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The Alsiso Project
editor: Andrew Hook
Elastic Press paperback £6

review by Christopher Geary

An anthology with a difference, this intriguingly titled volume is not centred on a single genre trope or particular theme, it's a bundle of short fiction that's all inspired by a typo! Yes, the nonsense-word 'alsiso' (attributed to Marion Arnott), is used here by 23 writers as the springboard for a variety of science fiction mysteries, horror shockers, weird tales, and contemporary fictions. Literary giants such as Stanislaw Lem and Kurt Vonnegut have played similar games of bookish conceit and, while I'm not suggesting that any of the contributors to this volume are in their league (yet?), several offerings from The Alsiso Project are excellent stories, and their imaginary-word connection is happily irrelevant to the quality of writing.

The opener from K.J. Bishop almost gives the kaleidoscopic game away completely, with a run-through of numerous possibilities of the meaning of 'alsiso'. Justina Robson is the first to overcome the lure of sophistry with compelling reportage of disturbing, repeated failures to establish a human colony on an alien world due to the problems encountered when investigating the indigenous life forms. Marie O'Regan's story might be a variation on the serial killer psychodrama, but the narrative is unfortunately more confusing than genuinely mysterious. For Andrew Humphery, Alsiso is an obscure artist's signature on a painting, but the subsequent, intriguing character studies of a widow and her prodigal brother are sufficiently entertaining that a lack of follow-up on the artist or the painting is not a fault in the storytelling.

Alasdair Stuart's 'lecture notes' for a slideshow presentation return us briefly to the curious, Fortean realms of Bishop's entry, and Allen Ashley continues the ersatz reality thread in his amusing piece about a countercultural, possibly subversive, rock band - viewed from opposite sides of the official/social/generation gap. To noted crime writer Antony Mann, it's a car registration number ALS 150 that, by weird coincidence or predestination, leads to a road accident of distinctly tragicomic nature. Not wanting to be excluded from this book's game plan, editor Andrew Hook wades into the fray with a noir-ish sketch about political corruption, familial secrets and revenge - in which a bunch of engagingly familiar icons (dominatrix, hitman, crook) go through the wittily inevitable motions of an ironic drama.

Matt Dinniman's tale is subtitled The Sociology Of The Unpopped Masses, and deals, in suitably gruesome fashion, with the end of the world, as we know it, when people using a certain 'magic' word eventually explode - yes, literally. Tamar Yellin's AlSiSo continues this apocalyptic vein with a story that's as weird and unsettling, as Dinniman's is darkly comical. John Grant's AlsisO supposes that one man's dream-life becomes a nightmare reality when his connection to another dimension isn't broken upon waking. David Allen Lambert's story is arguably the best of those here that lack any easily identifiable genre elements, but it more than makes up for this with its likable characters and wry sense of humour. Brian Howell's take on what Alsiso means is Japanese, mixing specific cultural identity with an unnervingly subtle weirdness, as a salaryman's family are 'accepted' by their strange neighbours after moving into a new home.

Conrad Williams' story fits the bill as 'classic' trad sci-fi. A mysterious, beautiful woman gives a scrap metal merchant some hi-tech material resulting in the man's discovery of a secret from his father's past. Although the scene setting is exemplary, the payoff here is botched and unravels the eerie mood too swiftly and much too easily, undermining this story's carefully wrought oddness, in a clumsily abrupt way, as if the ending was cut down for length. Following the welter of invention in some of these fictions, Marion Arnott's closing story is a straightforward fantasy yarn, but nonetheless refreshing and enjoyable for its contrast to others' work. The other contributors include Christopher Kenworthy, Nick Jackson, Gary Couzens, Kay Green, Steve Savile, Lisa Pearson, Nicholas Royle, and Kaaron Warren´┐Ż some of whom are responsible for the irritating abundance of 'literary' postmodern pretensions in this book. Thankfully, however, the unappealing mulch of their stuff does not detract from the overall worth of this offbeat anthology.
The Alsiso Project

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