The Life to Come
by Tim Lees
Review by Steve Savile
Elastic Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0954881222
Date: 01 May, 2005 List Price £5.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
First up, a small confession - I came into this new offering from Andrew Hook's excellent Elastic Press with blinkers firmly on. You see my dilemma was very much down to my preconceived ideas as to what I would find between the covers. "Slipstream" fiction--that kind of inherently unsatisfying (for me) story that isn't a story, well crafted but often soulless in its telling. So, confession over, you know I came to this book expecting to dislike it.
I should of course have known better. Elastic Press have released a few real gems over the last couple of years - Allen Ashley's masterful Somnambulists, Brian Howell's The Sound of White Ants, and the ever quirky Alisso and Book of Numbers anthologies to name a few. So, with no little trepidation I cracked open the spine and dipped in--and do you know what? It was surprisingly good.
The wealth of imagery on offer in The Life to Come is staggering -- energy grids powered by gods held captive, men seeking to harness the powers of dreams and starlight, delusional characters, coming-of-age stories and beautiful, magical stories like "The Leopard Girl" and "The Anti-Fan".
Though Lees offers sixteen very different stories, (several towards the end are interconnected) my main grouch has to be the fact that in seeking to present us with a real taste of this author's obvious talent, a few too many of the stories in this collection are?dare I say it?mundane. They lack the core of magic and wonder that make certain of the stories therein, for example "The Leopard Girl" so captivating. Lees is a writer who is very much at his best when dabbling in the pool of wonder.
And wonder is a red line through the collection, where the participants are forced to feel the grief/separation/anxiety when that wonder is taken away from them. The weaknesses in Lees' writing are most apparent in the more mundane Alien stories of the collection, four tales that focus on the ways humans adapt to a lukewarm alien invasion that just doesn't inspire the Golden Age awe that they are so obviously trying to replicate.
In spite of this, and considering my low expectations going in, I came out of The Life to Come a convert. Lees shows great craft as a writer of the fantastic, and when he gets it right, his prose sings.
For lovers of "Slipstream" fiction--however we actually define it--The Life to Come is a veritable treasure trove of ideas. For those of you looking to try out something from one of the guiding lights of the British Small press The Life to Come is a great place to start.
In short, for all lovers of short fiction?you KNOW what I am going to say?do yourself a favour--read Tim Lees.