TRIQUORUM II

Edited by Chris Teague

Reviewed by Jim Steel

The second of Pendragon's novella anthologies, like the first, contains three very different tales. There's a total of over fifty thousand words of fiction, which seems epic in these days of flash fiction but, to their credit, none of the stories feels all that long.

First up to bat is Jason Andrew with Fear and Loathing in Bat Country: Hunter S. Thompson vs. Dracula. Taking off sideways from the opening of Thompson's 1972 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Andrew riffs off the idea that the bats that Duke refers to are real and, naturally, vampires. The central authorial conceit is that this is a manuscript that Thompson ordered to be released only upon his death, which famously happened in 2005. It's very good. In the early seventies, the Thompson character is, for all intents and purposes, kidnapped by a massive biker who wants help in nailing the guy who turned his chick into one of the undead. It turns out to be Dracula, who is now a prime mover in the Hollywood set, and Thompson, as a journalist, can gain access to him. They rope in more bikers for muscle. A visit to an asylum-- la Renfield--happens. Much mind-altering stuff is consumed. If you're unfamiliar with Thompson, then all you need to know is that you have a rattling good yarn before you that is, stylistically, the finest thing in the anthology.

If you are a fan of Hunter S. Thompson, then a little more needs to be said. There have been pastiches of HST before. One personal favourite was Alligator Alley, a thoroughly deranged 1989 novel by Mink Mole and Dr. Adder (Ferret and K.W. Jeter in disguise). Unfortunately Mink Mole wrote the biggest chunks and Dr. Adder wrote the best chunks. This made it very uneven but it's enormous fun. Andrew beats Alligator Alley through sheer consistency. At times you almost forget that you are not reading HST. And when the whole vampire plot thing moves into gear, you just forget to forget. Let's face it: HST had been parodying himself for the last couple of decades anyway. And since the original's gone and got himself carbonised and fired out of a cannon by Cap'n Jack, this is probably as close as we'll get to anything new from the man.

John Travis's Monster Mash is set around the same time, coincidently, but that is about all that his story has in common with Andrew's. The setting is a small town in the north of England. It starts off with a boy stumbling across a strange old man in an allotment and gradually escalates from there until the whole town is engulfed in a sci-fi B-movie horror. Not to give too much away, but the nearby chemical plant has its role to play, although I'm not sure that a scientist who discovers a way to prolong the life of potatoes by a fortnight will have achieved anything of note. Stored correctly, they can last for many months. Travis may not be the finest stylist in the world (or even the anthology), but he injects much humour into his story and it makes for a very addictive page-turner. It's probably not Travis's fault, but his multiple viewpoint story could have done with a few more section breaks, as some of the incidents tend to run on to the next one without warning. It's a bit like hitting a couple of speed bumps but ultimately it doesn't detract too much from this fast moving adventure. And space dust, that bane of seventies dentists, finally has a rational explanation.

Liam Davies's Adventures In Bed-sit starts off unpleasantly and gruesomely with the death of the self-pitying narrator. He's a truly unpleasant little shit. He's an unsuccessful author who has just murdered a successful authoress and has then spent three days decorating his bed-sit with her body. Then he tries to kill himself and initially fails. End of Chapter One, and it's an unpleasant read indeed, made all the worse by Davies's obvious prose skill. By Chapter Two he finds that he is, after all, dead and haunting the bed-sit. More gruesomeness unfolds, but by now things are starting to get strange. A couple hire the bed-sit, intent on getting in touch with the spirit of the authoress. Of course, they get our narrator, who is able to possess the male spiritualist. It is then that he finds that his victim is still there after all. The chapters continue to twist and turn and they include an afterlife section in an underground station that has a touch of the Beetlejuice gothic about it. Alarmingly, the reader will occasionally catch himself identifying with the narrator by now. There is also a prequel chapter following this, telling of our character's acidic view of his creative writing class, and of his stalking and capture of his victim. It's a potent chunk of writing that is as good as anything else that you are likely to read this year. The climax tends to jar slightly after this, but it does have the benefit of being totally unexpected. It's a bizarre creation that feels almost as if it were plotted by a committee, but it is worth reading. Squeamish? Stick with it. You will be rewarded with a quite unique story.

This is a risky format for an anthology. If one of the three stories fails, then the collection's liable to fall flat. Of course, that hasn't happened here. My main gripe is the format: I'm not a fan of reading books that are laid out in a landscape format. But that's just me. I like my adventures to be in the pages, not in the design, and I have no complaints in that department.

Triquorum II, edited by Christopher Teague. A5, 150pp, £5.99. Published by Pendragon Press, PO Box 12, Maesteg, Mid Glamorgan, South Wales, CF34 0XG.

Website: - www.triquorum.com


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