SERENDIPITY--14/9/07

Reviewed by Steve Redwood

A few quick comments and a strong recommendation to go take a look at this online publication.

In the Editorial, Neil Ayres says: “Our initial intention with Serendipity is to publish around 10,000 words of high quality light fantasy and magical realist fiction, as well as related interviews, essays and book reviews on the fourteenth day of each month.”

Everyone, even the orc down the road, claims to publish 'high quality' fiction on the Net, but here it really is high quality, and embedded in a website that is very attractive in itself--each story even has a snazzy bit of medieval-type artwork (relating to the content) for its first letter which puts you in a nice reading mood. And you can vote for the stories, ye olde one-two-ten, and see the average 'score'. Here's your chance to skewer your enemies in public! Behold:-

Aliya Whitely, In the Clouds. A tiny dragon visits a dissatisfied silversmith. I liked this a lot, though thank Anubis the dragon didn't talk, which would in this case have been a disaster, despite Rebecca Davies' article. Not sure if the dragon's visit will help with the neighbours, but the implication of story is that the silversmith doesn't really belong with them anyway. What really appealed was the dragon's bath time in flame: lovely image. Voyeurs, however, will be disappointed.

Rhys Hughes, The Folded Page. Seemingly uninteresting idea to begin with (how many times can you fold a sheet of paper?) but of course in a Hughesian Universe--you know, the one you see just out of the corner of your third eye when you've had one too many--this folding leads to more impossible unfoldings, with the construction of a giant paper castle, and finally of a new sky itself. And a nifty final touch when you find out that the folding of these pages is a matter of life or death to a certain slim entity.

Jeffrey Ford, Giant Land. I really need to read it again when I have time, as I got a bit lost in all the complexities. Fascinating story, was engrossed as I read it, but baffled, maybe just a bit too complicated (for people with brain damage like me), especially for reading online. But I shall definitely have another go, as every sentence screams “I am worth it, I am worth it!” And if you just happen to be a giant, think twice before deciding to eat a helpless damsel. And if you're a helpless damsel, get in touch with me, not with Pete Tennant!

Catherynne M Valente, Urchins, While Swimming. Quite the opposite to Ford's story, this is not complicated at all, at its root a sea creature having human progeny, like the selkie of the ballad, but it has a richness of language about it, a suggestiveness, that evokes Russia, mythology, the triumph and tragedy of love. Wonderful. In a lesser writer, the reader could not have accepted the denouement, but here the power of the words washes over us as the sea washes over the lover, and carries us away like the rusalka.

Charles Dickens, Some Particulars Concerning a Lion. If this is anything to go by, this young writer will go far. Great satire in a style indeed inimitable. Henry James did something similar, but weaker, with The Death of the Lion. Pity Jeffrey Archer never read it, since one of the lions in question is a self-proclaimed literary one.

In addition to what really is a great fiction selection, there are other serendipitous goodies. Rebecca Davies, whose lucubrations apparently take place in a tree, makes the valid point in Down the Rabbit Hole that a lot of children's literature could be labelled magic realism, in the sense that the miraculous (e.g. talking animals) is unquestioningly accepted by children in books, but not in real life. (If you also click on Blog, October 1, you get a further useful discussion of what magical realism might be, in reference to the Man Booker Prize, written by Serendipity's editor.) There are three intelligent and useful Book Reviews (David Hebblethwaite has convinced me I ought to get Mat Coward's latest, So Far So Near--no, not by praising everything - even though I know I don't have the time to read it!) and a very long (for web reading, anyway) interview, in which David Mitchell, speaking to Ian Hocking, says among other things, defending good old-fashioned storytelling: “I think experimentalism can hide a multitude of sins “, and poor old Madame Bovary once again pops up her unread head.

An excellent première, and hopefully Serendipity will get noticed enough to establish its own reputation, in the way, perhaps, that Fantastic Metropolis (RIP) did.

For more information on Serendipity and its contributors (fancy a link to Charles Dickens' blog??), see:-

http://www.magicalrealism.co.uk/

Steve Redwood is the author of Fisher of Devils and Who Needs Cleopatra? His latest story can be found, among much better stuff, in New Writings in the Fantastic, edited by John Grant, Pendragon Press:-

http://www.pendragonpress.co.uk/bookpages/newriters.htm


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