We are all Falling Towards Centre of the Earth is a collection of short stories of macabre fantasy by British author Julie Travis. Most are set in the UK or Europe in modern and realistic locations, with the uncanny just a step or two away, but at least one seems to take place in an antipodean other-world not far from Australia.
As I read these stories, elements in them reminded me of the grotesqueries of Clive Barker, the dark fairytales of Tanith Lee and Angela Carter, the wild countryside of Arthur Machen haunted by pagan gods and lesser beings, and even a little bit of Lovecraft in a non-tentacly way, but there are also startling images and ideas like nothing I’ve read before.
The collection consists of 9 stories:
Dark Fires: A woman dies and comes back again on a recurring basis and begins to remember where her mind goes during the times when her body is dead, and the beings she meets in that other place.
Beautiful Silver Spacesuits: With the world on the brink of nuclear war, two friends each find their own different but remarkable means of escape–one into a vision of outer space, and the other (literally) into books.
The Spoiler: The centuries-old agent of a particularly inventive demon is given a nasty job that she rather enjoys, telling people the details of the rest of their lives and their deaths.
Pig Iron: When a suburban wife turns invisible so that her family and even her husband cease to notice her, she leaves home and meets up with an elderly wise-woman who offers to take her to the one person who might be able to help–the Ashen Queen in the Unfortunate Forest.
The Man Who Builds Ruins: After a full-size replica of St. Paul’s cathedral in ruins is discovered in a forest in Spain, a famous and successful architect investigates. He encounters a man who claims to have built it and other ruins like it around the world, each foretelling that structure’s eventual fate.
The March of the Marvelous: The “Marvelous” are people who have been deformed since birth, but possess magic; they travel together in groups and their passing through rustic villages during their journey is a cause for wonder and delight among the villagers. But there are other, scientifically-minded people who want one of the Marvelous as a biological specimen, and hire a hunter to kill one to bring back to them.
The Hidden: A young woman spends a weird holiday in Cornwall at a house where it’s always winter, and Room 3 has disappeared. On the brief occasions when Room 3 reappears, there are little men in it keeping the other seasons contained.
Parasomnia: A mountain moves around quite a lot, and the woman who lives in a cottage near it tries to record and understand its movements.
We are all Falling Towards Centre of the Earth: An old woman who has been walking for a very long time tells her story of how, in East Germany in the 1960s, she rescued and fell in love with an injured Winged Woman.
Travis’s work is strange and imaginative, sometimes disturbing, and one or two are distinctly icky. The endings are often sad, but they can also be occasionally beautiful. The ones I liked best feel as if they ended too soon, as if these were only the first chapters of longer stories. But perhaps it’s a good thing to be left wanting more.