Monday, 16 September 2013
The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth, reviewed by Stephen Theaker
This is an intriguing project, but while one appreciates the careful work and thought that went into it, it isn’t, unfortunately, very interesting to read. A quote on the back cover that mentions Jorge Luis Borges can be accounted for only by his having written about fictional works of reference; this isn’t a book that plays intellectual games. It’s awfully dry, the fiction unpredictable only in so far as it’s about a mad scientist with a passion for fashioning freaks, rather than the discovery of fantastical creatures (though Black claims that at least some specimens are real). The fiction does the job it is asked to do, putting the diagrams in context, but it is very much by-the-numbers and has little to say that you wouldn’t have guessed at from a flick through the book. It’s like the functional, got-a-job-to-do text used in art books like The Tourist’s Guide to Transylvania or The Diary of a Spaceperson to thread disparate images together, and one wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the two elements of the book were at one point intended to be intertwined.
But although I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking for a good story, it would make a quirky (double meaning intended) present. The cleverness here is in the detail of the drawings, not the writing that introduces them, though for most people seven pages of skeletal and muscular diagrams of a three-headed dog will be six pages too many. One group of people might really appreciate this book: fantasy writers. Because when your centaur gets an arrow in the butt you can look him up in this book and then cleverly discuss the damage to his semimembranosus. A fully-fledged book of this kind, ditching the fictional trappings, but covering a more expansive range of creatures, might well see Hudspeth as ubiquitous on fantasy writers’ shelves as Oxford or Fowler. As it is, it’s an unusual reference book to which few people will ever need to refer.