Story behind Celestial Inventories by Steve Rasnic Tem

There are significant advantages when assembling a collection of your stories if you’ve published a lot of them—with plenty to choose from you can slant each collection a different way, you can explore subtleties, you can track developing themes. With my new collection CELESTIAL INVENTORIES (ChiZine, August) I wanted to showcase two different tendencies I’d discovered in my best writing. One was an attraction to the absurd, stories in which characters behave obsessively, or even insanely, and impossible events sometimes occur. But the intent (at least in my version of the absurd) isn’t for any kind of zaniness or escapist humor, quite the opposite—it’s to highlight a thread of painful absurdity I find in real life. My story “Head Explosions,” for example, is about well, artistic head explosions, a reaction to the absurdity that we have to mind our liquids at airport security because a terrorist might blow us out of the sky with explosives hidden in a tube of shampoo. It’s just once instance in which contemporary life itself has become absurd.

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Other tales chronicle characters’ needs to obsessively, absurdly catalog everything in their lives. In my novella “Celestial Inventory” a man’s entire adult life is told in vignettes concerning the everyday and otherwise insignificant objects in his small suite of rooms. “The World Recalled” takes a similar tact, but the vignettes are improvised from seemingly random pairings of words—“Bed Slide,” “Colander Hat,” “Mailbox Tree,” “Cheese Pillow,” and the action moves backwards from his death bed to the day of his birth. In both novellas the sum is definitely greater than its parts and hopefully the seemingly insignificant is shown to be absolutely essential. The lives may be portrayed as absurd at times, but the emotions are deeply felt.

The second tendency in my best work, I think, is toward tales of extreme paranoia in which the protagonists come to believe that they are subject to powerful forces and predators beyond their control. A notion that the world, even the physical laws of the world, may operate differently than anything they could possibly have imagined begins to infect these characters. In “Invisible” an office worker and his wife suffer from a painful invisibility. In “The Bereavement Photographer” a photographer discovers he has a special talent for finding the unexpected in the faces of dead children. In “When We Moved On” a couple’s aging appears to unravel the fabric of reality itself. In “The Company You Keep” a man discovers he is part of a very special group of people whose strange and seemingly arbitrary customs eventually lead to terrible tragedy.

I think the result of gathering these stories side by side is that CELESTIAL INVENTORIES is a collection of stories which at times resemble science fiction but aren’t quite science fiction, which resemble horror but aren’t quite horror, which resemble fantasy and magical realism and bizarro and a number of other categories and sub-categories I could name, but which aren’t quite any of them. They rub up against these categories, but they don’t quite participate. What they are is a kind of dialog between these types of stories. What they are is a testament of what I saw and felt and cared about during this relatively short time I’ve had on this planet.

Visit the Tem home on the web at: Other Steve Rasnic Tem collections appearing over the past two years are: UGLY BEHAVIOR, New Pulp Press (noir), ONION SONGS, Chomu (experimental/off-beat), and TWEMBER, New Con Press (science fiction).

Steve Rasnic Tem
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