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Nemonymous 3

(author details to follow with Part Four)

(96 pages, landscape format paperback, April 2003. See www.nemonymous.com for all pricing and distribution details.)

The ground rules are well-established now: cover scannone of the stories in the current issue credited to their authors; said authors all bound to secrecy about their contributions until their identities are revealed in the subsequent issue. So, in Nemonymous 3 we have 21 un-credited short stories, and also the unveiling of the authors for the second issue. The unveiling section includes the authors' comments on the whole anonymous process, including John Travis's note about his earlier "nemonymous-type stunt" when he submitted a poem called "Ode to Psychics" to a radio competition, the poem consisting of two blank pages -- which poet John Hegley then "read" on air...

I've commented before about how the experience of reading this unattributed fiction differs from the more conventional (see my review of Nemonymous 1), and it's an experiment that works better with each issue. The artifice is less striking now, and we simply have a magazine with words -- a very refreshing experience. Nemonymous 1 was something of a game, a novelty, but Nemonymous 3 just is. There's still a fair bit of idle guesswork going on about authors' identities (I think I spotted two or three), but it's more natural simply to sit back and let the words do their work.

Elsewhere, the nemonymous proprietor has drawn parallels with other forms of art -- architecture, principally -- where relative anonymity is the norm and generally we only trouble to find the identity of a building's creator after the event, after the interaction. Even in an art gallery, we tend to experience the work first and then read the label. Writing and music are perhaps the oddities, where we approach a work loaded with preconceptions and the labelling dominates. I'm sure most of us have authors whose work we would never intend to read, that judgement based on some previous encounter with the author's work, but this militates against exactly those authors who are willing to experiment and vary their styles, approaches, subject matter. If an author is only as good as their last story, then everything is in favour of those who write the same thing over and over. Nemonymity breaks that limitation, and should be applauded.

So what about the stories this time around? The first two issues have established a fine track record, with honourable mentions and reprints in Year's Best anthologies, and contributors' lists which turn out to contain a range of new, established and award-winning authors. Nemonymous stories are mostly marked by the high quality of their prose and, whilst this is not specifically a genre publication, weirdness underlies many of these pieces.

For a time, as I worked through this issue, I thought the magazine may have settled down to a level of nice-enough stories which didn't amount to much. Where were the knockout stories that leap up and grab you, of which there were at least two or three in each previous issue? Even at this level, the magazine is enjoyable and well worth its cost, but I was hoping for more.

We have "The Bluest of Grey Skies", an enjoyable little parable about how we view the world, the glass half-empty or half-full; and "Practice", which rather laboriously builds up a head of tension through the description of objects in a room. There's the engaging "Genie", gently moving as it quietly explores people on the fringes, ignored by society. "Gerald and the Soul Doctor" is a fairly tedious piece of extrapolation about a man who looks for money in the streets; "Otterwise" a more interesting piece about how tough it is to be creative, darling; and "Sirens", about a love triangle between a rather dull man, his rather dull suitor, and his greenhouse plants.

Enjoyable enough, but a bit flat if this is all there is...

Picking up a bit, we have "The Rest of Larry", a blackly funny story of a man who wakes up in the woods legless. And rotting. But despite the moments of brilliant macabre humour, the edge is lost by the protagonists' dim-witted behaviour and the too-easy ending. There's "The Ballerina", which was interesting although it made no lasting impression (I've just had to flick through the magazine again to remind myself what it was about). And "Shark in a Foggy Sea", a sensuous tale that drips darkness with every word and is almost certainly full of Freudian resonances. And "Scrounge", a decent enough, twisting'n'turning, PK Dick-ish horror story.

And then, here we are. "Twilight Music" is a powerful, wistful story of an aging mother and her daughter and the space between them, the weight of unfulfilled expectation, the ownership of others. Magical. And another! "Mobile, Phone" falters at first: for some reason I had to read the opening paragraph about four times to make sense of it. The character's name, Atsuko, opens the paragraph so the "A" appears as a big drop-capital, so it could be "Atsuko" or "A tsuko" whatever a tsuko is; and then, is Atsuko the "he" who had plunged the knife in, or the "her" who had the knife plunged in? That minor quibble aside, this one is a stunner, a definite highlight. It's a mosaic of images from the life of a woman who is trapped in her car, a knife wound in her side, her mobile phone tantalisingly out of reach. There is so much said, and so much un-said in this powerful story.

Back to the merely okay, we have "The Small Miracle", a dreamy fabulation of quality prose which was only of passing interest to this reader, and "Digging for Adults", which similarly was well-written but did little for me. "Insanity over Creamer's Field" is a bizarre tale of a giant floating foetus which appears over a field one morning, and the people's and birds' reactions. "Warp" is a pulpy psychic detective story with some brilliant lines, but good pulp fiction is more than just a collection of sharp lines and this falls over in its easy plotting and flat recounting of the action. "Sleeping Beauty" is an incident struggling to be a story, a drunk recounting a road traffic accident he has witnessed and how it relates to his own history.

Peaking again, "Lucia" is a beautiful, dreamy, rich story of a beggar girl and an important lesson she learns in a magical encounter with another reality. There's barely a word misplaced here. A real gem! And "In the Steam Room" is another cracker. This one could be seen as an homage to Geoff Ryman's 253 (or, less kindly, an author's finger-exercise in trying out Ryman's technique), a novel told from the viewpoints of each character in each of the 253 seats in a London Underground train and the connections between them, each viewpoint given only 253 words. "In the Steam Room" is less rigidly structured, and the connections between the characters more tenuous, in that they just happen to be sharing a sauna and reacting to the same incidents and atmosphere. It falters a little to start with, because the first viewpoint character is so filled with animosity that a dislikeable tone is set from the start, but the other vignettes are crammed with insight and observation, and the final viewpoint gives a wonderfully enigmatic close. Great stuff.

Finally, "Chemo", is a strong piece highlighting the easy slide into cruelty in a formerly-loving relationship, told from the viewpoint of a man who has forgotten what it is to be loved by his wife; strong, but unconvincing in places. And "The Place where Lost Things Go" is a sweet little piece, back to the merely good.

So: another fine issue, with four stand-out stories and many that display strengths in a variety of ways. The magazine is just as beautifully-produced as previous issues, and long may it continue its bold experiment of separating the work from the label.


Review by Keith Brooke.

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