The New Death and Others, by James Hutchings
The e-reader revolution has done a lot to preserve short form literature as a valid creative outlet for new authors. For a variety of legitimate business reasons, traditional publishing today tends to favor long-form fiction and series, novels and the like. Collections of short stories tend to be more limited in availability to anthologies of stories by existing authors (sort of paper-bound “All Star Games”) and maybe the occasional collection of single stories by emerging writers. And don’t even think about poetry, unless you’re talking “inspirational” stuff, or Maya Angelou. A writer who’d like to focus on short stories and narrative poetry doesn’t really have much traction with traditional publishers. But e-books have opened up as a legitimate option for writers to distribute their work, no matter how experimental, in short form to a wide audience. James Hutchings’ The New Death and Others is a book that can greatly benefit from these conditions, hopefully as much as the reader benefits from reading it.
Hutchings, an Australian indie author, has compiled an eclectic collection of fantasy stories and poems that reads quickly and entertains throughout. The lengths of the pieces range pretty far around the “flash fiction” spectrum, with the longest being several pages and the shortest little more than tweets. Subject matter is varied, but Hutchings infuses some element of fantasy into each, often returning to the fictional city of Telelee that much of his other work centers on. In terms of tone, however, the collection is all over the map. One will be reading a seriously dark story about the shadowy denizens of Telelee one moment, and immediately move on to a short allegorical tale humorously explaining the birth of reality TV. Reading the book cover-to-cover is a bit like flipping back and forth between Monty Python’s Flying Circus and The Twilight Zone. Not that that’s bad, mind you, but I was left wondering if this might have been better served as two separate, shorter books.
That said, the author’s language is just intricate enough to be engaging without being wearisome. He often mixes styles and subject matter, describing modern articles with the sort of archaic language found in older fantasy writings, and conversely pulling out modern slang and wordplay in the middle of a decidedly fantastic setting—a trick that works better than you’d think. Hutchings’ stories exhibit a great love and respect for allegorical figures, humble heroes, and the intelligence of cats, as well as a deep-seated dislike of internet dating, McDonalds (of all things), and fan-fiction. Although, to be fair, several of his poetic homages to great fantasy writers of the past (Lovecraft, Howard, Dunsany) skirt perilously close to that latter category. A pop culture reference-heavy parody of classic Sherlock Holmes (“The Adventure of the Murdered Philanthropist”) is one not to be missed.
Among my favorites were the thought-provoking “The God of the City of Dust,” the haunting and contemporary “Todd,” and the delightfully solemn (if that makes sense) poem “The Sailor.” And for other aspiring and sometimes blocked writers out there, “The Jeweled City” is a hilariously meta surprise. Several pieces were somewhat disappointing for their lack of any sort of direction…at least a few seemed designed entirely to throw the reader off base like an exceptionally good knock-knock joke. Again, if that’s what you’re looking for, they’re fine, but it highlights the thought that maybe this really wants to be two collections.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars