Anthology review: 23/10/20
BEYOND. AN ANTHOLOGY
Editors: Dematagoda, McCarthy and Porteous
"... There is an exciting sense of experiment running through the anthology."
The collection begins with a quote from Rimbaud – ‘il faut être absolutement moderne’. This is from ‘Une saison en enfer’ – a book hailed as the precursor to Modernism, a book that readers have interpreted multiple ways, taking the message that literary fantasy and romance must be eschewed – but if so, then what then are they to be replaced with? This is something that Modernists, Surrealists and other movements have looked for an answer to. How does one become ‘absolutely modern’? And do you risk an enormous push-back from readers who have grown up reading and living in traditional narrative structures?
In their foreword to this collection of futuristic narratives, the editors describe their desire to present stories which are not simply regurgitations of what has gone before, to ‘discover and promote new writing that recaptures something of the febrile vitality of those early twentieth century avant-gardes’, to provide some alternatives to the infantilism of contemporary culture, to ‘reimagine and recover the ideas of the future’.
In order to do that many of the writers in the anthology have experimented with form. Here we have a story in txt spk. Here we have a story told around a dry technical report. Here we have a story from several points of view. Here is a story interspersed with information from a leaflet. Here is a story set in a future society about telling stories. Here are notes that interrupt and overtake the story. Here are chains of thought. Some of the stories are like a murky mirror; the reader gets a vague impression, an uneasy feeling of what’s going on, but without confirmation.
Many of the stories I enjoyed, only a couple I didn’t. There is an exciting sense of experiment running through the anthology, but some of the stories push their form to the limit and past it. I found this a flaw in the collection, some of the stories might have worked better as a short blast. Some of their forms are so different to the Aristotelian three-part structure that after a few pages I stopped enjoying my reading experience. The different modes of storytelling are what’s exciting about the collection, sometimes more so than the actual content of the story.
As a longtime reader of speculative fiction, the stories I enjoyed most were ‘It’s nice when time stops’ a story about telling a story; ‘The causeway’ with its future vision of what might happen after the present rise of the far right; and ‘If I could be me one last time, I would be you’, a story about immortality through some sort of soul/memory transference.
‘The Possession of Desire’ is very reminiscent of ‘4:48 Psychosis’ by Sarah Kane, with its non-identified speaker, who is interspersed with information about a medical procedure to remove desire. An avalanche of words which transmits its story to the reader through feelings, rather than coherent sentences.
There are also some stories which deal with disturbing present situations but using a more traditional storytelling mode; ‘Ivy Withers’ is perhaps the most familiar in terms of its structure, but shocking in its normalising of the final, almost throwaway, act of murder.
As a short story writer I enjoyed the diverse, experimental ways of telling a story, but as a reader, I’m not so sure I enjoyed it as much. I am interested in alternative narrative structures, but as a reader, maybe the three-act structure is hard wired into my DNA. However, there are stories within this anthology that made me think hard about the way that I write stories, and overall, whether you are a writer or a reader, this collection will make you think, in general.
Review: Sam Hall
Editors Dematagoda, McCarthy and Porteous - BEYOND. AN ANTHOLOGY