Wednesday, 28 July 2010

BOOK REVIEW - "Fears of the Old and the New" by K.K. Hillman




This is the new short story collection by seasoned campaigner for all things good, free and (anti) Righteous, a certain Mr Leg Iron of "must-read-blog-and-surely-to-do-well-in-this-year's-Total Politics-poll" blog Underdogs Bite Upwards.

Leggy recently complained that there were hundreds of Google searches apparently being undertaken using the search terms "Who is Leg Iron?". Well, these weirdos at least must be happy as we now know - Leggy is a certain K.K. Hillman, of 21 Smoky Drinky Place, Scotland.

He's recently posted a few stories on Underdogs Bite Upwards as a prelude to publishing a collection of his previously-published fiction and, as a writer in my other life (it's not hard to work out who I am - I shamelessly have my writer's blog in my blogroll) I was suitably intrigued.

"Fears of the Old and the New" collects together nineteen short stories as well as a truly brilliant take on Poe's "The Raven" where the horror of the original is replaced with the far more gut-clenching terrors of New Labour:

"Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a one-eyed gorgon of the Monster days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But with mien of lord and lady, squatted down upon the floor -
Sat beside a pile of mended phones that lay upon the floor -
Scowled and sulked, and nothing more."

Hillman's stories are proof that economy is a virtue in short story writing; many are only a few pages long and they benefit from this length, their message being conveyed simply and hitting the brain like a finely distilled Scotch rather than being diluted by padding like a weak ale.

Hillman's approach reminds me a lot of Stephen King or later Ramsey Campbell; normal, everyday suburban settings - involving a man with raucous chav neighbour or a middle-aged divorcee who spends too much time in the pub and inadvertantly makes his own impression on Christmas - settings which highlight the creeping horror that later emerges to even greater effect.

But I was also reminded of those old Pan Horror collections or the 70s Hammer Horror TV show, where modern settings are still somehow suffused with Gothic Horror. In stories like "The Skull", where a couple inherit a house complete with yellowed skull, or "The Transformation Ritual," "Drinking Buddies" and "Hell.net" which transpose vampires, magic circles and demonic invocation into the modern age.

But there is a vein of dark humour that runs through the stories. Hillman doesn't take himself too seriously, and, like Roald Dahl, amongst the satire, horror and occasional gore there are also laughs to be found. Here stories like "The Beer Monster" and "Last Christmas" shine. In the former,a man disgruntled with the all-night parties of his heavy-drinking neighbour, manages to buy a six pack of lager which contains a homicidal genie that will kill the first person it sees. There are unforeseen consequences to this, consequences which, having read his blog, I suspect he would like to see befall all "Righteous" who are so thin-lipped and joyless that the very smell of smoke or alcohol makes them retch.

As no stranger to the question, "What is real?" in my own stories, I particularly enjoyed "The Imagination Virus" which deftly shows us the effects of a virus that can alter our own perception of reality and "Telephone Pest" which could have come from Philip. K. Dick's pen circa 1957.

Hillman's prose style isn't flashy; but it's witty, economical and invites you into the worlds in the collection, which is surely what all good prose should aim to do.

Overall, this is a great little collection, although I have to admit I was disappointed that it didn't contain a story called "One Stop After Marchway", which manages to pull off the trick of being both funny and clever at the same time. That said, it can still be found at Leg Iron's blog, here.

Well worth a read.

The book can be bought from Amazon or downloaded and read on the PC. More details (including a Discount Code that gets you 15% off the price of the print version) here.

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