Sensorama: edited by Allen Ashley, Eibonvale Press, hb £22 pb £9.50, Website
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
Sensorama is a collection of twenty-one new short stories edited by Allen Ashley about the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. The reader can be assured that the editor has set out to provide a very good read. So if you enjoy imaginative short stories of the bizarre, the original and the fascinating then this is a good investment.
I grew up on short stories, mostly cheap collections acquired from wartime bookstalls by my late father passing time between jobs. To him war was ninety-eight per cent boredom and two per cent unmitigated mayhem and terror. It was this latter which turned him into a nutter, causing all the family to retreat behind the comforting earthwork of a good book. This phenomenon is well illustrated within the Sensorama collection by the short story `Going Back’ by E. Lillith McDermott in which technologically enhanced soldiers experience technologically advanced post-traumatic stress disorder. A very modern, very challenging subject.
Those short stories of my late childhood were decidedly off-beat, usually psychological in some way but all stuffed with twists and turns, strange images and often things which on reflection you would rather not know about. When peace did accidentally break out the old man turned to science fiction. You know, the old heavy metal stuff hurtling through time and space, putting aliens in their proper place, usually as refugees on a small part of their own world. This theme pops up in the Sensorama collection in `Space’ by Terry Greenwood of a personnel selection process conducted in a post-apocalyptic world reminiscent of Lang’s Metropolis and in `Maneater’ by David Gullen whose title speaks for itself. `Crystal Gazer’ by Stanley B Webb is of a similar genre and equally well executed.
So apart from reading August Derlerth umpteen times I have missed the good, bizarre short story for some decades. It is reassuring to find it restored and with such quality. Reading this volume has been like meeting an old friend, a reprobate from long ago, un-changed by the years allowing me to fall once again into long-forgotten, comforting and irritating habits. Deep joy!
All reviewers from time to time relapse into that tiresome complaint that they could not put the book down, but I do recommend with Sensorama that the reader does put it down from time to time for reflection and think through the many different subjects and how they are presented. Definitely a sign needs to be put up: Danger Imagination at Work!
There is the stalker with the far-seeing eye, the repulsive man who enjoys the taste of wall stains who seeks to get his children to share this interest, a consumer gadget called the Tasterama, the insight of a victim of a well-meaning medical experiment, and a butterfly theatre among others. Of particular note is `Stone’ by Richard Mosses in which poor Medea, the classical sculptress tries to get her art recognised. Also `The Sound Cyclones’ by David Turnbull in which a modern post-war Europe seeks to neutralise the residual effects of technological warfare. Then there is `Little Fingers’ by Christine Moran that contains one of the most intimately, horrifying passages of writing I have yet encountered as a witch uses sympathetic magic to sabotage a Harvest Festival. On top of that ` Wide Shining in the Remote’ by Kelda Crick is about an archivist scanning an entire print library of Theosophy onto digital media, gradually acquiring the inner all-seeing eye. In `Musk’ by Douglas Thompson a man who finds himself suddenly irresistible to women unwittingly allows a virus to get out of control.
Perhaps it is improper for me to write enthusiastically about the stories I particularly enjoyed as this is unfair to all the others, but Sensorama is a collection in which what appeals to one need not necessarily appeal to another and vice-versa. This is what collections are all about, but be assured that in this collection there are no make-weights.
Three of the stories resonated with me in a very specific way, not so much from what they said but what was implied by the background context. `The Impression of Craig Shee’ by David McGroaty is a soothing tale of perception set in one of my ancestral landscapes, as soft as the native language and as gentle as the manner of the people, yet at the same time deeply challenging as life in the Highland and Islands can sometimes be. Also the `War Artist’ by Tim Nickels reminded me of the Balkans War only recently ended, and the previous thirty years of European politics all the way back to Les Evenments in Paris in 1968. Lastly there is the remark of the man in `Making See’ by Mark Patrick Lynch as he speaks about a girlfriend who became invisible only to gradually reappear after a year: `…sometimes the worst screams are silent.’
Sensorama is a good collection of quality short stories. It does what it says on the cover as it `will take you to the far reaches of the sensory world’. If anything the cover undersells the contents. The taste of this tender looking meat is quite luscious!