Friday, 14 November 2014

Book Review - "The Black Dog Eats the City" - Chris Kelso - "New London Writers Anthology Volume 2" - Editor Alice Wickham

. . .

“The only language spoken in Ersatz is insult.”

The trouble with sci-fi these days is that so much of it strikes as being antiquated, not like the forecasting of times to come as suggested by old classics as scribed by Verne or Wells, or lacking that vital dissociative, otherworldy feel as so eloquently portrayed by Frank Herbert or Isaac Asimov. The one issue many writers face and yet never really get to grips with is that the genre all too often runs down those tram lines of convention that I have mentioned before and detest.  Of course there remain a host of authors who have produced works that lift the style to newer, unthought-of heights but by and large the run of the mill remains in situ.

Not the case with this Scot. Burroughs and Simak may be his influences, we all have those whose work shapes our thinking therefore affecting our writing, but this authors sheer sense of fun, his spotting the foibles of science fiction and spinning a humorous slant on them, is rather good. I mean, gay droids? One’s who seek cosmetic surgery the better to enable their congress? Outbloodyrageous.

“Hell is other people.”

Black Dog Eats the City is a continuing series of self-contained stories within a story that bristles with energy. There is invention aplenty albeit in a mode easy to understand. Illustrated and met with some truly insane poetry. This novel provides the sauce that those who feed from it need. The Black Dog referenced is the same one as oft mentioned by Churchill but ten times worse, a contagion that has only one cure. Or does it? Here, we learn of Hollow Earth, a place where minds are downloaded enabling greater space and removal from our fragile existence.

“Mainframe inertia caused by a return to conscious dominion can alter ones state of mind. A burn out period of 20 minutes must be allowed in order for full reliable cognisance to return. By the time dependable awareness is restored it’s necessary to plug back in.”

There is a comic section with some neat art and then the sub sections titled and large that intersect the linked narratives. Then there is Lester and his freaky road trip, a view inside Hollow Earth reveals a man shagging his daughter before she too contracts the virulent Black Dog.

I especially enjoyed ‘Inner City Red.’ The manner in which the story rotates on the ‘Alien’ film, its psychological meaning, its dark sexuality works well within the constraints of being written as though a screen play copying and mocking its inspiration.

I confess that I probably don’t read as much of this sci-fi stuff as perhaps I should. I was concerned that I would find this tedious, it wasn’t. This was enjoyable, very much aimed at a young adult audience so I count my lucky stars to be included.

 If anyone from the splendid Onerios Books or, that other worthy bunch (see following article) New London Writers, reads this then I heartily recommend you and Chris Kelso speak. You all have a lot in common.

What's the difference between a smorgasbord, that is a meal of various hot and cold hors d'oeuvres, salads, casserole dishes, meats, cheeses, etc. and leftovers fit for compost? The answer is fresh quality.

I like anthologies. They offer snippets, introductions, a way to discover, before further investigation, authors you'd like to know more about. Of course, as with anything, it can be a bit hit and miss, after all such a platform cannot cater to all tastes. It can though, when produced properly, pique interest.

I recall way back in the early seventies buying an album, an anthology featuring Island Records upcoming acts. The album was amusingly called 'El Pea' and yes the front cover had a large, very green pea, displayed (well, it made me laugh). Among the acts (this was 1970) were such luminaries as Traffic, Jethro Tull and King Crimson. It also had acts who were little known, those whose talent had yet to be spotted by the general public. Mott the Hopple were among those as was the brilliant Nick Drake.

Edited by Alice Wickham, New London Writers profiles authors deserving more attention. There are but five stories, four of which are excerpts and one a short story.


A pub is a wonderful literary tool for bringing together an odd array of characters under mysterious circumstances. 'Red Lion,' is author Mickey Flynn's urbane, slightly warped, sinister portrayal of events that occur when a seemingly disparate bunch congregate to sup pints. This is the first of the four excerpts.

Molly Fitzgerald, blonde and fortyish, meets the odious, racist, sexist, rude and thoroughly unpleasant Marcus Mills who, upon spotting a Goth looking type sitting in the corner, declares the man of poof. The man in question is in fact a celebrity, a one time star, named Paul Velvet. His presence causes much discussion.

There is Sonya, the ill mannered barmaid. Dick and Dan, two working class oiks. Dick finds Dan a little coarse but, well, they are mates after all. They too spot and recognise Paul Velvet, a man who isn't all he seems. It then becomes apparent that the beloved watering hole is about to be sold but to whom?

Then we have the exotically named, Urich Rath, a psychiatrist who, during the course of giving therapy to a young Asian man, is unnerved when his patient reveals he knows the doctors sordid past.

The threads laid by author Mickey Flynn lead you on. Each character arrives in quick succession, each graphically defined, each adding further intrigue. It is the humour, dark though it is, that I found most pleasing. There is nothing so bad as a mystery that takes it self seriously and this one doesn't. I have no idea what the rest of the book is like but, if the same standard is mirrored here then it would be worth a read.

Shmavon Azatyan's 'Lets Talk' is a sad reflection on society, on bias and on men's attitude to self-same love. Presented from an Armenian/American's point of view, one who cannot get to grips with his best friends homosexuality. Ara is, or so he likes to portray himself, hetro. He drinks like a fish, shags like a Rhino and swears his hatred of all things 'gay.' For me it is pretty much a case of 'he doth protest too much.'

At first I found the authors attempts at dialogue 'clunky.' Much that was said seemed fragmented and rushed. It was as if he didn't really understand how to compose speech in a fluid fashion. I was wrong. What Shmavon Azatyan does is present his protagonist as a pained, injured and paranoid mess. For much of what Ara says is under the influence of alcohol. His rants are drink fuelled. His thoughts when vocalised, fume filled. Much of what he says is fractured and angry. This intelligent use of dialogue enables the reader to slice through Ara's protective shield, cut through all the guilt transference, in much the way a psychologist does, to reveal the hidden truth that he, Ara, hides.

Such bigotry is an ugly stain on mankind's shirt sleeves. This Shmavon Azatyan portrays well.

I don't normally do crime thrillers. By that I mean I seldom read them. Far too many run down tram lines of convention. I am, however, a sucker for Chandler and there are elements of his influence to be found in Nic Penrake's 'The Girl Who Wants Out.'

A man is called to an Asian whores flat. He walks in and is greeted by the girl in panties and shirt. In another room a client seeking anal sex has been murdered. What can a guy do when faced with a beautiful woman with a delectable arse who weeps on your shoulder?

As crime thrillers go, and as I said I am not their biggest fan, this opening chapter ropes you in. There are some taut one liners straight from the mouth of a modern day, London Phil Marlowe.

As crime fiction is by far and away the biggest selling genre I would suggest Nic Penrake has glorious future ahead of him. This particular snippet wetted my appetite and truly stands out.

Noor Sabah Tauqeer's 'The Silence of the Slaves' touches on an issue dear to my heart. Coming from a very matriarchal family, and by that I mean one filled with women subservient to men who not only accepted without rational thought that they were less worthy than their male counterparts but happily elevated me and other young males to virtual godhead, this story resonates. Noor is a young student whose chosen career path is writing. This excerpt, a little tautologous at times, contains a strong story, one that seeks to question not only contemporary Pakistan but also Islam's position in the modern world.

Quite why Diane van der Westhuizen's excerpt from her novel 'The Friendly Desert' reminds me of M.C.Beaton is a puzzle. But there you have it, it just does. The story has a fizziness about it, an ebullience, a spring in the step, sort of tongue in cheek yet also with a serious intent. The two protagonists, Johann Gerber and the man known only by his code name - The Rinkhals, come with some delightful characteristics. Johann is a bit of a snob, preferring his bespoke suits to those the rest of us have to buy whilst code name The Rinkhals, odious little twerp, has issues with personal hygiene. This is a fun read. Again I would like to be able to grab a copy

'The New London Writers Anthology' does the trick. It sets before you a considerable mix of styles and genres that fit neatly together to give an enjoyable read. At £3.84 from Kindle or £7.45 as regular book, it is well worth forking out for.



Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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