Journey to Cherchen and Other Tales
Reviewed by Joanna S. Lee
Booksurge Publishing 2006
perfect-bound, 173 pp.
J.T. Brown's Journey to Cherchen is nothing if not transportive. Into the two novellas ("Journey to Cherchen," "Skating on the Moon") and three short stories ("Maryland House," "Riding the Pooka," "Angel Under the Bridge") are woven mythology, modern science and the language of dreams, carrying the reader to a whole new landscape of reality. Brown ambitiously brings together everything from time travel to shamanism to ancient Celtic nomads- and moreover takes us with him on these various journeys into the weird unknown.
We begin, like protagonist Nick Taylor in "Cherchen," firmly grounded to the hum-drum predictability of work-a-day life: thankless tasks, heartless bosses, IT problems... but the serendipitous arrival of an infant mummy from China swiftly has us on a plane headed East with Nick... strange dreams of shamans and anatomical anomalies notwithstanding. Brown delves quickly into meat of the story, describing exotic details of the Chinese landscape as if he's been there. When Nick's eagerness for exploration leaves him stranded in a desert storm by night, he travels with the spirit of the shaman via dream to the root of Cherchen's mysteries...
Dreams are a central theme for Brown, who tackles them a little more scientifically in the book's second novella, "Skating on the Moon." We are transported sharply from the secrets of ancient shamans to the clinical precision of a future world in which dreams can be not only monitored but entered into by second-party observers, who can in turn interact with the dreamer and even alter the outcome of the dream's course. The author has done his research here, tossing in neurological details that make this scenario one of medical possibility-even probability. We cannot help but empathize with the tale's protagonist, Annie Walker, as she becomes locked in a literally unending nightmare, and marvel at Brown's ingenuity in the sleep doctor's proposed solution.
We learn the true nature of the good doctor's colleague/evil sidekick in the short story that follows, "Maryland House." The clever connection of the two tales by a minor character lends Cherchen a harmonious structure intensifying the sense of rightness in Brown's choice of these particular stories for a unified collection. "Maryland House," like "Skating," takes us into the future of neuro-technology... and shows its wicked side.
Before we become too lulled into a sense of complacency with this tech-rich futuristic environment, however, Brown whisks us back, in time and in theme, to the stuff of nightmares in "Riding the Pooka." Though the setting here is distinctly more pastoral than in the previous two tales, the author weaves the story with an equally convincing voice-he speaks believably of the old Celtic notion of the "pooka," a dark haired/furred, questionably malevolent creature-and also of the conditions of rural poverty that make up the sociopolitical backdrop to the story.
The Cherchen collection is rounded out with a tale that transcends the stuff of human dreams... from the point of view of an angel. In "Angel Under the Bridge," Brown tackles the notion of the Void, of multiple dimensions and of suicide. He likens movement from one plane to another to laying "a fine silk cloth upon a table...," de-wrinkling. His language is almost poetry. Here again we are moved, transported, by the possibilities inherent in the world that is painted so vividly for us by Brown. We wonder how he got inside that angel's head...
"Do you believe in dreams...?" Nick Taylor asks near the end of "Cherchen." . .. Brown takes us not only into dreams, but through time and space, bringing before our senses phenomena that don't "fit into our neat world of cause and effect..."