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The Alsiso Project

edited by Andrew Hook

(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 cover scantheme: 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 it.

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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