The Alsiso Project
(Elastic Press, www.elasticpress.com,
£6.00, 329 pages, paperback, published 1 January 2004.)
The Alsiso Project is an unusual anthology in a number of ways.
Firstly and most noticeably, it has a concept rather than a theme:
divided into three sections, each headed "Alsiso", the book consists
entirely of stories with the title "Alsiso", and each contributing author
has had to give their own meaning to this meaningless word. A couple
of the contributors have cheekily twisted the spelling and punctuation
of the word to suit their own ends. Kaaron Warren has "Al's Iso Bar",
a quiet nightspot run by a former weatherman; Antony Mann has a number
plate, "ALS 150". Others take the word as it is, and plant it as an
unknown element in our cultural history, and I think these must rank
among the book's most successful experiments. Certainly KJ Bishop's
and Alasdair Stuart's stories are well-placed at the start of the first
and second sections, acting as entry points into the rest of the anthology.
Secondly, The Alsiso Project is unusual in its overall quality.
Normally one might expect to pick out a couple of gems in any anthology
and divide the rest into the average and the duff; the "Alsisos" are
a fairly even split between the good and the excellent, and there's
nary a duffer in sight. I got on especially well with the first section
of the book, but each section has something -- well, several somethings
-- going for it. The usual protocol of "If you don't like it, there'll
be another one along in a minute" hardly applies. Beside those already
mentioned, I feel the following stories are particularly noteworthy.
Matt Dinniman and Tamar Yellin both present Alsiso as a word of destructive
power, he in an amusingly Cronenbergesque style, she with a more sinister
atmosphere. Alsiso is the key to a fey mirror/dream realm in John Grant's
Manhattan and Brian Howell's Japan, both a skilful juxtaposition of
fantasy and urbanity. Elsewhere there are mordant character pieces from
Marie O'Regan, Andrew Hook and Gary Couzens, and a satisfying slice
of straight-up SF from Justina Robson.
Thirdly -- and let's not be coy about it -- the price. The Alsiso
Project retails at six pounds, inclusive of P&P. Knock that off,
and you're actually paying about four quid to four fifty for the book
itself. How? What madness is this? I suppose Elastic Press doesn't have
the overhead costs of the typical large publishing house, but that's
not generally how it works with small presses. Still, whatever the arrangement,
this must be considered a positive boon to the reader who wouldn't normally
buy mail-order fiction, and there's no reason not to take a chance on
Top marks to Elastic Press for this original, imaginative, high quality
anthology. Plus it's cheap! Who could ask for more?
Review by John Toon.
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