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editor: Christopher Teague
Pendragon paperback £5.99
review by Steven Hampton
Here's something different you don't see every day, T: One is an independently published book of three novellas from a British small press outfit. I admire the simplicity of the wraparound artwork by editor Chris Teague. Strikingly reminiscent of Kubrick's 2001, everything about it implies this is an SF book, and the back cover blurb "science fiction, just different" seems to confirm the impression, so it's slightly disappointing to find that none of the stories actually read like proper or pure SF at all. Instead we have two pieces of fairly bog-standard contemporary fantasy and one that's more delightfully weird than anything else I've read all year, so far.
Despite its purported Philip K. Dick influences and somewhat intriguing premise, The Interlopers by Allen Ashley (The Planet Suite) is an overwritten and, consequently, occasionally dull mystery thriller about timid office-worker, John, who finds a couple of apparent con-artists, Ronnie and Rita, have taken up daytime residence in his flat, and they enjoy the run of the place whenever John's away from home. The brash pair steal from, and take advantage of, their meek victim, and intimidate poor hapless John into such a fearful state that his life becomes an emotional train-wreck as he loses his job and his girlfriend, and starts questioning his own identity. Varied pointlessly comic asides (junk mail details), and explicitly detailed descriptions of humdrum everyday activities (such as routine shopping, or even opening a front door) means the development of this supposedly paranoid fantasy proceeds at the proverbial snail's pace. Drip-feed drama might work in full-scale novels but, at this shorter length, I prefer material with rather more fast-forward haste, especially in a story where 'humanity' is both theme and antagonist. The basic plot owes perhaps too much to Harlan Ellison's classic Shatterday (adapted for TV as an episode of The Twilight Zone). Honestly, though, Ashley has penned superior work (see his brilliant Somnambulists collection) before this sadly unsatisfactory piece of borderline genre fiction, which is doubly unworthy of him, considering his already proven talent.
As the book's editorial note reminds us, John Grant is the alias of Paul Barnett, a veteran writer and maven of art-book publishing. Grant's The Thirty Million Day Dance Card features sketches from a compressed pseudo-memoir of sorts, about the life and loves of diplomat Simon, whose deathbed reminiscences with current wife, Jéanne, lead us towards a revelation about the other women Simon has lost or married. Apart from being a character study of remarkable, memorable, or just wholly different females, there's precious little here to interest the average SF fan (well, okay, elevator-sex is usually good fun!), until the sudden twist of clarity in the story's predictable finale. Unfortunately, even Grant's writing exhibits a tendency for pretension ("entered the innermost chambers of my soul's mansion") but we might or could excuse such bits of literary tosh as simply being truthful about the smugly egotistical main character's self-indulgent way of thinking. Either way, genuine SF content is lacking here for the most part.
Leaves Of Glass by Lavie Tidhar (An Occupation Of Angels) is undoubtedly the best story in Triquorum One. Even the 'Three Cheers' intro by Paul Di Filippo (Emperor Of Gondwanaland) admits this same preference. Boldly imaginative and full of rich imagery, its terse yet beguiling chapters tell of how gun-toting American poet Walt Whitman's visit to Paris, for a meeting with a French magician, results in a fantastic journey to a bizarre otherworldly realm where "blood-red tentacles beat rhythmically" beneath "a city of fog and glass." Walt's acid-trip weird encounters with the likes of Dylan Thomas and Lewis Carroll are seemingly enabled by a wondrous 'dream chair' and he's somehow acquired a book (of poetry, naturally) to prove his time-travelling adventure happened, but... Now what? As with many great stories, Tidhar's amazing tale leaves us hypnotised, and wishing for more. Unlike the overlong offerings from Ashley and Grant, this piece makes the most of its brevity, cramming a multitude of extraordinary scenes into less than two-dozen pages, and is all the more fascinating because of its concise and energetic narrative style.
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