Idiopathic Condition Red by Paul Pinn
(Time Bomb Publishing, £6.50, paperback, 2001, 217 pages www.freewebs.com/paulpinn/)
Paul Pinn's new self-published collection of short fiction starts with a dedication to "...those who maintained faith, especially the independent press pioneers of the nineties." As the publisher of Nightfall from 1990-1993 (coincidentally, where one of the stories in this collection first appeared), and a small player in that scene, I appreciate and echo the sentiment. Hey, if you want objective reviewing, look elsewhere.
As with most collections there is a variance in the quality of the stories chosen and a quick check of the author's notes at the back of the book (a nice touch) reveals a spread of ten years in their writing. However the gems - and there are several - outweigh the ones that do not work so well. It is a testament to the writer's skill that even the unconvincing ones are simply overshadowed by the better work.
Pinn kicks off with a classic pub-watcher's story "Unforgiving Visitation", pervaded with a palpable sense of panic and delusion. Pinn is, to the best of my knowledge, a psychiatric care worker and this experience permeates much of his fiction. "Four Days to Forever" is the aforementioned story that I had the pleasure of publishing in Nightfall in 1991, and remains a powerful tale, with excellent evocation of time and place, in this case India. Pinn is adept at using his own travel experiences, and in the same manner as the psychology, foreign travel - in particular India - is a constant in his work.
"Children of the Old, Demons of the New" sees Portuguese soldiers fast-forwarded through time to a rave on Goa, with sharp dialogue and characterisations. "Backlash" is probably the first Pinn SF that I have read and proves that he is no less adept with the trappings of this genre than he normally is with psychological horror. This is apparently an Interzone reject . Join the club, Paul! "The Dehumanizers" is more well-trod Pinn territory (to those familiar with his novels), adept police procedural and serial killer profiling, some chillingly nonchalant death scenes but ultimately an unconvincing payoff, which is a shame, as there is a novel in miniature under development here, characters and plot compressed into a claustrophobic 27 pages. "The Flayer" is my favourite story in the collection, a dark, sumptuous, seductive tale of South American sex and flesh and body art that recalls Barker's Books of Blood, minus the homoeroticism. Pinn's sexual colours are firmly on the mast here.
"Snatchtrap" is sexy horrific science fiction that is better than the slightly naff title would suggest, as is "Thrid & Shift", a story that would not look out of place in Asimov's or indeed Interzone. The title story, "Idiopathic Condition Red", is a superbly constructed piece about delusional fantasy that brings all the author's knowledge and skill to bear, and "The Recalcitrant Man" is my second favourite by a close margin, a post-cyberpunk morality tale that reads uneasily post-September 11th (al-Qaida's next mode of attack?), that I would have loved to have written myself. And you can't give higher praise than that.
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© Noel K Hannan 2 March 2002