Monday, February 6, 2012

All These Little Worlds

All These Little Worlds edited by Rob Redman. The Fiction Desk £9.99
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

I read this anthology last year – probably around September – but for a variety of reasons didn’t get around to reviewing it. And then, just recently, the book resurfaced amongst the detritus in my study. All I knew, all I could remember, was that I thoroughly enjoyed All These Little Worlds, but not in enough detail to write a review. And so I re-read it and, again, found the anthology engrossing and …  well … thoroughly enjoyable.

All These Little Worlds is published by The FictionDesk, one of their quarterly anthologies. Ten pounds might sound a lot, at first, for 170 pages but a subscription cuts a marvellous deal: £30 a year. Check their website for details.

There are nine stories in this volume, mostly by British and American writers, and all share a high level of quality. Those readers looking for yet more horror may not be impressed, but readers with a broader taste should be delighted. Nevertheless, despite the quality of prose, some of the stories felt incomplete, too much like an anecdote rather than a tale with a – you know – beginning, middle and a suitable conclusion. But that’s a small quibble.

The book kicks off with “Jaggers & Crown”, a story that sometimes mirrors the career of a certain real-life comedy double act. Jaggers is already a comic performer during WWII when he encounters Crown, who soon becomes Jaggers’ straight man. But Jaggers falls prey to various addictions and rent boys (this is before homosexuality became legal), and in the end it is Crown who saves the act’s bacon. The story is told in retrospect, beginning when Crown opens a newspaper and reads his own obituary. But even knowing where the story will end, it is a moving account of the two character comedians who began treading the sleazy boards before the fame of television.

The next story reminded me of Rick Kleffel’s “The Pet Peeve” from Chills (reprinted last year in Dark Horizons). This is “Swimming With the Fishes” by Jennifer Moore. Here, a mother buys a miniature diver for her children’s aquarium. Daughter loves the little man with his red costume, but son wants something more exciting, such as a crab or an electric eel – with the inevitable consequences. Darkly comic.

“Pretty Vacant” by Charles Lambert, the third story in the book, is pretty damn good (and where did that title come from?). An Italian rich kid, Francesca, is sent to a private girls’ boarding school in England by parents splitting up – she was getting in the way of things. There, she meets Pilar, a similarly rich kid this time from Spain. Francesca is bored – really Bored – with the whole thing, and this leads her into dubious activities, including befriending low-life Gary and then kidnapping Pilar. The consequences are never realised… Lambert captures Francesca’s personality perfectly, amazingly so. She is a spoilt brat, but at the same time vulnerable to the things tearing her life apart in Italy.

Story number four is “Room 307” by Mischa Hiller. Here, a travelling salesman with problems back home (they haven’t had sex since their child was born months ago and neither will discuss it; yet both love each other) meets another rep, a beautiful woman who seems to pick him out for her own sexual needs. I didn’t buy the conceit, but I bought into the story; yet another writer who is able to get under the skin of his/her protagonist.

These, plus “Dress Code”, “Glenda” and “After all the Fun We Had”, are the book’s highlights for me. Worth the asking price. But if I were editor, one of the first four stories would have tailed the volume. But that’s the nature of anthologies: every editor and reader has their own preferences. Anyway, to end on a positive note: an exceptional collection of stories, the perfect antidote to many of the horror anthologies that cross my desk.

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