31 October 2009

An A-Z of Possible Worlds by A. C. Tillyer

I just finished A. C. Tillyer's An A-Z of Possible Worlds and am happy to post today, on our spooky national holiday, on my successful completion of Carl's Readers Imbibing Peril challenge. The stories were strange and fantastical and in parts disgusting and contemplative or both:

  • Evolution's dire twists and turnings for creatures that used to be humans
  • An unmappable island with residents who have no concept of now or anything beyond here and there
  • Tedious hum drum vampires, dreary commuters as boring as any human
  • A boutique strip club catering to the strangest tastes, with a new dancer willing to bare all and then some
  • The most beautiful and ornate palace ever, lovingly constructed though burdensome on the populace, with an unknown and unknowable king.
  • A completely impregnable island fortress, forever ready against an unknown enemy (read the sample of A is for Archipelago).
Provided in bite sized serving sizes, the tales are easily digested and individually wrapped. The petite booklets are are delightfully portable, ready to read surreptitiously hidden in a class binder or conveniently retrieved from even a small purse.

The tales stick in my brain after reading, surfacing time and again for me to mull over. If vampires were real and did live today, how would they have evolved? What is the logical limit of exhibitionism when cinema-vérité becomes stale? In a perfectly engineered city, what place is there for misfortune?

I'm grateful to the author for leaving me with such mental fodder to mull over post-read. The best books excel at this - they summon reflection in the reader (willing or no) long after the book cover is closed.

I'll examine one story in detail as it gave me nightmares after. In M for Metropolis, a group of tourists seeking an "extreme experience" visit a post-urban environment where  the metropolis has collapsed. The inhabitants are presented for their elucidation. With clever misdirection, the author first presents the guide carefully explaining the precautions and procedures to be used by the tourists, putting the reader into the position of meta-tourist; the reader will see the displays on exhibit and also be watching the tourists. The curiosity-seeking tourists and the bored guide are both presented, unvarnished, equally as perverse in their own way as anything they might see.

The guide, numb from overexposure, provides no explanation for the 'exhibits.' The tourists are herded through the experience much like tourists anywhere - and the parallels between the tourists on display to the reader and the 'exhibits' on display to them continue. The tourists react clumsily and are terrifically unsuited to have anything beyond a shocked reaction - and is the reader better off than they? They gape, they retch, they cower and beg to be extracted - the reader has no escape from the story lodged in their brain. At the end, any sympathy for the tourists (and any of us who's fumbled through the London Underground maps as a traveler can sympathize) - all that sympathy erodes, and in its stead is left disgust at the tourists' callousness and lack of empathy with the post-human residents of the failed city.

Speaking of endings: today's post was written from The Bean Cup, which is sadly closing. I'll miss them.

Disclosure: the book reviewed was an unsolicited gift from Roast Books. Check out Roast Books for unusual fiction presented in original ways.

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Unknown said...

Are they all that disturbing? It sounds interesting; a perfect form for people who are busy. I've had trouble getting through a book in any sort of time lately, so I may need to check these out.

Andy said...

Richard you won't regret it as they are excellent thought provoking stories, for their size they pack a heck of a punch! They provide an insightful understanding of being an individual yet being part of the crowd and the conflicts that bring.

Eva your review is enjoyable and M is for Metropolis is frightening, and you would hope we would never come to it, but...

Like you say these books leave the reader in a reflective mood.

Kate Forsyth said...

Hi Eva!
Just wondering if you'd be interested in doing an interview with an Australian writer who's struggling to overcome the tyranny of distance (Australia is a loooong way away). I write fantasy for both children and adults but my most recent books in the UK are historical adventues for 10+ - I'd be happy for my publishers Scholastic to send you a review copy ... my website is www.kateforsyth.com.au if you're interested - and I'm sorry to approach you via the comments page but I couldn't find an email ...

Kate Forsyth