Sunday 4 October 2009

Broken Symmetries, by Steve Redwood

A highly entertaining collection of short stories, of which I’ve been lucky enough to read an early version. Each is almost completely different to the rest, except for the fact that they’re all so good… Some are funny, others deadly serious; some are bafflingly erudite, others are fluffy confections. Some, like “Sanctuary”, seem serious at first, but end up being extremely silly – in a good way!

“Damaged” opens the collection, taking us with John William Smith on his visit to the library – he’s there to renew his most recent loan. “The library shelves were unusually well-stocked that day, with golden-skinned women dangling languid bare legs over the edges.” If that gets you thinking of sauce and Sidney James, stop right there: Steve Redwood’s writing is characterised by a real fury at the way men treat women.

For another example see “Epiphany in the Sun”, a non-fantasy story about a couple driving through Turkey. They find a dying dog and John insists on trying to find help for it. The disregard he shows for his wife is appalling, yet totally believable. Men do ignore their wives in this way all the time, and it clearly makes Redwood angry. Even more scathing of our fallible gender is “Expiry Date”, where Peter receives a post-Advent calendar that catalogues a history of one man’s dismaying behaviour towards women.

Other interesting stories here include “Going Back”, a new spin on time travel (I didn’t think there were any to be found at this point), which again hinges on the evil that men do; “Fowl Play”, a tribute to Rhys Hughes (interesting, since I read that author’s The Smell of Telescopes at the same time as this book, and the two complemented each other very well); and “A Helping Hand”, about one man’s war with a beggar. A particular favourite of mine was “The Heisenberg Mutation” where Charles Algernon Soames, “who occasionally lent money to the Sultan of Brunei”, begins to flatten… Another was “Two Legs Bad: a Love Story”, which does, as its subtitle promises, feature “unusual sexual practices”, though not the kind you might expect.

Many of these stories previously appeared in small press magazines, like Midnight Street, Polluto, Roadworks and Whispers of Wickedness, and Redwood is a small press editor’s dream: a fine writer with big ideas who doesn’t quite fit established pigeonholes. But what’s good for the small press isn’t necessarily good for him! He deserves to be better known, and I hope this collection will do the trick.

Broken Symmetries, by Steve Redwood, Dog Horn Publishing, pb, 200pp

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