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i-o

by Simon Logan

(Prime, $12.00, 110 pages, paperback; January 2002.)

This is a strange and original book, likely to appeal very strongly indeed to some cover scanand completely repel others. According to its form and its cover copy it's a collection of short stories, but the stories are so much of a piece -- even though not overtly linked -- that it's hard to see the text as other than a series of windows out onto a uniquely bleak, definitively mechanistic worldview.

The typical narrator here is a brutally cyborgized individual -- presumably originally human but just as plausibly originally machine, or perhaps always a mixture, perhaps even without a physical machine component but nevertheless so dehumanized that fleshliness is irrelevant -- forced by unnamed, unknown, unknowable masters to persist in a self-destructively banal, repetitive task that, at least from the narrator's limited knowledge, is no more than an exercise in terminal futility. The passions these creatures display amid devastated landscapes of emotional barbarity are at one and the same time derived from human ones and quite divorced from them.

Here are a couple of brief extracts that seem to me to epitomize the book and that may explain, by example, more clearly the ethos of the whole:

The machine was perfect, as it always had been, the production line endless and unflawed. It built the builders, an endless stream of mass-produced gods, their own creators, their own destroyers. ["partofit"]

and

In a few hours she will be screaming and clawing once more at her pneumatic prison but for now she is as peaceful as depression itself. The great steel rods that breathe for her slide in rhythmical patterns all around the massive contraption, hissing at me and spewing hot greasy steam at odd angles. Rusted cogs turn in aged circles, grinding against one another, sparking. Differently coloured fluids pulse through thin copper veins.
I kiss the glass before her lips and whisper a prayer of solitude to her as she stirs ever so slightly on her ice-white pillows. ["iron lung"]

This is a short book, which is a good thing; the intensity of Logan's vision is such that it's hard to take more than a short book's worth of it. By its end you may find yourself revelling in revulsion, laughing with hatred, as if somehow your emotional reactions had been unplugged from their appropriate areas of the brain and then the plugs replaced in all the wrong sockets. It's a matter for individual readers whether they'll enjoy such a mentally dislocating experience. In the end this particular reader couldn't decide one way or the other, but was left filled with admiration for Logan's ambition in achieving this effect.

Aside from those deliberate irritations that Logan deploys as instruments in his grating, rasping, tearing orchestra of the dehumanized imagination, there's one irritation that this book could have done without: unusually for Prime, the text is appallingly proofread. Perhaps the only proofing was done by a computer spellcheck ... which would have a certain thematic appropriateness but is inexcusable nonetheless.

You won't forget the ambience of this book in a hurry, although the details of the different events and scenarios within it soon become blurred one with another. You may wish you had; and you may decide to avoid i-o rather than risk such an outcome. What fantasy should really be all about is taking such risks.


Review by John Grant.


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