My first requested review. First I’d like to apologise to James Hutchings. I should have had this up sooner, but the exploding gallbladder and subsequent misplacement of my e-reader put me behind a bit.
The New Death and Others, by James Hutchings
A New Death and Others is a collection of over sixty short stories and poems. I know what you’re thinking, but the poetry is actually readable. If My Life was Filmed made me laugh out loud and My Cat is Not Like Other Cats might just sum up how everyone feels about their pet. There are some longer pieces, but they read easily and some are based on stories by Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft.
As for the stories, the book gets off to a somewhat rocky start. The God of the Poor, is a little heavy handed for my taste, but is otherwise pretty good. The second story called How the Isle of Cats Got its Name, is a little more problematic. It may have been some defect on my part, but I had a lot of difficulty following this story and to be honest, after two readings I’m still not sure how the island actually got its name. Also, whether by accident or inspiration, the story is very similar to the 2010 Oscar nominated animated short, ‘The Cat Piano’.
Fortunately, things pick up quickly and the pace rarely abates. The next two stories are The Enemy Within with its sufficiently creepy take on racism and The End, which puts a nice spin on the current torrent of ‘monsters amongst us’ fiction. From there we plunge headlong into the still fifty plus remaining stories. There are a number of reoccurring topics running through such as the stories such as the Telelee Tales, or the Anthropomorphised Concepts, where Fame, Ambition, Destiny and Love all have a role. But there are still a lot to choose from no matter what your tastes, ranging from the humorous, to the historical, the horrific and the fantastic.
Being a sucker for good world-building, I particularly enjoyed reading about the city of Telelee, which is a reoccurring setting for many of the stories. Sometimes serious, sometimes humours, just a little bizarre, the city felt like a delightful mix of Lankhmar and the Thieves World’s Sanctum, with just a touch of New Crobuzon. I am looking forward to reading more stories from Telelee and seeing how Hutchings develops the world.
If I had to make a complaint it would be that some of the longer stories seem to lose the thread, which can result in the ending feeling rushed, or the story as a whole becoming disjointed. There is always a good idea at the core, but a second pass under the editor’s red pen would have been helped tighten up and focus the story.
That being said, any book with so many stories will have a few that do not appeal to personal tastes and there were a lot more hits than misses. I’ve certainly read much worse from more established authors and I heartily enjoyed the book as a whole. I'm looking forward to seeing what the future brings for Mr. Hutchings.