Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: The New Death and others

So, I mentioned the fact that I was going to review The New Death and others.

Here it is.

James Hutchings wrote The New Death and others.  Yesterday's mini-review basically summarized my thoughts — when it's good, it's great.  When it's bad, it's okay.  Can't get better than that, really.

(As an aside: the random picture and page quote combination on his "About" page gave me a picture of Devastatin' Dave, thus making James supremely cool.)

Anyway, a bit of background: James is an anarchist from Australia, and it permeates his work (his main site is here).  Several stories and poems have political subtext, though many of them are downright anvilicious (I'll take "Rumpelstiltskin" as my example, as it ends with the line, "Moral: If you can't do anything else, get into politics," but there are many examples throughout the collection).  Depending upon one's political views, this might be a deal-breaker.  No matter what one's political views, however, the frequent presence of the author in his work can be a bit off-putting.

The second criticism comes from the collection's shifts in genre and mood.  This mood whiplash can also be a weakness, as a quiet and macabre little piece reminiscent of Dunsany gives way to a stream of puns and a delivery like Woody Allen.  Overall, The New Death and others may benefit best from keeping within a specific mood.

Apart from those two general criticisms, I really liked this collection.  The author has a definite fondness for puns, paraprosdokians, and postmodernism — giving his comedy a sort of Woody Allen vibe — but Hutchings is strongest when weaving weird tales and poetry in the vein of Dunsany, Howard, and Lovecraft.

Incidentally, this is why I am inclined to review this: many of the poems and stories make Teleleli sound like a truly rad adventuring locale (then again, the tears of the gods and monastic dinosaurs bear this out).  Stories such as "How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name," "The God of the City of Dust," and my favorite among the collection, "The Scholar and the Moon," are well worth the price of admission.  Any reader should be able to get something out of it.

Despite my misgivings about some of the content trying too hard to deliver its message, his writing is excellent.  Though the mood wavers, the author's voice is strong throughout — were I to find he is a gifted storyteller among his friends, always entertaining with a pub tale or some such, I would hardly be surprised.  And while some of his prose is anvilicious, his poetry is almost never so rigid.  Though stories such as "Todd" were among my favorites, his poetry is uniformly strong.  Admittedly, I did not expect to like stories with entries such as "Under the Pyramids (based on the story of the same name by H.P. Lovecraft)," but even his poetic adaptations of existing works have the same dreamlike feel that makes his writing so strong.  This is definitely his adaptation written in his voice, and the transition is so seamless that the reader can easily forget the original.

So, despite the fact that he might want to bring certain issues to your attention with loud insistence, James Hutchings has a definite gift for words and a flair for playing with genre tropes.  The excellent work in this collection certainly makes it worth the dollar you'll spend for it.  Go order it on Amazon.com (for Kindle) and Smashwords (in various ebook formats).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review. By the way, speaking of Teleleli as an adventuring locale, you might like my online game Age of Fable. The city in it has a different name, but it's very similar to Teleleli.

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