The Blurb On The Back:
An anthology of sci-fi, fantasy and horror stories, and non-fiction by English and Creative Writing undergraduates at Brunel University London.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
This is an anthology of stories and essays in the SF, fantasy and horror genres written by undergraduate students studying English and/or Creative Writing at Brunel University. It’s edited by Kirsty Capes (with Frazer Lee and Nick Hubble serving as Supervising Editors) and Nick Hubble’s introduction sets out Brunel University’s association with SF, fantasy and horror, which is particularly interesting as I had no idea of Ken MacLeod’s association with the university and how it pops up in his writing. Because the writers are all undergraduates, you can’t go into this anthology expecting to find writers at the top of their game – they’re still learning their craft – but there’s a lot of promise on show here and it’s really good to see writers who are completely new to the genre making a positive contribution to it.
COMMUNION by Rebecca Adair is a disturbing short story set in a wasteland future where an unnamed group live to communicate with their Old God. It’s vividly written, if a little blunt, and the ending stayed with me for some time.
MY PICTURE by Harjit Bhullar read to me like an extract from a longer work as there wasn’t much of a resolution to the piece, although the premise of the main character keeping secret a murder is one that has a lot of promise.
ITCH by Emma Challis also read a little like an extract from a longer work, telling the story of a bullied boy who’s desire for violence manifests as a physical itch. I would definitely read a longer version as there was a lot of promise with the premise and the characterisation of Danny was convincing.
THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH by Lia Courtenay Harlin turns Disney’s It’s A Small World ride into an even more nightmarish experience than normal to disturbing effect (although I wasn’t sure why it revolved around a school trip).
HALF-LIFE by Thomas Mull revolves around the consequences of sacrificing yourself to save the one you love and is a genuinely creepy read that stayed with me for some time afterwards.
THE DAMNED by Ayesha Kurimbux is essentially a character piece about a transformation and although the writing was evocative, I’d have liked a bit more explanation for what is happening and the consequences of the same.
THE STRANGER by Alice Lassey is an atmospheric horror short story about a brother and sister running to escape a shadow which has a believable main character who experiences conflicted emotions when put in an impossible situation.
FLUTTER by Jamie Mackintosh is another story set in Disneyland that sees a father and son converse over a steak dinner where thoughts turn to murder and although I didn’t think the themes quite came through.
BOOK REVIEW – THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS by Shehzeena Saleemi is particularly strong on the problematic female characters and its Cold War analogies.
BOOK REVIEW – THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Bethany Marsh focuses on the issues of gender and race portrayal in Le Guin’s classic SF novel and is even handed in addressing the problems and its successes.
THE CHRYSALIS by Ronald Obour Acheampong is a blunt but interesting SF take on the destructiveness of prejudice, although I found it a little difficult to believe that Jaime was so dense as not to realise certain events.
RETURN by Tova Bergman takes a traditional SF time travel theme but adds interesting world building (particularly through the use of languages other than English) and the main character is well rounded.
THE SHIP by Hannah Bibi is a creepy mix of SF and horror where a scouting ship finds what appears to be an abandoned vessel and sends a crew member over to check out whether it can be taken for salvage. The use of sound and language is interesting and the open ending leaves it to the reader to imagine the worst.
ALONE by Sophie Bredbere is set in a post-apocalyptic world that has largely succumbed to a mysterious virus. Again, this read like an extract from a longer work and I would definitely want to read more about the unnamed narrator who’s just trying to survive.
RESTORE by Iain Macnab-Stark was one of my favourite stories in the anthology – an ingenious take on the melding of gaming and society, it’s set in an imaginative future where people can restore themselves at any time and at any place, leading to Charlotte taking a messy shortcut home.
HAPPY by Karelle Tobias was another story that I really enjoyed, set in a world where everyone has to be seen to be happy or face some unpleasant consequences. The open ending indicated that this could be part of a longer work, which I would definitely want to check out.
THE LOST TOURIST by Lauren Welch is a neatly imagined alternative world that a human accidentally finds himself in, although it read like an interlude and I wished that there had been more of a resolution to the story.
A MATTER OF MACHINE by Aimee White is a neatly written steampunk twist on FRANKENSTEIN, in which a scientist seeks to turn a man into a machine but struggles to understand what he is telling her.
BOOK REVIEW – THE PRESTIGE by Dominic Herrera thoughtfully considers Christopher Priest’s most commercially successful work against his other novels and with particular consideration of the nature of trust as regards its unreliable narrators.
BOOK REVIEW – KINDRED by Curtis Ebanks-Falconer examines Octavia E. Butler’s debut fantasy novel and I was particularly pleased to see someone look at a work from a non-white writer and especially one as respected and missed as Butler and Ebanks-Falconer thoughtfully considers the use of time travel with the depiction of slavery and treatment of race.
GATEWAY by Courtney Blamey is a high fantasy piece that – again – reads like an extract from a longer work, wherein two teenagers spy on a ceremony to determine a new Gateway but while the transformation element is neatly handled, I was left wondering what a Gateway is and why it’s so important.
THE RETURN TO ROOKEGARDE by Sophie Bredbere is another extract from a longer work where a woman returns to the city she was forced to abandon 5 years earlier. The world building has an intriguing 17th century vibe to it and there’s enough mystery to make me want to read on.
TO FIND A WEAPON by Humzah Butt sees a young man go to find a weapon in a very special weapons shop – it’s a simple structure and, again, reads like part of a longer work but there’s promise of something special in a longer piece.
THE SUMMER OF SPIRITS by Emma Challis sees Ally left to stay with her grandmother only to discover that there’s a whole extra world out there that they can both see. Again, this reads like an extract from a longer work but I would be interested in seeing where the idea goes.
THE OTHER SIDE by Alice Cleaver follows a young woman who’s spent her life trying to ignore the alternate realities that insist on showing themselves to her, only to reach a point where it’s impossible to ignore. There’s a disturbing edge to this and I wanted to know what happens next.
LUCY AND THE LANES by Joel Franey is a neatly written piece wherein Lucy finds herself on a kind of highway but everyone on it keeps telling her that she’s dreaming. There’s a feel of Lewis Carroll about the piece and it kept me thinking about it for some time afterwards.
BOOK REVIEW – ZOO CITY by Alice Cleaver considers Lauren Beukes’s fantasy piece in the context of its contemporary influences and Beukes’s depiction of segregation and female identity.
BOOK REVIEW – LORD OF THE RINGS by Jamie Mackintosh examines the quintessential fantasy trilogy in a tongue in cheek style but nevertheless makes good points about the characterisation and its reliance on contrivance and cliché.
BOOK REVIEW – THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Tova Bergman looks at Ursula Le Guin’s classic SF novel and the problem of misogyny, re-examining the sexist attitudes and descriptions as a critique of misogyny as a concept intended by the author.