Book Review: Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest by Robert Frazier and Bruce Boston

“A collection that spans nearly thirty years of collaboration, Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest brings to life the creation of Frazier and Boston through vivid prose and poetic description.”

Both recipients of the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Grandmaster Award and with over a hundred publishing credits each, Robert Frazier and Bruce Boston are experts and pioneers in the field of speculative fiction and poetry. Separately they have been published in many leading magazines including Asimov’s, Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, Omni and many more. Building on an original idea by Frazier, they wrote independently and collaboratively about the Mutant Rain Forest, their first collaborative poem, ‘Return to the Mutant Rain Forest’, winning the Odyssey Poetry Award in 1988. Here we take a look at their latest collaborative collection set in the world of the Mutant Rain Forest.

With the collection divided into stories and poetry, the first story is called ‘Cruising Through Blueland’ by Frazier. Here we find Jeri, a gold miner, who receives word that his brother, Eric, a man with extraordinary abilities, is very sick. He decides to return to “Blueland”, a section of the country that seems to have been adopted by the US military for exercises and wargames involving the “Blueboys”, super-soldiers that have been enhanced in certain ways. But there are questions about what the Blueboys are really up to, and whether they are experimenting on the wildlife and people of the country. And they seem to have a particular interest in Eric. This serves as a great introduction to the dystopian world that includes the Mutant Rain Forest, setting the tone for the rest of the book and displaying Frazier’s expert touch with the colourful description of the Blueboys and the flora and fauna of the ecosystem.

The second story, a collaboration entitled ‘Holos at an Exhibition of the Mutant Rain Forest’, revolves around an expedition into the heart of the altered jungle. Convinced that his wife was kidnapped on a previous trip by the “humani”, part man part cat, Adventurer Mingus Jahns has hired a team of locals to escort him on a rescue mission, accompanied by the main character, holographer Genna Opall. Genna is employed to capture holographic evidence of the creature, as well as the heroism of the egotistical Jahns. This story does seem to follow a tried and tested formula of an outsider ignoring the warnings of the more knowledgeable locals, underestimating the danger posed by their surroundings and their prey while overestimating their abilities. But the strength of the story lies in its direction as it takes a very sinister turn into the realm of Weird fiction, and we begin to learn more about the Mutant Rain Forest. Each scene of the story is preceded by a strong and evocative poetic description of the accompanying hologram from the exhibition made up of the images captured by Genna.

‘The Tale Within’, by Frazier, is told in the first person by Rob Breslin who is retracing his father’s steps into the heart of the Mutant Rain Forest. He is seeking the truth behind what happened to his father and possibly further family members as well. He falls into the company of a fellow traveller, an Irishman by the name of McMurphy, who regales him with the tale of another traveller who employed him to reach the top of one of the massive gargantua trees in search of Jaguar-men. This piques the interest of Breslin who then confides a family secret to McMurphy and pleads with the Irishman to guide him to the same tree. McMurphy is reluctant to have any more to do with it but, following an accident, they are thrust together and the story takes yet another weird turn. Each entry in this collection adds more colour and detail to the Mutant Rain Forest, revealing a little more about the jungle and its strange array of inhabitants, while adding to the mysterious and sinister nature of the environment.

In ‘A Trader on the Border of the Mutant Rain Forest’ by Boston, we find an unnamed protagonist, a trader in supplies and trinkets for visitors to the Mutant Rain Forest. He reflects on the differences between the visitors as they arrive full of enthusiasm and when they leave, those that do leave, somewhat quieter and more subdued. He also thinks on the sudden disappearance of his neighbour, a trader in weapons by the name of Archer, concluding that he felt the draw of the jungle. The story ends with the protagonist pondering the future, the way the jungle encroaches on his ever-decreasing stretch of coastline, and the way it is encroaching on his mind, perhaps feeling the pull of the mysterious jungle himself. This is one of the shorter pieces but it is full of the rich descriptive language that is on display throughout the collection, providing a real feast for the eyes and the mind.

‘Going Green in the Mutant Rain Forest’, by Boston, tells the story of Evelyn, a “free spirit” with issues ranging from commitment to drug and alcohol dependency who is dissatisfied with her lot in life. John, an old boyfriend, persuades her to accompany him to the Mutant Rain Forest, convinced there are treasures to be claimed. Unlike most of the characters in the other stories, Evelyn adjusts to life in the jungle very well, finding that she has much in common with her surroundings. This change from the other stories offers more insight into the character of the Mutant Rain Forest itself, as we observe it from a fresh, not altogether comfortable, perspective.

‘Descent into Eden’ by Frazier, follows scientist Marais as he conducts studies into the termites native to the Mutant Rain Forest. But he has been unable to observe the termites in their hive thanks to the interference of nearby monkeys who always seem to signal the arrival of the outsiders which then scares off the termites. One day, he decides to conduct his study without the help of his team of locals, allowing them a day of rest while he is accompanied by the cook, Ilusorio. But this proves to be a mistake as Marais finds himself in trouble and outnumbered as he is captured and brought before a very old inhabitant of the jungle who seemingly offers him a chance to join, to put his knowledge of the termites to use. But as lonely and unhappy as Marais may feel, he is reluctant to give himself, his humanity, over to the jungle.

‘Aerial Reconnaissance of a Conflagration at the Heart of the Mutant Rain Forest’ by Boston and Frazier, is another short story, this time concerning the flight of a light aircraft over the Mutant Rain Forest as a wildfire takes hold. One of the passengers, an elderly woman, draws the attention of the other passengers as she begins to babble about the mysteries of the jungle and the strange species that call it home. She even clutches a crucifix with the form of a jaguar-man nailed to the cross, a hint to the belief detailed in an earlier poem that the second coming of a saviour will not be in human form. As the plane passes closer to the tall trees and away from the flames, the passengers begin to realise that not everything the old lady is saying is as far-fetched as it seems.

The final story, ‘Surrounded by the Mutant Rain Forest’ by Boston, takes place in a town on the border of the jungle. But, as has been suggested in other stories and poems throughout the book, the Mutant Rain Forest is not content with its current size and situation and is seemingly consciously stretching out, invading neighbouring spaces. Here we find a military unit patrolling the town, in an attempt to push back the encroaching jungle and its monstrous and dangerous wildlife. Told from the point of view of a young solider, the story unfolds as he finds a woman in the basement of the Opera House, a woman with more than a passing resemblance to a wealthy landowner’s daughter with whom he was infatuated as a boy. He allows his heart to overrule his head, leading to dire consequences for the soldier, if not the town as well. It is an excellent entry in the collection, exploring the invasive effect the Mutant Rain Forest has on the surrounding towns as it continues to grow outward, through the study of a very human protagonist with very human flaws. In doing so, we find ourselves wondering where the growth shall end, if indeed it ever will.

Interspersed throughout the stories, each of the poems offer further insight into the mystery that is the Mutant Rain Forest and its alien ecosystem. We are given a brief introduction to the world and the origin of the Mutant Rain Forest in ‘Prelude’ (Boston/Frazier), a brief warning of the types of creatures that call it home in ‘A Cautionary Note to Travelers Through the Mutant Rain Forest’ (Frazier). We return again and again to thte character of Genna the holographer, who will prove to play an important role in the documentation of the jungle and its inhabitants, in the poems ‘Tracking Through the Mutant Rain Forest’, ‘Nights with Genna’s Field Journals’ (both by Frazier), and the award-winning collaborative effort ‘Return to the Mutant Rain Forest’. There are also many different styles employed by the authors as they use the poems to add to the world they have created, from the stream of consciousness of Frazier’s ‘The Pavonine Addict Speaks’ to the repetition of Boston’s ‘The Rain That Falls in the Mutant Rain Forest’ and to the narrative poetry of Boston’s ‘Death of a Dome City’ and Frazier’s ‘The Mutant Forests of Mars’, these last two closing the collection on a bleak yet entertaining note as we read of the expanse of this new and thriving ecosystem. But at what cost to mankind?

A collection that spans nearly thirty years of collaboration, Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest brings to life the creation of Frazier and Boston through vivid prose and poetic description. We are lured into the verdant surroundings of their world like so many of their protagonists, seeking an answer to the question of how much pain can we inflict on our living, breathing planet before Mother Nature protects itself. Both authors prove themselves to be entertaining storytellers and it is a testament to their longstanding and fruitful collaboration that the individual style of one complements the other to produce a fully-formed and utterly compelling world seemingly of one mind.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Paperback: 252pp
Release Date: 9 February 2017

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