Sean Wright, Dark Tales of Time and Space 2005. King's Lynn: Crowswing Books. Pp. 150. ISBN 1905100124. £5.99 / $10.85.

Reviewed by Amazonia

Sean Wright's second 'teenage-adult crossover' fantasy novel, Dark Tales features Joey Steffano, a young millionaire hip-hop artiste killed during a performance. Post-death, Joey surfaces to find himself trapped on a strange train, peopled with passengers given to gnomic pronouncements. Before his journey ends he will confront the personification of his own dark side, and find a way to achieve acceptance and forgiveness for the traumatic events of his past.

The crossover market is notoriously difficult as a target audience—success is more likely to be incidental than planned. So when Wright thanks the University of Chicago Illinois for "links to a variety of hip-hop archive sources", suspicions are raised—if you need to learn about hip-hop culture, why do it through an academic filter? Why not go out there and experience it? Indeed, why not write about something you do know? The result is only too evident: an American hip-hop track titled "Kick Arse Like a Soldier" for instance? Pur-lease.

This is the sort of bogusness that teenagers can smell from a mile off. It's a shame because when Wright gets going in the latter half of the book, his pace, writing and ideas threaten to become effective. The protracted hip-hop scene-setting doesn't even turn out to be relevant to the story; its presence appears more as a cynical attempt to ingratiate. That its description is so drawn out is symptomatic of the most irritating aspect of Wright's style: persistent over-explanation. So apparently the crossover audience needs to be told that U2 are a "stadium rock band" and that South Park and the Simpsons were "seen as controversial initially". At the same time, Wright doesn't bother to explain his reference to "shamtutants", a concept from his 2004 book The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor—clearly he assumes a reader more familiar with his own works than global popular culture.

Along with this practice, lengthy inserts of genuine Reuters news articles, cod-writings from other journals and large chunks from Anthony Borgia's 1956 spiritualist text Life in the World Unseen add pointless bulk where what is needed is proper development of characterisation and narrative ideas. (What is the significance of Joey's breaking a stained glass church window as a child? What happened to his biological father? What's his relationship with the grandfather he hopes to meet at journey's end?) Copious references to pop cultural signifiers like brand names (Nike, Nokia, Coke, Pepsi) and iconic television (South Park, The Simpsons, Friends, Star Trek) operate as a poor substitute.

The overall feel of the book is as a short story padded out to short book-length, which it quite possibly is—Wright was quoted pre-publication on the Bookloons website saying that Dark Tales would be a "collection of short stories" which this book clearly is not, although it does attempt to present its narrative from multiple viewpoints. Its main thematic concerns—life after death and the struggle between good/light/love and evil/dark/hate—may be clichéd, but that doesn't make them less interesting to contemplate if originally and intelligently presented. However the simplistic treatment of complex moral and political issues here patronises potential readers, while baroque similes ("like a sperm free-falling after rejection by an egg") take the writing to the edge of parody. As a result, some interesting ideas become a missed opportunity.

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