Andrew May The Case of the Invisible College (2010)
Andrew May wrote some fairly interesting online material on the subject of A.E. van Vogt's fix-up novels, and following a link on the site in question, I arrived at a page dedicated to the man's own self-published fiction. The Case of the Invisible College with its faux Edward Young Penguin cover and the promise of tales about chimps writing Shakespeare, books bound in human skin and so on, proved difficult to resist.
Being self-published through Lulu, some would perceive a certain stigma here, an unfortunate association derived from a reasonable percentage of self-published novels being a steaming pile of shite spewn forth without recourse to grammar, editing or peer review - not even some kindly friend pulling Dave aside to point out that actually, a cross between Star Trek and Babylon 5 really isn't going to set anyone's world ablaze, or that people who don't actually read books probably have no business writing them. Whilst sadly legitimate as criticism in certain cases, it might also be pointed out that mainstream publishing has similarly produced its fair share of poop over the years, so self-publishing of itself need not necessarily be equated with low quality. Furthermore, I myself grew up with fanzines and all manner of enthusiastically photocopied horrors bound with uneven staples, all self-published, and it never occurred to me that anyone might consider such publications inferior by virtue of having been produced solely by some bloke with green hair. Sometimes it requires genuine inspiration to print up something that will be of interest to almost no-one, at least not until two decades have passed and surviving copies are turning up on eBay at fifty quid a throw. My point, I suppose, is that for all its faults, print-on-demand remains a field with great potential, and if you're expecting genuine surprises, it's a good place to look.
The Case of the Invisible College didn't quite set my world ablaze, but it's brief and a lot of fun. The customary criticisms made of the self-published are rendered irrelevant by the clear and lively prose of someone who has evidently spent time learning how to write and how to put a story together. These are, I suppose, what you might call Fortean detective tales - more Conan Doyle than Grant Morrison - weirdly ripping yarns perhaps. My only real criticism would be that most of them are pretty short, and might have benefited from expansion rather than having all that exposition crammed into such a reduced word count; and that this reduced word count also results in a slightly modular feel with information revealed in natty little blocks very much in the vein of those robot tales by Isaac Asimov that I could never quite get along with; and this is compounded by the somewhat repetitive style of denouement whereby our narrator tidily announces that the case of the such and such - invariably also the title of the story - is SOLVED in upper case, this doubling up as acronym for the Secret Oxford League of Volunteer Extracurricular Detectives of which he is a member.
That said, I gather these stories are reprinted from some periodical and such criticisms may be at least as pointless as bemoaning how those Peanuts cartoons always seem to run to just three or four panels. The seven tales collected here as The Case of the Invisible College are probably a little more hard-boiled than my standard fare, but they're well written with good humour and the odd flash of genuine inspiration.