REVIEW: PSYCHO NYMPH EXILE by Porpentine Heartscape

A post-anime sapphic gurowave trauma-romance.

A multimedia survival kit for another dimension.

A terrible disease afflicts a disgraced biomech pilot and an ex-magical girl.

Warnings: extremely graphic violence/guro, rape/noncon, depictions of transphobia, depictions of depression/suicidal ideation, drug use/addiction

Category: F/F

PSYCHO NYMPH EXILE is a surrealism science fiction novella about love, sex, trauma and violence. It is a whirlwind ride of abstract prose and stream of consciousness, written by a prolific writer and game designer whose main body of work includes many interactive hypertext games. PSYCHO NYMPH EXILE was a part of a commissioned project by Rhizome, a not-for-profit arts organization that supports and provides a platform for new media art. Through the eyes of biomech pilots and magical girls, this novella is a gruesome and haunting grimdark trans lesbian fairy tale.

The writing is extremely stream of consciousness, almost poetry in the form of prose, and it’s narrative skips around across time and dimensions so it can be difficult to follow. There are a lot of ideas being conveyed, and the evocative nature of the writing makes some of it a bit more flowery than coherent. It can suffer a little from coming across as trying too hard to be deep while not actually conveying a lot. That said, it is a delightful mix of the incredibly crass and the hauntingly beautiful; casual swear words and references to sex as thrown together amidst the poetic musings on the nature of life and love and pain and trauma, all bundled together with some incredibly graphic guro.

It follows Vellus, a biomech pilot, and Isidol, an ex-magical girl. Both have been used in a strange and abstract war that the narrative gives little detail on, and both have come out of it with trauma both physical and mental. It is told in brief little flashes, snippets and snapshops of their lives, and it is a very unique reading experience.

While the nature of it’s brief snapshot prose means that we don’t really come to know either of it’s main characters in much of an emotional capacity, what this book excels at is in its depictions of trauma and depression as a physical disease, something tangible and visible. DSTP is this book’s stand-in for PTSD, and it comes with a host of physical symptoms that make it’s sufferers societal outcasts, such as making them ooze a thick viscous substance, become a host to parasites and molds that grow only on DSTP sufferers, and experience random and sudden episodes of mental anguish from bolts of light from the sky that hit their bodies. The characters spend much of the book high, avoiding their lives and staying mired in the confusion and abstract nature of their psychedelic trips, which just adds to the emotional impact of an already trippy depiction of depression. It’s so raw in fact that I would caution readers who have experience with depression and suicidal thoughts; this could be quite triggering content to some, but it’s honest and it’s vulnerable in it’s artfulness.

In a lot of ways this book is nothing but worldbuilding. It’s an anime-aesthetically leaning world where giant women serve as mechs to be piloted, their brains hollowed out to make cockpits, and magical girls show off their transformation powers at parties but have to be careful because one wrong flick of the wrist during the sequence can kill them. The government is controlling things like the biomech programs and there are shell worlds that are created for the gruesome battles that take place, branch dimensions whose people are after discarded as inconveniences. The story is told in snapshots of all of these things, showcasing more and more of it’s world with every little snippet we get, and it’s a fascinating if grimdark setting indeed. It does leave us with more questions than answers, but the questions is leaves us with are mesmerizing and intriguing. Indeed, it might have had less punch as a work if it had answered all of it’s questions. Instead it leaves us wanting to know more but knowing that we never will.

While there is indeed a lot of sex in this book, it’s not written as porn. It is explicit, but not to a stunningly visual degree nor even an emotional one. It’s more crass and raw than it is sensual, and it’s depictions of sex are messy and fraught with dysfunctional relationships. That said, there is something beautiful in that raw honesty and the vulnerable depiction of sex that is not pleasant or nice but is coping and visceral. Much like the drug usage present in this book, the sex is beautiful in it’s unrefined frankness.

More central to the books aesthetic, is the guro content, which is also beautiful in it’s ugliness. Never before have I seen biomechs described with such grisly detail, and everything in this book’s world feels off kilter in it’s acceptance of casual violence and gore. While that will obviously be offputting to many readers, there is something aesthetically appealing to it as well, and this is a large part to me at least of it’s appeal as a piece of sensuality.

Altogether this is one of the most interesting novellas I’ve ever read. While I think that not all of it lands as strongly as it wants to, some of it lands very strongly and for that it is well worth the read. As an anime deconstruction it flourishes, aesthetically it dazzles. This is a trans lesbian trauma fairy tale, and one I am very pleased to have experienced. If you aren’t squeamish (and please do take into consideration it’s content warnings) this is a book that should be on your reading list.

Have you read PSYCHO NYMPH EXILE? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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