The Alsiso Project
(Elastic Press, www.elasticpress.com,
£6.00, 329 pages, paperback, published 1 January 2004.)
By now, everyone familiar with the small press events knows that the
word Alsiso was a typing error by writer Marion Arnott (she
meant to write "Alison") which prompted Andrew Hook, Elastic Press'
driving force, to assign a bunch of fellow-writers the task of creating
twenty-three short stories about that mysterious name. A truly original
idea which surpasses the old concept of the theme anthology. All the
tales included in the book are titled "Alsiso", who, according
to the different contributors, becomes in turn a type of bogeyman, a
golem, a place, a virus and so on.
Sometimes you get the feeling that the word Alsiso has been forcefully
introduced into a story already written or still going through its writing
process, but most contributions do appear to have been purposely composed
for the occasion. Take for instance the opening tale by KJ Bishop, who
gets the project started elaborating on the meaning and the fate of
the name Alsiso (originally a legendary murderer) over the centuries.
Here's a nice story which constitutes the perfect opening for such a
volume, but that could hardly stand alone outside the present anthology.
All in all, the book is very enjoyable and shows how refreshingly lively
is the world of English-speaking imaginative fiction. Of course, not
everything is first-rate, some stories start quite ambitiously only
to fall flat after a few pages and some authors seem either uninspired
or not completely up to the task of developing a piece of narrative
about a non-existent word.
But among the good stories, some are very good indeed and those I'm
going to mention in detail.
Kaaron Warren narrates about a woman who, when pregnant, is endowed
with a peculiar gift, and about her sequence of husbands whose only
assignment is to impregnate her. An impressive, offbeat piece of fantasy
by an author probably still unknown to most readers.
Marie O'Reagan provides an enigmatic but charming story of obsession
and love, where the word "alsiso" becomes a man's omnipresent mania.
Andrew Humphrey's outstanding contribution is ostensibly an Alsiso
story (here the name indicates a small town in Spain), but actually
a gorgeous piece of mainstream fiction about, brotherly love, human
relationships in general, loneliness... in short about the essence of
Also in Nicholas Royle's story "Alsiso" is a mere pretext
for a beautiful, sad, evocative story of a man moving back to his native
Manchester who has to face again the truth about a disquieting episode
from his past. Excellent.
Andrew Hook himself takes part in his own project with an upsetting
noir à la Raymond Chandler in which Alsiso is the name of a professional
whore. The story, quite promising, could easily thrive and turn into
a longer fictional work, a novella perhaps. Unfortunately in its present
form it remains a sketchy tale, leaving the reader longing for more.
Hopefully Hook will consider the possibility of expanding the plot,
presenting the readers with many more pages to enjoy.
But, to me, the highlight of the anthology remains Conrad Williams'
contribution, a compelling, unusual story where alsiso is a mysterious
metal with unusual properties. The narrative grips the reader right
from the outset thanks to the writer's prodigious ability as a storyteller.
Review by Mario Guslandi.
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