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The Elastic Book Of Numbers
edited by Allen Ashley
Elastic paperback £6

review by Debbie Moon

As anyone who's tried to use a credit card recently knows, numbers are increasingly dominating our lives. This collection of 21 stories takes this idea to its logical (and illogical) conclusions, with tales of ordinary people who find their lives unravelling into a string of digits.

Numerology informs many of the stories; Every Eight And Eleven by E. Sedia, brings a streak of gambler's luck to an ordinary guy, only for everything to unravel - with perfect numerical symmetry, of course. 3:21 by Eric Shapiro charts a boss' obsession with the significance of the time of his wife's death, a quest for contact from beyond the grave that slowly destroys his company and his sanity. Jeff Gardiner's moving 351073, possibly the best story in the book, investigates a father's relationship with his daughter, who is apparently doomed to lifelong numerological fascination and a tragic end through a simple mistake in the maternity ward.

Another common strand is the unravelling - or not - of puzzles. In Breach Of Contract, Clause 6A, Mark Patrick Lynch follows an employee set increasingly complex number-based tasks. The tasks have no obvious purpose, and the rewards are high, but the penalty for failure is even higher... Rosaleen Love's Wanderer 8 sets its unsolvable problem in space: an orbital station suddenly discovers that it's acquiring satellites of its own - including a school of fish, someone's laundry, and the long-lost Mars explorer Beagle 2. The bemused crew try to fathom how the objects got there and what they mean; is there any significance, or is it all a vast cosmological joke?

Through one or two stories seem to have sneaked in with only the vaguest connections to the theme, some others not only deal with numbers, but are actually composed of them. Tim Nickels and Allen Ashley contribute the amusing smorgasbord While We Were Sleeping, Numbers Took Over The World, a wild dash through history in the form of numbers and patterns. (I particularly like Noah's big sale - "two buy two buy two".) There's even a frontispiece story entirely in numerical code, with help to decipher it at the back of the volume.

Like all themed collections, the quality of the stories and the relevance to the theme varies a little, but overall, this well-presented volume contains good quality stories in an enjoyable mix of styles. And at this modest price, it's a real bargain.
Elastic Book of Numbers

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