Review of small press and independent books.
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This is the Quickest Way Down
by Charles Christian
Proxima (Salt Publishing)
£8.99 | $14.95
One of the basic rules of novel-writing states that if you set something up in chapter one, don’t let it slip away and be developed no further. Finish it. Give it a conclusion, ideally at the end of the novel so that the gestalt is complete. Short story collections are different of course. Or are they? On finishing the last story in Charles Christian’s new collection, ‘This is the Quickest Way Down’, I suddenly had a light bulb moment and went back to re-read the first story. Yes. I was right. I’m saying no more on that subject for fear of spoilers, but I salute whoever it was, whether editor or author, who decided on the order of the stories in this collection.
Re-reading the first story has got me hooked once again. These are magnificent short stories by a master of the genre, and they beg to be read many times. What genre, though – there’s the question. ‘Short story’ in itself isn’t a genre. The settings in these tales range from Norfolk to Aldebaran; from Nottingham to Villefranche; and all points in-between. These stories are fantasist but not fantasy – you’ll find no elves and goblins. Sci-fi then? Yes, but firmly rooted in reality – the Klingon warrior maid, complete with fearsome bat’leth blade, actually hales from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Magical realism? Not really. Slipstream? Yes. That’s it. Slipstream with ghosts, but such a firm grip on reality anything paranormal becomes essential and unsurprising; an integral part of the world that requires no further explanation.
There is a lightness of touch in these tales, but there is no superficiality. There are many familiar tropes, but they’ve been turned on their heads and given a stunning reworking. Cataclysms lead to a weird sort of utopia. Redemption is found unexpectedly. Murders, sexual encounters, tsunamis, explosions and foiled suicide attempts are played out against the backdrop of a cup of mocha slowly cooling.
I love these stories. Absolutely love them. There are hints of Asimov, of Hemmingway, of – I don’t know, everyone from the Strugatsky brothers to Neville Shute via James Joyce and Evelyn Waugh. They are stories overflowing with intelligence, with wit, and with keen observation of human foibles. I want to know when the next collection is coming out, and the novel – preferably the series of novels. How about it, Charles?