Zencore: Scriptus Innominatus (Nemonymous #7)

Review by Jim Steel

Or Nemonymous #7, under another numbering system, and a welcome return to form after the frankly lightweight #6. This volume is a conventional paperback anthology, and it is a handsome and hefty beast.

Let us see what we have. We have seventeen anonymous short stories and a random list of the seventeen contributors on the back cover. I guess it’s an open secret that this series is edited by D.F. Lewis. That much I am sure of. The rest of this review is conjecture and opinion. Some of the names on the back, such as Steven Pirie, will be well known to Whispers of Wickedness readers. There are some high profile names, such as Tim Nickels, and then there are some names that even Google doesn’t seem to know of. And there is, of course, our old friend Anonymous. Mr Lewis has been known to pen the odd short story in his time, so there is a fair chance that he could be in here. But, then again, maybe not. And who or what is Kek-W? It is very hard to pin individual stories to writers, such is the professional standard of the contents, but it is possible to get a feel for some stories. This one must have been written by an American, that one surely could not have come from a woman, and so on. It could be annoying, but it turns out to be fun. I suppose that the biggest compliment that you can give this anthology is that, after a couple of stories, you stop playing the game and just relax into the book. The nearest that I can compare it to is discovering a great collection from a previously unknown new writer.

Now to the stories themselves. The first two, Torsion and MMM – Delicious aren’t the strongest in the anthology. The first suffers from being too brief and the second has the occasional clunky turn of phrase, but they are entertaining enough stories. Then we reach Undergrowth, and this is when Zencore starts to bite. Machen and others are name-checked in this narrative of an annoying bookshop customer/pest. The undergrowth in the title refers to the books that fill the shelves below eyelevel, amongst other things. It manages to feel both traditional and new at the same time, and is exceedingly well written. Fugly is another cracker. A couple who don’t have the best relationship in the world are awoken by something breaking into their bathroom. It is a strange, hairy creature that’s obviously analogous to a baby. She wants to look after it; he wants to get rid of it. Very disturbing, very powerful.

Another couple; a similar relationship; a totally different approach. The Secret Life of Pandas is entirely naturalistic (or mainstream, if you prefer) and is told from the male viewpoint. At one point, after being faced with the probability of becoming a father, Denis is standing in a bank queue when a toddler begins to choke in front of him. It’s all part of a carefully written emotional journey for the man. Upset Stomach, on the other hand, deals with a man who gives birth during his toilet break. It’s about as emotionally subtle as being hit in the face by a spade. Edge on.

If The Secret Life of Pandas has one of the best titles, then The Awful Truth About The Circus has one of the worst. Weird thing is, though, this belongs to probably the best story in the collection. A girl is wilting in an American small town and she decides to run away and join the circus after finding a flier in the local newspaper. This story? words fail me.

If the last story had an American voice, then Mary’s Gift, the Stars and Frank’s Pisser could only be written in Britain. A group of abusive tramps are living at the edge of society. One of them, Mary, has the ability to channel the power of a distant star. This gives her psychic ability, but she is crippled by self-doubt and fear. It’s a bleak, harsh story with just enough of a hint of redemption about it to lift it up to the top rank.

There are too many stories of substance in here to do them all justice in this review. How about Berian Winslow & The Stream Of Consciousness Storyteller? A man goes to a shopping mall and is intrigued by a (robotic?) storyteller who has all the children mesmerised by his never-ending tale. This is one for all of you Philip K. Dick fans out there.

I was tempted to review this anonymously, but that would have devalued my opinion as you wondered at any connection with the collection. There is none. And because my name’s going on this, I’m not going to be mad enough as to try and guess at any of the stories’ authors. If you are interested – and the curiosity is maddening – then they will be published online at the end of the year, and also in the next issue of Nemonymous. This issue has the authors and contents of volume five listed at the end, and what looks like the same for volume six on the following page.

It’s your call. Do you prefer to wait for the authors to become public, or do you dive in now? I strongly recommend that you do one or the other, because this is one of the best anthologies of the year.

Zencore: Scriptus Innominatus. Megazanthus Press paperback, 212pp, £8 inclusive of P&P worldwide. For full purchase details go here: www.nemonymous.com

This review originally appeared on Whispers of Wickedness, and is reproduced here with permission.