Being so hectic out here, I’ve had a hard time even getting enough time to keep up with this blog! Between playtests, grading and my anniversary (2 years for the PlatinumChick and I!), I’ve been somewhat slacking on my blogging duties.
As you might imagine, my opportunities to read fiction anymore are even slimmer. While I typically read before bed, I’ve been taking that time to do “research” for Cold Steel Wardens—Iron Age comics, other superhero role-playing games, and even a series of essays entitled The Psychology of Superheroes, which I picked up at Half-Price Books a few months back. While these have been enlightening, as I’ve been working my way through the GameMaster and setting information for CSW, they’re not exactly pleasure reading—at least not in this context.
So, when the opportunity arrived to review James Hutching’s new e-book, The New Death and Others, I decided to leap on the opportunity with both feet, and I can’t say I was too disappointed my decision.
The New Death and Others is unique in that it is a series of short stories, mock parables and poems that bring together three very different styles, each of Hutchings wields with skill. As a whole, The New Death and Others brings together a scathingly funny degree of social satire with elements of the fantastic and imaginative, providing for a quality read.
Hutchings is at his best in a series of Gaiman-esque parables—featuring primarily Death, Fame, and Justice, among others—which expound upon the modern condition. One particularly novel snippet comes in “The Doom That Was Laid Upon Fame”, which lambasts reality television. An even better one comes later, called “Temptation”, which twists a familiar story in such a way that it only becomes apparent at the very end. The titular story, “The New Death” is particularly good, showing a meeting of the minds between the incarnation of Death on Earth with his counterpart from an alien world. “The Jeweled City”, as well, provides a sarcastic smirk and a wave towards struggling writers everywhere, just as it tears down the minaret-studded towers of pseudo-Arabian fantasy.
Hutchings also tries his hand at establishing a sandbox setting in his city of Telelee—which sounds just a touch close to a shoggoth’s cry of “Tekeli-li!” for my taste—to varying results. The descriptions in Telelee are of quality, and put forward the feel of a pseudo-Lovecraftian city in The Dreamlands, somewhere that Abdul Al-Hazred might have wandered freely, expounding upon strange aeons and the deaths within. However, the tales themselves are of mixed quality, with stories like the nearly nihilistic “The God of the City of Dust” overshadowing others, like the somewhat forgettable “Sigrun and the Shepherd”. An early story, "How the Isle of Cats Got its Name" is a particular gem, reminding a reader greatly of Lovecraft's "cats of Ulthar" without being plagaristic--Hutchings takes the creatures in a new direction, both creatively thought-out and well-described.
Unfortunately, The New Death and Others isn’t without its foibles. Hutchings’ poetry, by and large, failed to impress. While most of his poems come from impressive source material—the “weird tales” of Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith, among others—there’s just something off-putting about hearing of the wanderings of Kull put into rhymed couplets. Hutchings’ voice tends to get overpowered by the source material providing his inspiration, thereby shutting out his unique, snarky intonation. Hutchings’ more original poetry, such as “Weary Love” and “The Apprenticeship” are of generally higher quality, though still leave something to be desired and don’t stand up to the parables mentioned earlier.Overall, Hutchings' work is interesting, provocative, and worth a quick read. Plus, for it's asking price--99 cents on Amazon or Smashwords--it's well worth the cost. If some post-modernist satire with some whiffs of the Necronomicon sounds like it'd be up your alley, give it a download--you won't be disappointed.
Amazon.com: The New Death and Others
Smashwords: The New Death and Others