Sunday, 26 January 2014

Storyteller - A Found Book

Storyteller - A Found Book

Storyteller began life as a list of also available from the same publisher titles found in the back of some old paperback by Nick Campbell who, so intrigued by the notion of what sort of missing-presumably-overlooked stories might be told by novels such as Strangers from the Sea or Grandad With Snails, posted the list online; which in turn prompted Cavan Scott to observe that this would be a great writing game, specifically to have a bunch of writers take those titles and see what they come up with. Being as I would guess at least a third of the books I've ever read have been picked up on the strength of some weird promise suggested by the title, I can see the appeal of this, and so we have this short story collection with a contents page reading a little like the track list of a Nurse With Wound album. The contributors are mostly Obverse Books regulars who happened to be around on that day, from what I can tell, united by the love of telling a story for the sheer joy of telling a story; and the book has come out as a benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust in memory of Matt Kimpton, a contributor to Obverse's first Faction Paradox anthology, amongst other things, who suffered from the disorder and who died entirely too soon.

It makes for a surprisingly pleasant change to read a collection such as this in which the only common theme is that of storytelling itself; and that Storyteller is quite unlike those anthologies wherein individual efforts feel like strategically submitted pitons hammered into the vertical surface of a career. Here we have an assemblage of genres, none of which are allowed to overpower their supporting tales, so expertly told as to amount to a collection which should appeal to anyone with a genuine love of the written word. For the sake of balance, to at least confer some value on my praise, I will admit to experiencing two minor hiccups - one story reading more like a television programme than I want from something appearing on a printed page; and Richard Wright's contribution, an otherwise absorbingly unpleasant horror tale which made use of a character repeatedly identified as the Texan Slug. It's possible that I'm being oversensitive here given that I live in Texas, but I have a feeling the term Texan is used in what is at least a partially pejorative sense, reliant upon a mutual understanding of the stereotypical fat, ignorant burger-chugging Texas bully boy. It's not that such people don't exist, but to me it reads somewhat like the Lazy Mexican or the Scheming Nigerian and as such carries a bit of an aftertaste, despite Wright's obviously stellar credentials as an author. Nevertheless, these are minor details, and it would probably be stranger had I failed to raise an eyebrow at some juncture during three-hundred pages of thirteen very different authors.

Particular stand-outs for me were Nick Campbell's Grandad With Snails - a sort of Graham Greene with the Max Ernst turned up a notch; Sarah Hadley's excellent Put Our More Flags, possibly my favourite of the collection and the best science-fiction short I've read of this kind since John Wyndham's Dumb Martian, to which it bears some comparison; Cody Quijano-Schell's hauntingly peculiar Seal Morning; and actually, pretty much all of the others. This is not only the best Obverse collection I've read - keeping in mind I still have at least two others sat in waiting on the pile at the side of the bed - but it's the best multiple author anthology I can recall having read in ages.

Available here, or as a real version here.

1 comment:

  1. Hey! Just wanted to say thanks for the kind words on "Put Out More Flags." It was fun to write, and you've actually inspired me to read more John Wyndham - I've had most of his better-known novels on my shelves for years, but up til now I've only read a few bits and pieces. Intriguingly, when I originally plotted and wrote "Flags," I was thinking of two other greats: Robert Heinlein - specifically his juvenile novels like "Farmer in the Sky" - and Frederik Pohl, who died just before I started writing, and took such a quirky view of science-fiction. I was, at any rate, aiming for a rather 1950s sort of story - and clearly, you picked up on that! :)