01/10/2008. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Norilana Books. 327 page hardback. Price: $27.95 (US), £18.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-934648-72-8).
check out website: www.norilana.com and www.johngrantpaulbarnett.com
Much of John Grant's material is a mixed bag. You either like or dislike his material, probably in equal quantities. If you were buying this book off the shelf, there is nothing on the back cover to tell you what this anthology is about which I hate to say is a serious omission from any publisher. After all, you want some inkling of what you're letting yourself in for.
Essentially, this book contains ten stories which might and might not dwell around a place called Fortusa which conceivably might be a contraction of 'Fort USA' although that isn't revealed in the book, only when I pondered on where the name came from. Some of the stories have been printed in magazines with an indication on the back page of some adjustment for this anthology. Whether this was to make them fit into the requirements here or not isn't revealed. For all I know, it could be just a matter of the place name and the re-occurrence of the Prestantra family name across the various stories.
If anything, its only the penultimate story 'The Egg' that really gives away any inkling of what is going on in this somewhat dictatorial reality. You really are dropped in and have to work out what is going on. John Grant has a great use of language but tends to meander away some times. The story 'Tempter', for instance, starts off with a court jester who has some say with his regal dictator but then changes from what could have been an interesting take on control into some metaphysics about what constitutes reality just as it was getting me really interested. This might appeal to Grant's fans but it tends to make me think he's missing the plot or at least not being consistent to the way the story starts up by going state-of-consciousness writing. A shame really because Grant does show he can write some original humour here even with the shortest story aptly called 'The Most Marvellous Story In The Whole World' and what you get when an alligator follows his instructions for making a meal out of a politician.
It's unfortunate that many of the stories here don't sink in although I suspect its only when you reach 'The Egg' where the overall plot is made clear that you can have a serious think that you might consider reading again. Clearly then, this book is not for the casual reader or someone who just wants a good yarn and will no doubt provide some arguments at SF Cons as to what it all means.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA