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Dark Tales Of Time And Space
Sean Wright
Crowswing paperback £5.99

review by Alasdair Stuart

Joey Steffano has it all. A multi-millionaire, teen rap star and darling of the media, Joey is Eminem in a smaller package. Joey is also dead, which is where his journey really starts. Killed on stage, he wakes up in a train rattling through the countryside. The coin that killed him still in his forehead, Joey struggles to understand where he is, where he's going and how he can finally find peace.

This is an intensely frustrating novel, constantly walking a fine line between pop culture, philosophy and fantasy. Wright's setting is nicely handled, the otherworldly nature of the train bringing a heavy, portentous atmosphere to the story. In fact, the setting is easily the novel's strongest point. Wright has a neat sense of geography and the spirit world the train moves through is just to the left of our own and filled with an interesting variety of souls and other creatures.

Similarly, the philosophical element ultimately works very well. At times the book feels like a lecture more than a novel but the payoff is a simple, affecting sequence that nicely plugs into what's gone before. Wright mentions researching Near Death Experiences in the introduction and it shows, as he deals with the subject matter in a plausible, assured and at times moving way.

The problems arise with Joey himself and how he interacts with this world. Wright uses the idea of rappers taking on stage personas to externalise all the worst elements of Joey's personality in the shape of Crack Boy, his alter ego. It's a smart idea of writing, allowing him to explore the world from two different viewpoints but it's also responsible for some of the book's most interminable sequences. An extended trip into the past by Crack Boy provides useful background on Joey but squeezes out so much of the central plot that the book's conclusion feels rushed. Even worse, some plot elements never quite seems to hang together, with the mysterious creature hunting Crack Boy in particular never being fully explained. Likewise, the mysterious vortex at the rear of the train is built up throughout the first half of the book and then all but ignored in the second.

Despite these problems there's an unusual, if slightly worthy, book here. It balances religion and philosophy and manages to produce a story that needs work, but rewards perseverance. A hard read at times, but one worth pursuing.
Dark Tales of Time and Space

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