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Shenanigans
by Noel K Hannan; with an introduction by Ian Watson
(Pendragon Press, 255 pages, paperback, 6.99; September 2000.)

It could be argued that it's too early for a single author collection to be published: for a writer just breaking into the professional markets, an early collection will inevitably rely on weaker stories to bulk out the book.

But then Noel K Hannan has rarely opted for the conventional route.

With a background rooted firmly in the comicbook scene (credits include the Streetmeat series and the licensed continuation of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead) a lot of Hannan's work has been self-published, appearing in smart little chapbooks from his Bad to the Bone and ANKH imprints. Hannan can mix it with the big guys, of course, as amply demonstrated by the slick and stylish "A Night on the Town", first published in New Worlds, but Shenanigans brings many of his stories to a more conventional SF audience for the first time.

cover scanUnfortunately, first impressions probably won't help Hannan reach out to a wider audience. The cover, while skilfully executed, as you would expect from the talented Frazer Irving, is ... well ... just a little tacky. Gun-toting, fishnet-stockinged, be-sporranned babes don't immediately lead me to expect a high-quality collection of short fiction, which is a shame.

Get past the cover and you'll find a book well worth your attention: a few weaker efforts, some decent stories, and two or three gems.

As I've said before (in my review of New Worlds, where the story first appeared) "A Night on the Town" is a breathtaking exercise in mystery and atmosphere. It's Saturday night in Nuevo Caracas, Miguel's botanist parents are away in the rainforest, his older brother off on a school trip, and Miguel is alone in the family apartment with the beautiful Maria Del Fuego. But what, exactly, does it take to turn her on? Determined to impress, Miguel takes Maria out into the barrio in search of a legendary restaurant. But in the barrio the people have nothing -- which means they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from a rich kid like Miguel...

"Bad Jihad" is another standout story. Killed in action in 1987, Private Hanan Bashir is destined to be reconstructed as the perfect fighting machine: the Biological Attack Djinn. Told episodically in a succession of journal extracts, eye witness accounts and secret reports, this is Noel Hannan at his best, marrying his detailed understanding of military technology with highly-skilled story-telling.

In "Stone Cold Killer", we enter Purgatory, a brutal city district where the cops don't go and the gangs rule. Clute, Purgatory's only doctor, inevitably encounters the victims of the district's violence, offering an ideal window into the dark side of the city. In this story he encounters a prostitute in trouble and a young killer determined to be the baddest of the bad, all of which is neatly resolved as the violence unfolds: a moral tale, in the midst of immorality and degradation.

Unfortunately, this story is slightly marred by inconsistencies with an earlier -- and less successful -- Purgatory story, "Medical Ethics". In the earlier story, for example, Clute routinely carried out abortions for Purgatory's prostitutes; and then in the second story, he is suddenly a Catholic who refuses to terminate. Tighter editing -- and, in particular, proofreading (there are far too many typos), would have greatly benefited Shenanigans.

Of the less successful stories, there is still plenty to interest and entertain. Indeed, two of the stories ("Divide by Zero" and "Thoughts on Life and Death from the Tarkaha") are good enough to appear elsewhere in infinity plus, but simply don't stand out in Shenanigans. And yes, there are some duds ("The War Diary of Connolly Troon", a straightforward transplant of the Irish Troubles into space that gains nothing by its science-fictionalisation; "Hyper Golgotha" and "The Brightside and Monger War" are two stories that simply fail to convince).

But no, it's not too early for us to be looking at the collected works of Noel K Hannan: it's about time he started to reach a wider audience and I hope Shenanigans helps him to do this.

Review by Keith Brooke.

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© Keith Brooke 16 September 2000