Elasticity: The Best Of Elastic Press edited by Chris Beckett, Justina Robson and Andrew Hook (book review)

‘Elasticity: The Best Of Elastic Press’ is a selection of stories from the various anthologies put out by Elastic Press in its short but interesting life. In his introduction, editor Andrew Hook, who ran the Press, defines the genre category as ‘slipstream’. That basically means anything goes. Listed below are some that went well for me.

The opening shot, ‘Grief Inc’ by Andrew Humphrey, features a dystopian British future with things falling apart. Carter is a cynical, selfish man who earns cash by letting people hug him. Some unexplained ability takes away their grief at the recent loss of a loved one. Money gives him the ability to live a comfortable life with occasional treats, like chocolate and wine for him and his girlfriend. He’s old enough to remember the good old days when people had everything and still moaned. A sound plot and a good lead character because he’s a bit rotten, as real people so often are.

‘Amber Rain’ by Neil Williamson, while not exactly an adventure story does have things happening. It’s rumoured everywhere that some kind of alien invasion is going on but no one can prove it. This invasion is subtle. No giant spaceships hovering over Manhattan, landing on the White House lawn or even Horsell Common. Instead, there’s funny coloured rain in Edinburgh. Nicely understated.

‘351073’ by Jeff Gardiner will have you all turning your calculators upside down to look for messages. A nice Church of England Vicar has a baby at last but his wife dies in childbirth. He cherishes daughter Eloise but doesn’t force her down his path. Instead, she takes up numerology and becomes a guru. I liked the gentle Vicar and the tolerant view of different spiritual paths

‘Four A.M.’ by Gary Couzens has a night shift worker in a motorway café meeting a strange, suicidal woman. The night shift is a popular milieu for weird fiction because it is an odd time to be awake and everything feels different than the day. Pretty good.

‘When We Were Five’ by Marion Arnott is brilliant. In the 60s, a nice lad is besotted with Sophie, a communist agitator, and accompanies her on a trip to the Soviet Union. He gets mumps and strikes up a relationship with a scarred, battered old hotel cleaner who tells him her story. The fact that she speaks English with a cut-glass posh accent and calls him ‘old boy’ adds a touch of comedy. The rest is tragic. This is the real story of the Russian Revolution, bully boys in long coats arresting anyone they fancied for that feeling of power. The ending is inevitable and satisfying. Tales like this are a handy reminder in troubled times that idealistic demagogues who pretend to have all the answers are dangerous, especially when they will brook no opposition. You’re better off with that nice CofE vicar in ‘351073’. Really.

I’d almost say the book is worth buying just for ‘Shopping’ by Anthony Mann. A tale is told in shopping lists, starting with ‘June 5: Milk, newspaper, sandwich, chewing gum, banana, cat food.’ Clever, macabre and funny. I loved all six pages of it.

‘Visits To The Flea Circus’ by Nick Jackson tried my patience but was worth it in the end. It starts with a woman jumping from a bell tower and goes on to show why, maybe, she did it. Set in Mexico, it’s one of those stories where the author goes into minute detail about the scenery, the clothes, insects and everything else. James Blish called it ‘New Realism’ and found it tedious. So do I, especially when the story turns out not to have a story. You bore patiently through it and throw the book across the room when you‘ve finished, cursing the author for wasting your time. In this case, the minute detail was an important ingredient of the mix, there was a theme and by the last page, I was satisfied.

‘Alsiso’ by Justina Robinson started with a few confusing references but that’s par for the course in the genre. It turned out to be a great piece of SF horror involving humans and nanotechnology on a far distant planet. To say much more would give it away but it was damn near perfect. Short, compact, lots going on and with a neat ending.

Perhaps not quite as good as the last line of ‘Jasmine’ by Andrew Tisbert which made me laugh out loud. It was a bitter laugh. After his divorce, Bernie goes to work in an institution for disabled people and falls in love for an inmate called Jasmine. He can see her beautiful soul despite her mental and physical impairments. In Bernie’s world, there’s a Research Institute for Accessible Possibilities which sends volunteers off to alternate realities. A disturbing well-written story.

Maurice Suckling gives us a Darren Brown-style TV magician who is also a beautiful girl called Ciara in ‘Televisionism’. The first person narration is by Jim, a bloke she picked up in a bar who became her boyfriend and watched her rise to stardom. Ciara pulls stunts even better than those amazing chaps on television. Can you guess the twist? It was nicely done, though, and I’m glad someone else’s mother is an awful cook as well.

There’s a gadget every writer will envy in ‘The Marriage Of Sea And Sky’ by Chris Beckett. Clancy is from a super-scientific world but wanders off to other planets in Sphere writing travel books on Com, a handheld device. ‘Add a chapter about the Aristotle Complex,’ he says. ‘Neo romantic with a small twist of hard hard-boiled. Oh and include three poetic sharp edge sentences. Just three. Low adjective count.’ If only composition were so simple! Clancy is lonely but his life changes during a visit to a sea-faring race on a planet with a gigantic moon. The prose style made this a pleasure to read. Maybe Chris Beckett has a Com.

Everything in Elasticity: The Best Of Elastic Press is carefully crafted by honest professionals and, taken overall, there’s a lot to like about it. I’d say it’s not worth bothering with for hardcore lovers of easy reading adventurous pulp but if you like a bit of literary slipstream fiction this will suit. In the toilet of fandom, I fall somewhere between these two stools. Nearer the pulp to be honest.

Eamonn Murphy

September 2017

(pub: Newcon Press. 278 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-91093-556-9)

check out website: www.newconpress.co.ukhttp://www.newconpress.co.uk

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