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

Slow Science Fictions #9: Billy Crombie And The Crock Of Shit

Posted on November 6, 2007

Chosen by the Guardians Of Life And Civilisation to write a story about an unnamed orphan, financially troubled Michelle Yvonne Jolly is the one to christen Dreamtime Reality's schoolboy magician 'Billy Crombie' and shake up children's books. The Guardians help set up Nibs writing group in Addingcombe to facilitate Jolly's writing for a world that doesn't see value in imagination, and her character soon leaves behind the five steps he occupies between the twelfth and thirteenth floors on the Block One stairwell of Sinkmoor. Billy, you see, had a fantastic dream and catches a tram to the Chiselwood college of dreaming for new generations of Cosmic Crusaders, where gay old commie-atheist Professor Fergus McQuigly is to introduce him to ten-plus levels of reality and the Key to the Universe. But all is not rosy: the Great Mortido and his legions are trying to get into Chiselwood to reach higher realities, and Billy's hidden genealogy holds a dark, dark secret.

'What a crock of shit,' laughs the Guardian Aristophanes when confronted with Jolly's story, and one gets the impression that Slow Science Fictions writer Mike Weller speaks directly to the reader. But then, Weller's authorial presence is always in evidence; more so here as he gleefully but intricately twists his elaborate universe around Rowling/Potter-like mythology: the Somnambulance Special transports passengers from Dreamtime to Social Reality; the waking world is inhabited by Getreelies (from the expression 'Get real'); the Rowling figure is the chosen one, her writing fuelled by divine intervention. Trotsky once wrote that the revolutionary party is the memory of the working class; like Space Opera before it, Slow Science Fictions is, in part, the memory of our culture's anti-intellectual age, when individuality is diminished as ridiculous numbers of people identify with some popular philosophy or distant spectacle or some well-marketed person. What a crock of shit.

28 A5 pages, £2 inc p&p, available from www.homebakedbooks.co.uk