|Submitted by Aditya Bidikar |
(Apr 14, 2005)
BEST STORY: Last Call for Passenger Paul OR Jouissance De La Mort.
Christopher Fowler is this somewhere-slightly-near-famous writer whose 'Best-Of' (sort of) collection (this one) I found in the local library, having read on the blurb something to the effect that he kicks Stephen King's ass. I first borrowed this book about five years ago, when my Horror knowledge was restricted to Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe. (Imagine, I hadn't even watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre back then.) I found it entertaining, if otherwise insignificant, and only two stories stuck in my mind - 'Last Call for Passenger Paul' and 'Night After Night of the Living Dead', both because of their shock endings (and don't say they aren't good). Apart from those two stories, I only remembered 'Tales of Britannica Castle', but that was because I thought it was abysmal (God knows why). Today, my opinion of this little collection hasn't changed much. A few months ago, I picked up a book called The Giant Book of Terror, and read in it a story called 'Norman Wisdom and the Angel of Death', and seemed to remember reading the author's name somewhere. I borrowed this book again to see if I found this book worthy enough of reviewing. I did, but barely.
One complaint I have (and a big one it is) is that for a 'Best-Of' collection, it isn't very good. That probably reflects the author's limitations rather than those of the collection, but then, the author's limitations are the collection's limitations, aren't they? In fact, if this had been a usual collection, I would probably have rated it *****. But as it isn't, I cannot.
On a story-by-story basis, the book seems surprisingly good, and we see that Fowler is an inventive, if not very original writer, but one shouldn't expect everyone to be original, should one? (Well, Stephen King isn't, and I like him just fine, don't I?)
As an introduction, 'Anti-Bob' isn't very good, and I have read much, much better introductions, some from authors lesser than this one. But as a first story, I couldn't imagine a better start than 'The Human Element'. This story, which starts slightly clumsily, then proceeds to take you in its grasp, and pull you slowly but surely to a place where you really, really don't want to go. That reminds me. If you want to get depressed, feel lonely and alone and horribly constricted, this book is one of the best [Note: This isn't strictly related, but other literature that gives me that feeling includes, for some reason, the Harry Potter Books. God knows why? Could you tell me? Because that's prevented me from reading these books as much as I'd like to.]. This story gets that 'alone' feeling perfectly. In fact, quite a few stories here are about that. Let's see: 'Norman Wisdom ...', 'The Master Builder', 'The Trafalgar Lockdown', 'Perfect Casting', 'Night After Night ...', 'The Most Boring ...', 'Tales of Britannica Castle', 'Mother of the City' and 'Two Murders'. That makes 10 stories out of 21, and even apart from those, quite a few hint at these things rather strongly. Well, in my book, that makes Fowler one of the most truly 'Horror' writers I have ever read.
Let's see, out of those mentioned just now, the ones marked in red make their point magnificently, especially 'Perfect Casting' and 'The Most Boring ...'.
'On Edge', 'The Master Builder' and 'Perfect Casting' are about finding bizarre horror in everyday situations, and 'Dale and Wayne ...' is an exaggeration of same. The best of these is probably 'Perfect Casting', which is about ... well, Perfect Casting.
Horror consists, in large measure, of Black Humour, and there's plenty of that in here. 'Jouissance de la Mort', which I love because of its writing style (also used in 'The Unreliable History ...'), is comic in a twisted way, so is 'The Human Element', and so are 'On Edge', 'The Unreliable History ...' (look out for that ending - Man!) and 'Tales of Britannica Castle', which starts clumsy, but then sets its own pace, and takes you through the hellish lives of the residents of the castle. The ending is a comic nightmare.
I think I've mentioned all the best ones, but there are other stories in here. 'The Master Builder' is a good story, and a nightmarish idea, but the execution isn't to complete satisfaction, is it? 'The Trafalgar Lockdown' is too unsure of itself (seems Fowler was out of his depth here: (a) it's sci-fi, and (b) the narrator's a woman) to be really good, but it's fine. 'In Persia' is entertaining, but that's that. 'Black Day at Bad Rock' could have been fantastic, but isn't. (A vaguely similar, but much better, attempt is Stephen King's 'Hearts in Atlantis' from, sure enough, Hearts in Atlantis.) 'Chang-Siu ...' is okay, and it can't find it in itself to be much else. 'Thirteen Places of Interest ...' is, sure enough, experimental, but Fowler forgets that it should also be readable.
'Jumbo Portions' and 'The Laundry Imp' are, to my eye, too similar to be placed side-by-side, though, very probably, Fowler thought it was a good gimmick. They're both okay. 'Mother of the City' is potentially fantastic, and Clive Barker could have done something of it, probably.
Like I say, these stories are quite good, but they aren't brilliant. If you find this book somewhere for a low price, or if you find it in your library, be sure to try it out. I wouldn't buy it at full price. Or maybe I would.
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