Monday, June 4, 2012

Review: The New Death and Others by James Hutchings

The New Death and Others is a collection of stories and poems by James Hutchings at the Teleleli blog. It's quite an eclectic mix of genres and written in a range of lengths, from extremely short vignettes to longer stories and everything in between.

I found Mr. Hutchings' decision to combine all of these genres and formats in one package somewhat jarring at first. I wasn't sure how to approach this collection. On one hand, it could be seen as a bold way to throw off convention and disregard order, to throw off the shackles that would normally dictate that genres be divided up in an orderly fashion. Another part of me wondered if this approach isn't already the norm in this age of self-publishing, a way for someone to showcase their range of creative abilities, interests, and strengths in one fell swoop.

But then again, it could be argued that Mr. Hutchings has put all of his proverbial eggs in one basket. He might have been better served by splitting up the pieces into more focused, separate publications.

Then I found myself wondering if he collected these together because all of the pieces were meditations on the same theme. I was wondering if Death wasn't supposed to be this theme, given the title of the collection and the appearance of death as a subject or a personified being in some of the pieces.

In all, I found that I enjoyed the fact that the collection made me ponder all of the above. That has to say something, doesn't it?

"Well," you ask, "that's well and good to get all "meta" about a piece of work, but what about the writing itself?"

In general, I found that I enjoyed a good portion of what Mr. Hutchings had to offer. There seemed to be much meditation on aspects of humanity (more often than not given concrete form), godhood, and yes, death.

Some of the more pithy items presented, such as the short opening piece "The God of the Poor," could be seen as throw aways, or as interludes. I think "The God of the Poor" is more the latter. Indeed, the majority of the short (some ony a few sentences) offerings in the collection were pithy in a good way, and I saw most of them as nice breaks from the longer works therein. Someone makes a love connection with a personified human trait in "A Date With Destiny" (Hutchings returns to the use of such personification with "The Doom That Was Laid Upon Fame" later in the collection).

The tales seem to be mostly in the realm of fantasy or horror, but with traces of other elements mixed in. You have the dramatic fantasy of "How the Isle of Cats Got Its Name" and the campy horror of "The End" (where it seems like monsters like to go camping and tell scary human stories). There's the dreamlike bizarreness of "The Enemy Within" that made me think of those brief and strange extremely-short stories that Lovecraft wrote such as "Polaris." There's the snarky irony of "Everlasting Fire" that follows the doomed romance of Lilly, a demonic office worker in Hell.

Speaking of Lovecraft as I mentioned above, it seems that Mr. Hutchings is definitely a fan of said author. He includes a poem based on Lovecraft's Beneath the Pyramids. And stories like "The Scholar and the Moon" definitely show the influence of that old man from Providence, but not in a bad way. Oh, and there's also a nod to Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany amongst the offerings.

The poetry was less to my liking, but I did find some pieces that entertained. "If My Life Was Filmed" is a quicky snarky ditty. My biggest issue with the poetry is that I wish there was less rhyming. But when it comes to sharp-tongued works like "Unprotected" (that one made me go "ouch") Mr. Hutchings can be forgiven the preponderance of rhyme.

I'd have to say that some of my favorite selections included the very engaging tale called simply "Todd," "The Adventure of the Murdered Philanthropist," "The Producer," the parable called "The Bird and the Two Trees," "The Death of the Artist," and the eponymous "The New Death" (yeah, in reflecting on how much an anthropomorphic Death pops up in the collection, I'd say I'm sensing a theme here).

In all, I'd suggest you do yourself a favor and check out The New Death and Others. It's definitely worth your time to take a read and have Mr. Hutchings bend your mind this way and that with his words. You may not be thrown into the stratosphere by what you read, but you'll definitely find yourself musing deeply upon a darker side of things. For me, that's worth the coin that is my precious free time.

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