A Review Asks Only Whether One Can Live With It Or Die Of It

I've been reviewing small press publications on www.bugpowder.com for a few years now. Totemic small presser Andy Luke recruited me; he'd been impressed with my essay, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll, and was convinced that I could restore some cheer to the reviews section.

Ostensibly a scoff-mixture, Closing Shots From A Grassy Knoll discusses the pathogenic presence in UK small press of comics creators eager to produce work sterilized by an ambition to be adaptable to the strictures of an intrusive company bent on 'product development', and who derive a vanity-buzz of satisfaction from tucking themselves into deadlines and knocked-off scripts. "This budding hack is fuelled by little more than the desperation for a sense of celebrity," I wrote, "and must be destroyed."

My muscular reviewing-style grated with small press enthusiasts' indulgence in self-satisfied congeniality and writer/artist shape-throwing, but I refused to conveniently dismiss creators with throwaway compliments, employing instead a reviewing discipline based on four simple tenets: 1, perspective is to be achieved; 2, the standards by which one is judging the work are to be made clear; 3, credit is to be given where it is due; and 4, one should not be such a fucking misanthrope, you above-being-human narcissist.

Regularly achieving three of the four principles with my aesthetic evaluations, and quickly developing an obsessive-compulsive urgency for production of symmetrically paragraphed reviews, the meaningless absurdity of opinionative writing soon revealed itself to me. I was not deterred.

John Robbins

Emerald Eye

Posted on August 23, 2005

In selecting stories for this anthology of 'the best Irish imaginative fiction' by modern Irish authors, Emerald Eye editors Frank Ludlow and Roelof Goudriaan profess to being "guided only by a tale's ability to move, disturb and entertain". This book delivers on all counts, replacing leprechauns, banshees and faeries with paedophilia, necrophilia, genocide and whatever you're having yourself! However, it's not all penetrating Taboo-like studies of damaged individuals, a nail in their souls, their hearts snagging on rusty wire – there is much fun to be had, satire and a Bob Hope-like caper to be laughed at, an oblique ramble to be taken, an egg to be hatched. Four of the eighteen featured-stories are particularly fine…

With detached, matter-of-fact tone, Mike McCormack's unsettling, exquisitely macabre Thomas Crumlesh 1960-1992: A Retrospective details the offbeat relationship between a surgeon and an artist specialising in a kind of incremental snuff-art. The apocalyptic voyeurism continues in the complex and enthralling Hello Darkness, by Mike O'Driscoll, as a pseudo-disconnected actor past-his-peak allows a prurient obsession take hold while struggling with spiritual isolation and a death instinct. Shades here of Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron; the colour of this velvet most definitely being blue.
Essentially an intimate insight into the seductive craft of tailoring, and wet-dream territory for the trade no doubt, James White's curiously riveting Custom Fitting sees a conscientious tailor, and tyrant in sartorial matters, dress a physiologically difficult, first-contact alien due to be received by the Queen and world media. More gob-smacking delightfulness surfaces in the form of Bolus Ground by Fred Johnston. A rich, intoxicating, character-driven root through the behaviours of a stroppy old queen as he unveils his latest paintings, this one boasts wonderful word-smithery charged with bon mots of barbed eloquence.

A mostly enthralling, always entertaining read, Emerald Eye succeeds in providing expertly realised stories, each occasionally with dis/satisfying echoes of the other, and choc-full of afflicted characters, often with an irritation of spirit, searching out emotional sustenance, or escape, and touched by an appetite for things being done to bodies living or dead. With an exhilarating author-mix of professional, semi-professional and amateur - which includes Anne McCaffrey and William Trevor - this is a collection with irresistible rhythm that taxes one's reading stamina not in the least, though succeeds at times in leaving one breathless.

292 page pbk, £6.99 / €9.99 – available from www.albedo1.com