Adventure: volume one
(Monkeybrain Books, $14.95, trade paperback, 400 pages, November 2005.)
as "the rebirth of the classic pulp magazine in book form, with both
literary sophistication and action", Adventure is a decent anthology,
but it didn't quite excite me as much as I had anticipated.
This is the first volume in an annual series that sets out to rescue
adventure fiction -- by which editor Chris Roberson means a mode of
storytelling irrespective of genre -- from being tossed out in the dirty
bathwater of pulp fiction. The stories selected here strive to display
the stylistic and intellectual sophistication of the best of genre --
and non-genre -- fiction, while harking back to the thrills and spills
of the pulps.
The result is patchy, but is certainly worth your time, and I suspect
that later volumes will achieve Roberson's aims more effectively as
the series hits its stride. It's hard to see quite how many of the stories
really fit the remit of the anthology. Paul Di Filippo's "Eel Pie Stall",
for instance, is a mysterious and striking piece of writing, revelling
in the senses, in language and in structure, the story looping eel-like
up on itself, but -- extraordinary story as it is -- the only connection
it really seems to have with pulp-style adventure fiction is that it
appears in a book called Adventure. Another highlight, Michael
Kurland's "Four Hundred Slaves" is a compelling Roman whodunnit (although
not terribly taxing on the whodunnit front), but it's not exactly packed
with action. Pulp-style adventure? Hmm...
Michael Moorcock's "Dogfight Donvan's Day Off", on the other hand,
is a cracking adventure-packed wartime romp, full of action and derring-do,
as spunky flying ace Dogfight Donovan saves the day in a series of increasingly
unlikely adventures. A complete contrast is Neal Asher's "Acephalous
Dreams", a story that's both particularly violent and rather hard going
at first, with its dense, brusque prose, but turns into a fascinating
story of biological engineering. Chris Roberson's "Prowl Unceasing",
naturally enough, demonstrates the kind of story the author-editor wants
to rescue, as he follows a young Abraham van Helsing and a mysterious
Indian sea captain as they take refuge from the monsoon in the home
of the ruler of Sarawak. Told from the alternating viewpoints of these
two characters, as written in their journals, this one builds up real
tension -- of events, between characters, and of anticipation -- in
a lesson in fine storytelling.
Other stories I enjoyed included Mark Finn's Mexican jungle sorcery
tale "The Bridge of Teeth", Kage Baker's rather unfortunately titled
"The Unfortunate Gytt", and Lou Anders' opening part of a serial "new
model Western", which is fascinating, although I'm not quite sure how
well it will suit serialisation in an annual anthology.
Perhaps the most interesting story here is Marc Singer's "Johnny Come
Lately". Marred by descent into too much time spent summarising the
big back-story, when this one peaks it peaks high, and what's more,
it's a superhero story with literary chutzpah -- exactly the kind of
thing I'd hoped for when I started to read this book. That it's a first
publication makes it particularly comment-worthy.
So, purely as an anthology, this is pretty good, but it doesn't quite
live up to its own agenda. I'll certainly be interested to see how the
series develops, though.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: