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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.)

By now, everyone familiar with the small press events knows that the word Alsiso was a typing error by writer Marion Arnott cover scan(she meant to write "Alison") which prompted Andrew Hook, Elastic Press' driving force, to assign a bunch of fellow-writers the task of creating twenty-three short stories about that mysterious name. A truly original idea which surpasses the old concept of the theme anthology. All the tales included in the book are titled "Alsiso", who, according to the different contributors, becomes in turn a type of bogeyman, a golem, a place, a virus and so on.

Sometimes you get the feeling that the word Alsiso has been forcefully introduced into a story already written or still going through its writing process, but most contributions do appear to have been purposely composed for the occasion. Take for instance the opening tale by KJ Bishop, who gets the project started elaborating on the meaning and the fate of the name Alsiso (originally a legendary murderer) over the centuries. Here's a nice story which constitutes the perfect opening for such a volume, but that could hardly stand alone outside the present anthology.

All in all, the book is very enjoyable and shows how refreshingly lively is the world of English-speaking imaginative fiction. Of course, not everything is first-rate, some stories start quite ambitiously only to fall flat after a few pages and some authors seem either uninspired or not completely up to the task of developing a piece of narrative about a non-existent word.

But among the good stories, some are very good indeed and those I'm going to mention in detail.

Kaaron Warren narrates about a woman who, when pregnant, is endowed with a peculiar gift, and about her sequence of husbands whose only assignment is to impregnate her. An impressive, offbeat piece of fantasy by an author probably still unknown to most readers.

Marie O'Reagan provides an enigmatic but charming story of obsession and love, where the word "alsiso" becomes a man's omnipresent mania.

Andrew Humphrey's outstanding contribution is ostensibly an Alsiso story (here the name indicates a small town in Spain), but actually a gorgeous piece of mainstream fiction about, brotherly love, human relationships in general, loneliness... in short about the essence of human life.

Also in Nicholas Royle's story "Alsiso" is a mere pretext for a beautiful, sad, evocative story of a man moving back to his native Manchester who has to face again the truth about a disquieting episode from his past. Excellent.

Andrew Hook himself takes part in his own project with an upsetting noir à la Raymond Chandler in which Alsiso is the name of a professional whore. The story, quite promising, could easily thrive and turn into a longer fictional work, a novella perhaps. Unfortunately in its present form it remains a sketchy tale, leaving the reader longing for more. Hopefully Hook will consider the possibility of expanding the plot, presenting the readers with many more pages to enjoy.

But, to me, the highlight of the anthology remains Conrad Williams' contribution, a compelling, unusual story where alsiso is a mysterious metal with unusual properties. The narrative grips the reader right from the outset thanks to the writer's prodigious ability as a storyteller.


Review by Mario Guslandi.

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