I was recently referred to a collection of poems and short stories by James Hutchings called The New Death and others. The work is available as an Ebook from Smashwords for $0.99 USD. It is a distinctive collection of (very) short stories and poems with some thematic links, infused with a sort of macabre irony. Hutchings turns of phrase can often be lyrical, but sometimes it feels as if he’s working too hard:
No one said anything about his shirt. Well, no one other than the pretzels. But they had to. They were complimentary snacks.
— Singles Bar
The wry tone is mostly confined to the short stories, some of which read a bit like jokes. They are often quite funny, and Hutchings is not shy about playing with words. Sly asides to the reader, and meta-level digressions punctuate the humorous bits. They can be a bit like elbows to the ribs. Not-so-subtle nudges, accompanied by broad winks. In my mind they recalled the poetry of Shel Silverstein with a dash of Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales From The “White Hart”, a collection of short stories with ironic-twist endings narrated in a club/pub setting by a credulity-straining narrator name Harry Purvis.
That said, I thought the punch line for Hutchings' The Doom That Was Laid Upon Fame was hilarious. So, in the humorous vein there is also much to like here.
When he’s focused on the darker side, Hutchings inspirations are more clearly from the works of H.P. Lovecraft and the gothic sensibilities of classic horror and fantasy. Both poems and stories — usually told in the fairy-tale cadences of the Brothers Grimm or Perrault — contain haunting imagery and phrases. In a poem about the moon mourning the decline of her cult he finishes with:
She heard a howl from jaws still hot
and dripping from the kill.
The wolves that ruled the lightless woods
were faithful to her still.
— The Moon Sailed Sadly Through the Sky
Two of the poems in the volume are derived from stories by Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft. The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune, and Under the Pyramids, respectively. Hutchings does a fine job in particular of condensing the despair in Lovecraft’s work:
Down in the dark, down in the dark
Down through the rock and slime
away from light and human sight
and sanity and time.
— Under the Pyramids
Several of the stories are set in the city, island, or world of Telelee. Each had the feel of being part of a rich history. Extensive myths, cults and complex societies form the backdrop. These stories range from humorous (The Construction Workers of Telelee) to the grim tale (How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name) of the sorceress Abi-simti, who chose the wrong instrument in her quest for power:
As Abi-simti wandered the streets of Telelee, too fretful to sit still, a cat crossed her path. It was a moggy with white fur, and a black patch on one eye. This cat rubbed itself against her leg, as cats do to mark their territory. To be precise, it chose her left leg, which ended in a hoof, and thus stood as proof that even her powers had limits. Abi-simti was not minded to receive this lesson. In fury she cried,
“May the Crone turn the water of your bowels to ice, O cat! Your lordly self-satisfaction shall not go unchallenged. You who have claimed territory shall instead be both conquered, and the means of greater conquest.”
— How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name
I am fond of fairy tales, and funny stories, and clever puns and wordplay. So I found The New Death and others quite enjoyable. I would love to read more tales from Telelee, or expansions of some of the ideas here. For the price, any fan of the fantasy or horror genres will find this Ebook to be a rich bargain, and I recommend it. In the words of the robots of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, Share and Enjoy!