I’m pushed for time and Dog Horn Publishing have a shiny new catalogue out, so it seems like the universe is conspiring to suggest that I do a quickie blog post with a couple of reviews from my chequered past.
Nitrospective by Andrew Hook got reviewed in Black Static #30 and Steve Redwood’s Fisher of Devils (in the catalogue, but not on the site yet, so no direct link) was reviewed in The Third Alternative #36, at which time it was with another publisher, so kudos to Dog Horn for rescuing Redwood from obscurity.
Also in the Dog Horn catalogue, The Bride Stripped Bare by Rachel Kendall, for which I once wrote an introduction, so you know it’s amazing (trust me – I’m a reviewer).
There are probably lots of other good books and magazines there as well, even if I didn’t review them or write introductions, so browse carefully, and I understand there’s free postage on all the books in the catalogue until tomorrow if paid by paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyway, here are those reviews as they originally appeared, minus any pesky editorial corrections that I forgot to update in my Word.doc:-
FISHER OF DEVILS
Dominion pb, 278pp, £11
God is a member of an alien race, creating Heaven and Earth, the angels and the beasts of the fields etc out of magical Zulf matter. He goes one step too far though, making this creature called man, who immediately sets about complaining and giving God a hard time over all the things he’s done wrong. Man isn’t even appeased when God fashions him a mate, the rather wonderful Eve. And then there’s the angels, who get slightly miffed upon realising that all the souls of the dead will be coming to Heaven and before you know it you won’t be able to get on the golf course for hippopotami. Miffed Himself, God accepts a compromise plan proposed by the wily Lucifer, who has his own agenda. Mankind will be given a code of conduct and those who don’t toe the line will be sent to Hell instead of Heaven. Skip forward a few millennia or so and things are well and truly off the rails. Main fly in the ointment is Jesus, who in a moment of pique after being crucified promised Lucifer that one day he could ride the Beast of the Apocalypse and attack Heaven, a moment of rashness bitterly regretted ever since, but sealed in the Nebulan scrolls and therefore destined to occur. With the Apocalypse getting awfully close and various factions in both Heaven and Hell plotting against the current regimes, St Peter is sent to Hell by Eve on a mission of peace, and the fate of all creation hinges on his being able to hoodwink Lucifer.
Steve Redwood’s first novel, which comes with an introduction by Rhys Hughes, is a wonderful comedic tour de force, with the most cherished eschatological traditions of the Christian Church picked up, dusted down and given a shiny new coat of Wodehouse blue. The result is a madcap roller coaster ride on which Redwood’s invention never lets up for a single page, and there are comedic delights in every paragraph, with dialogue rich in double entendres, wonderfully bizarre visions of the afterlife, slightly risqué interplay and a whole host of marvellous, larger than life characters, not least of them Satan himself, the Prince of Darkness, who here achieves a Miltonian nobility of purpose, though my personal favourite would have to be the snake, who is always getting trod on but nonetheless retains his fighting spirit. The text is rich in ideas and even makes a crazy kind of sense, or at least as much as its source material, while back of all the comedic mugging is a compelling story, one that holds the reader’s interest to the very end, as we hunger to see how it will all turn out. Committed Christians may baulk at some of the subject matter – the angels are inordinately fond of masturbation, while the Virgin Birth was all a big mistake, one the rest of us have been paying for ever since, not least Mary – but for the rest of us this book is an unabashed romp from alpha to omega and it’s to the shame of mainstream publishers that they’re cluttering up the shelves in bookshops with Tolkien derivative pap while vibrant, original work like this is relegated to the world of POD. Let’s create a demand and see if a few of the dunderhead accountants in charge at Big Boy Publishing Inc get the message.
NITROSPECTIVE (Dog Horn Publishing pb, 275pp, £12.99) is Andrew Hook’s fourth collection, and it’s a nice looking book but needed a bit more attention in the proofreading department. In particular future editors need to curb Hook’s use of ‘passed’ when he means ‘past’, as in ‘walked passed’ and ‘rushed passed’, which occurred six or seven times that I noticed.
Opening story ‘Nitrospective’ has a man torturing his girlfriend for political ends and is set in a ‘surveillance’ society where the war on terror has embraced everyone, with the subtext that our politics prevent us from making any real, meaningful contact. Imagine an Orwellian setting filtered through a Kafkaesque lens. ‘Outer Spaces’ is less focused, charting the disintegration of a relationship, with the first person narrator trying to make sense of things and ending up pretty much as baffled by it all as I was. ‘Follow Me’ is among the best of what’s on offer with a great central idea, men who pay to follow women, and this is used to highlight other dissatisfactory elements in the life of the female protagonist, with echoes of Dick’s oeuvre in the way in which she is constantly observed and has her responses mediated by that.
‘The Cruekus Effect’ is a fascinating examination of the way in which people drift apart, exaggerating the role of language for dramatic effect, until for all practical purposes they might as well be living in separate worlds. ‘Bigger Than the Beetles’ was my absolute favourite story, for much of its length a variation on the alien invasion through children trope used by Bradbury in classic story ‘Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!’, but then with a wonderful tongue in cheek denouement, one that goes completely against our apocalyptic expectations. From best story to worst, with ‘Ennui’ pretty much living up to its title. Near as I could make out from the one reading, it’s something to do with a UFO and prostitutes getting pregnant, and nothing about it suggested I would gain anything more from a second run through.
‘Lauren Is Unreal’ begins with a chance encounter on a train and then follows the course of an unusual relationship, with a student experimenting on a professor, and the nature of their symbiosis examined, the tale obliquely charming and with an undercurrent of menace. In ‘Photo Therapy ©’ criminals are wiped of their memories and then have them restored as part of coming to terms with what they have done, but there is the suggestion that the process is being given a wider application. People start to float away in ‘Up’, at first only the dead and then the living chosen at random, with one woman having to come to terms with what is happening. This laidback variation on the Rapture of religious eschatology is a delight to read, with undercurrents of isolation and social ostracism. An old lady is pleased by a random memory in ‘Shipping Tomorrow Backwards’, but then things change when context is provided and she wishes only to forget, the story sad and bittersweet, suggesting that if not exactly bliss then ignorance is sometimes the only thing that enables us to carry on with our lives.
In ‘Jump’ a meteor is heading toward Earth, an event that helps to crystallise the needs of two people in a relationship, working through difficulties until they find hope in something truly bizarre. Imagine Armageddon as an American sitcom complete with snappy dialogue and borderline nerdy characters. Julia, the protagonist of ‘Chasing Waterfalls’ finds herself in love with one of a pair of identical twins, but is ultimately defeated by their urge to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, the story that of one obsession trumped by another. The closest this collection comes to a genuine horror story, ‘Caravan of Souls’ is set in an isolated caravan park, where one caravan has been inexplicably left unused for years and people keep committing suicide on the nearby beach, the narrative seguing from something that feels apocryphal into something that feels like a ghost story or tale of possession, but like so many of these tales eluding any easy synopsis. Told in both first and third person, ‘Snap Shot’ is the story of a troubled man who fabricates stories about himself and his life to fill the gaps left by the tragic death of his loved daughter and somehow assuage the guilt he feels at allowing his estranged wife to take her on the holiday where it happened. It is a powerful story that underlines both the mutability of identity and the idea of experience mediating reality, themes that recur in many of these works.
These fourteen stories, along with seven more, make up a collection that wilfully eludes easy categorisation, demanding to be enjoyed or dismissed on its own terms rather than by virtue of conformance to any literary agenda or template.