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Glorifying Terrorism

edited by Farah Mendlesohn

(Rackstraw Press, 2006, £15.00, 268 pages; ISBN 978-0-9554688-0-3.)

Review by Stuart Carter

cover scanIn his Introduction Andrew McKie does a very fine job of explaining that the point of Glorifying Terrorism is: '...to break the law proposed by the British Government designed to outlaw anything which might be read or interpreted as that.' (p.7) In a sense it's a poke in the stupid government's eye, a deliberately inflammatory statement that waggles its bare arse at Parliament and says 'Here I am, come and get me', whilst also seriously attempting to do what sf does best -- i.e. mutter darkly 'If this continues...' and then extrapolate onwards from that. It's something sf writers have been doing for decades, so why should we stop and listen now? Well, for a start sf isn't very often about extrapolation (regardless of what the author may insist); more often it's simply about some particular bugaboo of the writer's. However, in this case the myopia is absolutely appropriate. It's a rich irony that Glorifying Terrorism uses the quintessentially sf-nal approach of talking about the present by referencing an imaginary future one, when in this particular instance talking about the present is exactly what we want to do!

Given the importance of the dystopian novel within sf (they're so important that many have been reclassified and co-opted by the Literary Establishment), it seems reassuring that sf can still muster such a necessary and combative response. Indeed, such an evocative, emotional and heartfelt revulsion against the possibilities of the Terrorism Act 2006 is, again, exactly what is needed to combat the hysterical plans of a government seemingly hell-bent on scaring its more naïve citizens into an early grave. For as Benjamin Franklin, so fittingly quoted on the last page of the last story, says: 'They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.' (p.259)

Farah Mendlesohn has collected 25 short, sharp, shocking stories, all dealing with the basic theme of 'Terrorism'; despite approaching such a nebulous theme from some very different angles, all are worth reading. There are no real lapses in quality of the kind you might reasonably expect in an 'issue' anthology like this one; in fact the quality of the story-telling is actually pretty decent throughout, as is the spread of originality in approach. I don't want to single out any individual stories because most of them have their strengths, and read slowly over the course of a week or two Glorifying Terrorism is a superb vaccine against the relentless drip-drip-drip of the with-us-or-against-us attitude expressed by our political leaders and promulgated by a soundbite-driven news media, if only because even the shortest of these stories takes longer for us to read than any TV or radio news item takes to be read to us. Regardless of the given viewpoint or attitudes expressed within the stories, and whether they agree with it or not, the reader is forced to think more, to imagine, to empathise -- to try to understand the bigger 'why?' of the terrorism, rather than simply the immediate 'what?'. The book's title is, then, satirical in intent, entirely dependent upon who is applying the metaphorical 'glory' to the subjective 'terror'.

This is one book you won't find in WH Smith's, and more's the pity, so why not plant a copy or two behind Michael Crichton and Andy McNabb in the racks of your local store the next time you're there?


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