Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: "The New Death and others"

The following is a little different than my normal music or comic book reviews, as it covers a collections of prose short stories and poems by James Hutchings, author of the Teleleli blog; Mr. Hutchings provided me with a free copy in exchange for a review, which follows below.

The New Death and others is a collection of 44 short stories and 19 poems; in PDF form the document clocks in a 94 pages, not including the cover image.  The short stories, as one can imagine from doing the math, are very short - many are a page or less, and the longest runs about six pages in length.  Many of the stories rely primarily on ironic or twist endings (O. Henry has much to answer for), and several of the stories are based around puns and similar wordplay.  These would be fine if spread out a bit more, but reading several such stories in short succession quickly diminishes what enjoyment I might have otherwise derived from these particular offerings.

Hutchings is at his best with his (relatively) longer pieces.  'How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name', 'The Scholar and the Moon', and 'The God of the City of Dust' are all fine fantasy pieces, showing no small amount of influence by Dunsany, as well as perhaps a bit of Lovecraft's Dreamlands stories and C.A. Smith's fantasy tales.  'The Adventure of the Murdered Philanthropist', despite its reliance on puns, is an enjoyable spoof on Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.  'Todd' is an effective modern-day horror story.  All of these stories show potential, and I hope that Hutchings' further writings follow more in their vein, as opposed to the one-note shorter pieces.

As for the poetry, well, that's something that's even more up to individual taste, and as a result is harder to critique in a manner useful to anyone reading this review.  That said, I liked several of the pieces offered here, written in a traditional rhyme structure, which I happen to prefer (you can peddle your hippie 'free verse' elsewhere, mister).  Occasionally a line of a particular piece came off as a bit forced, but most of the poems here flow reasonably well.  Four of the poems are actually adaptations of prose short stories (H.P. Lovecraft's 'Under the Pyramids', Robert E. Howard's 'The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune', 'The Garden of Adompha' by Clark Ashton Smith, and 'Charon' by Lord Dunsany), and these are some of the best poems available in the collection, perhaps because they are based off of stories that are already quite enjoyable in their own right.

The New Death and others is available for download at both Amazon and Smashwords, in a variety of formats, for a mere $0.99.  Despite the uneven quality of the different stories and poems here, I think that the better pieces in the collection are worth the price of such a meager sum.  Anything that costs a buck can pretty much be justified as an impulse buy, and I believe that there's enough here of value that such a purchase would not be regretted.

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