as a food source for survival in the barren wasteland of winter. Then shifting to a second narrative of 2 womyn who live alone as lovers on an airship wanting to help the surviving human settlements to fight the Afflicted, but don’t out of fear from past attempts. These seemingly unrelated stories come together in an end that is both fitting and surprisingly uplifting. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this story is how the character of the dog is really given importance and personality, not degraded into being just the mans companion or a prop for the story.
The final story titled The Mushers and authored by The Catastrophone Orchestra takes up well over half of the entire booklet. Here we follow the lives of a group of traveling nomads, trying to create a unified resistance movement through the mode of a traveling circus. The main characters are part of the scouts for the circus, who use dog sleds to travel across the icelands watching for signs of surviving human settlements. This story is by far the most obviously political, yet still subtle as it introduces various elements of anarchist theory. Full of beautifully layered subplots of charachtors dealing with aging, familiar ties, cultural expectations, with a strong emphasis placed on the relationship developed between the scouts and the dogs that they need for their survival. More than anything this is a story of the will to survive in the face of oblivion and the power of community to overcome fear.
This entire booklet is beautifully packaged in a cover that perfectly captures the emotional energy depicted throughout. Every detail is well thought out right down to the design and page layout. If I had to complain about any of it, I really would have liked the font size to be a little bit larger for my poor eyes. Overall, this book is a testament to the power of self publishing and the value of creating cultural materials.
I highly recommend reading it if you can get a copy. White Is the Color Of Death was an all around excellent read.
For $5 new you won’t find a better read.
I wish to entreat you to allow me to speak not on the sciences of weather or geology, or even the wild speculations of astronomical influences. We need merely to step outside these doors to know that we have been cast into a sunless world distinguished only by periods twilight and night. There is not a man present who does not know that we now live in a land that is being buried under ever more snow. (comrade black)