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Adventure: volume one

edited by Chris Roberson

(Monkeybrain Books, $14.95, trade paperback, 400 pages, November 2005.)

Review by Keith Brooke

Adventure, volume 1, edited by Chris RobersonBilled as "the rebirth of the classic pulp magazine in book form, with both literary sophistication and action", Adventure is a decent anthology, but it didn't quite excite me as much as I had anticipated.

This is the first volume in an annual series that sets out to rescue adventure fiction -- by which editor Chris Roberson means a mode of storytelling irrespective of genre -- from being tossed out in the dirty bathwater of pulp fiction. The stories selected here strive to display the stylistic and intellectual sophistication of the best of genre -- and non-genre -- fiction, while harking back to the thrills and spills of the pulps.

The result is patchy, but is certainly worth your time, and I suspect that later volumes will achieve Roberson's aims more effectively as the series hits its stride. It's hard to see quite how many of the stories really fit the remit of the anthology. Paul Di Filippo's "Eel Pie Stall", for instance, is a mysterious and striking piece of writing, revelling in the senses, in language and in structure, the story looping eel-like up on itself, but -- extraordinary story as it is -- the only connection it really seems to have with pulp-style adventure fiction is that it appears in a book called Adventure. Another highlight, Michael Kurland's "Four Hundred Slaves" is a compelling Roman whodunnit (although not terribly taxing on the whodunnit front), but it's not exactly packed with action. Pulp-style adventure? Hmm...

Michael Moorcock's "Dogfight Donvan's Day Off", on the other hand, is a cracking adventure-packed wartime romp, full of action and derring-do, as spunky flying ace Dogfight Donovan saves the day in a series of increasingly unlikely adventures. A complete contrast is Neal Asher's "Acephalous Dreams", a story that's both particularly violent and rather hard going at first, with its dense, brusque prose, but turns into a fascinating story of biological engineering. Chris Roberson's "Prowl Unceasing", naturally enough, demonstrates the kind of story the author-editor wants to rescue, as he follows a young Abraham van Helsing and a mysterious Indian sea captain as they take refuge from the monsoon in the home of the ruler of Sarawak. Told from the alternating viewpoints of these two characters, as written in their journals, this one builds up real tension -- of events, between characters, and of anticipation -- in a lesson in fine storytelling.

Other stories I enjoyed included Mark Finn's Mexican jungle sorcery tale "The Bridge of Teeth", Kage Baker's rather unfortunately titled "The Unfortunate Gytt", and Lou Anders' opening part of a serial "new model Western", which is fascinating, although I'm not quite sure how well it will suit serialisation in an annual anthology.

Perhaps the most interesting story here is Marc Singer's "Johnny Come Lately". Marred by descent into too much time spent summarising the big back-story, when this one peaks it peaks high, and what's more, it's a superhero story with literary chutzpah -- exactly the kind of thing I'd hoped for when I started to read this book. That it's a first publication makes it particularly comment-worthy.

So, purely as an anthology, this is pretty good, but it doesn't quite live up to its own agenda. I'll certainly be interested to see how the series develops, though.

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