Japes joy

My short story collection Jeapes Japes has been reviewed, which is nice; favourably, which is even better; and it’s the first time my entire body of short fiction has come under the critical spotlight, which is absolutely wonderful. Though I say it myself, I appear to be quite good. Or maybe I should say that I appear to have been quite good, as I haven’t written short fiction now for over a decade. By the time my last piece appeared (“Go with the flow”, Interzone, 1999) I was into novel writing mode and life is too short for both, sadly. At least, mine is.

The line I found most interesting was this:

“The stories contained in the collection generally find the characters tending to merely support the novum of the story, rather than being the centrepiece of the tale. The tales therefore better present ideas rather than uniquely interesting characters, and after each the reader dwells more on the notion presented than the personalities.”

Yup, I’ll agree with that. (And while I’m here, may I add that the reviewer is quite fond of the word ‘novum’ – it turns up once or twice later on too.) I strongly suspect it’s the influence of too much Asimov in my youth, and it’s very nice of the reviewer to make a strength out of what I would still regard as a weakness. A beginning writer will usually write about nothing but the idea, and the story either grinds to a halt or turns out not very good because you need – gasp! – characters, who are interesting enough to make you care what happens to them, and another couple of ideas to make it into a proper story. I got the hang of that, but the originating idea always dominated. In novels, this was not such a problem because the originating idea inspired lots of other stuff and eventually it could just merge into the background. In short fiction I never had enough room for that to happen.

This is actually something I am trying hard to shake off, because I would love to be able to write just good ol’ adventures, pure and simple. Someone gets out of bed one morning and pow! Things start happening in their life. Some writers can do that as easily as breathing. I’m working on it.

I’m very glad the reviewer considers “Pages out of order” (F&SF, 1997) to be the stand-out story, because so do I: it’s one of the most personal contributions and also one I would really like to expand into a novel, if I can just do all the necessary working out. It might not be the only time travel story set in an English public school – though no others come to mind at present – but I’d bet good money it’s the only one ever published by F&SF. “Crush” (Interzone, 1993) was also quite a personal one to write, getting a lot of stuff off my chest, but I had no idea I had done it well enough for it to be described as a “rather chilling tale of obsession … Jealousy, obsession and incarnate rage are all wonderfully snippeted in this brief tale”. Cor.

So, what are you waiting for: buy from the publisher Wizard’s Tower or, if you’re one of those people who absolutely insist on patronising evil empires, from Amazon. Let’s give the reviewer the final word so you know what you’re getting:

“The stories leap sporadically from one genre to another, without flow or warning and yet they still somehow all work so well together. A reader gets far more from the ideas and suggestions each story creates, than from the characters themselves which are never really explored to much depth. This augments Jeapes Japes as the classic SF short story writing that gives each tale a striking novum and characters far more incidental to that central idea. Indeed it is not the characters that stay with you when you put the book down, but the rich and exciting ideas that burst from this collective library of short stories.”

Child’s play

Time’s Chariot gets its first decent review – by my standards of decent, anyway, i.e. by a science fiction publication with reviewers who are likely to Get It – in the latest Vector. It emerges favourably at the end, even if the reviewer does play the game reviewers like to play (and I doubtless do it myself) of “pick up on something that hasn’t even occurred to the author and make a deal of it”.

Sometimes this is good; it reveals strengths and weaknesses and stylistic quirks that the author can take into account the next time round. Sometimes it’s just baffling …

“The fact that it is so clearly ‘written down’ for children might prevent their full enjoyment.”

Ahem. ‘Written down’? That’s my actual style, thank you very much.

You don’t believe me, ask a genuine child, like 14 year old Tommy who reviewed it in the Cork Evening Echo, second only to Vector and perhaps Locus as a nexus of the sfnal hive mind. Generously he gives it a 7/10, apparently deducting 3 points because “this book would really only be suitable for anyone over the age of 12 because the author uses difficult words to describe things and there is some bad language”.

Sadly he doesn’t cite the bad language (I’d love to know where he found it) but he does at least explain that bit about the difficult words: “I didn’t like the way the author used futuristic, made-up words which he didn’t explain, for example agrav.”

A future in SF critique does not (yet) lie ahead of young Tommy, but give him time.