Thursday, April 07, 2005

Foursight - Peter Crowther (ed)

Novellas are funny things, rare to come across, hard to find a home for. A pity. Once, I thought short stories were just that; stories that were short. But there are some brilliant short story writers out there who show that the medium is so much more than that; a short story is a lot more than a word count.

I thought novellas were everything that didn't fit in either the short story or novel catagory, and once again, I've realised they're a lot more than that. They give rise to a type of story that the others couldn't begin to hold.

Crowther recognises this, and has given these four novellas a home, and I thank him, and hope it continues to launch these projects.

"Leningrad Nights" by Graham Joyce sees us within that great city, in winter. The Nazis lay siege to it, shelling regularly, then randomly, a sort of psychological warfare to keep the city's citizens forever on their toes. There's no food, little warmth to be had, and if death isn't delivered by 'the blind justice of the Whistling Shell', then freezing or starvation are just waiting.
Leo has something of an epiphany (in the form of some opiate laced tea) and roams about the city helping those than he can. Food is in such great shortage, and he provides. They hail him a saint, whilst the other him returns to his frozen uncle to hack off another limb. It's a choice between survival and morality.
I'm never entirely sure whether or not the city is full of doppleganger Leo's, or if it is his method of dealing with the atrocities he commits for the sake of others. Is it the tea?
Beautifully written and an amazing show starter.

"How the Other Half Lives" by James Lovegrove leaps of in a totally different direction (which is a welcome change, as much as Leningrad was enchanting, it was also unremittingly bleak), following a week in the life of William Ian North, a ridiculously rich man who appears to own stocks in the entire world, and his money talks.
He made a deal, 'arrangments', to ensure his success, so naturally he is more than a little upset when things start to go wrong. He isn't supposed to get stuck in traffic, after all, he's William Ian North.
For his happiness, someone else must be utterly miserable. But nature finds a way.
Wonderfully absurd whilst being shockingly grounded. Good stuff.

"Andy Warhol's Dracula" by Kim Newman tells the story of the Father's (Big D) disciple making himself known in the New Country. New York, in this case.
I can't claim to have any sort of knowledge about Warhol, but before reading this I had heard the theory that he was a vampire. Or at least, really, really, really, really wanted to be one. The essay threaded throughout the piece certainly lends credence to the idea. It's interesting to see the intergration of Johnny Pop into the New York scene, and how quickly Warhol latches on to him, being from the old country, having had contact with the Father himself.
And who knew that vampires were drug dealers too?
I can't remember another vampire story in which I wasn't aware that I was reading a vampire story. It lacks the cliches that normally follow vampires around. Terribly amusing.

"The Vaccinator" by Michael Marshall Smith was the weakest of the four, which is a pity because it is the final note in the book. I don't think it was badly written, but in comparison to its company, it doesn't shine as bright. I'm not quite as interested in the Florida Keys as with Leningrad, I prefer vampires to aliens (even if they are booze-guzzling chain-smoking dodgy-arse aliens), and I prefer Andy Warhol to a thug. I think, for me, this story didn't do anything new. Not to mention the heroes failed to save the day. Deus ex machina and all the rest.

I'm glad I have another of Crowther's novella collections waiting for me. Something to look forward to.

Verdict: worth it, so worth it. Novellas are getting to be an acquired taste.


  1. I have a problem in that I write novellas. Fairly consistently, too. And nobody wants them...

  2. I thought about you as I was reading this, actually. It is a pity that there aren't many markets for novellas out there, because they really do occupy a space all of their own.