What factors help us to decide to try a new author? Reviews and recommendations from friends help but I have also found that hearing someone speak and enjoying what they say can be a good (albeit not infallible) pointer to a writer worth investigating. As some of you may remember, James Brogden is a local writer who was a guest at the BSFG in March 2013. Since that appearance he has published two further novels (Tourmaline and The Realt, both published by Snow Books) and this short story collection, Evocations. I must confess that I have not read his novels but have enjoyed some of his short stories in previous anthologies.
Evocations is a collection of sixteen of James’ short stories, most previously published elsewhere with a couple of new additions. The stories all contain an element of the fantastical but are also rooted in the real (and mostly modern) world. Some of the stories also verge into horror.
The first story “The Phantom Limb” concerns an amputee who finds his phantom arm can reach into another world and is a short but effective little horror story.
In “The Evoked” we see the author’s Australian background combined with a consideration of the old meaning of the Winter solstice and the festival of Yule. There are lots of ideas in this story and I felt that whilst good it would have benefited from more space to expand.
“The Last Dance of Humphrey Bear” is one of my favourites. A child’s favourite toy (Humphrey Bear is an Australian Children’s TV programme) holds the last breath of a dead child. It has emotional depth and deals very sensitively with some dark themes.
“How to Get Ahead in Avatising” is a nice little satire on the price people may have to pay for fame and combines mythological archetypes with clever swipes at “spin” and personality worship.
“Junk Male” is about a couple of students who create a fake identity to reply to unsolicited post and the unintended consequences. This is one of the stories which illustrate the author’s ability to deftly combine humour with horror.
“The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread” is another story I really liked. It is an affectionate combination of Lovecraftian monsters and Middle England. It is written with a light touch and I found it very funny.
“The Gestalt Princess” is a charming but unconventional love story which I enjoyed, even with a steampunk setting (of which I am normally not the greatest fan).
“The Smith of Hockley” and “If Street” both show another one of this author’s strengths – exploring the intersections between local locations and ancient things and people.
“Mob Rule” is probably my least favourite in the collection. The idea behind the story is good (difficult to describe without giving away the premise) but I just didn’t like any of the characters or the conclusion.
By contrast, the short story “The Gas Street Octopus” is excellent and the one-liner ending will make you smile (or groan, depending on whether you like puns!)
“DIYary of the Dead” is a first-rate horror story where the mundane is slowly “peeled back” to reveal the macabre.
“The Curzon Street Horror” looks at the arcane rites that might have been involved in the start of the railways in Birmingham and again shows Brogden using a local location as the starting point to something weird.
“The Remover of Obstacles” is about dodgy car mechanics that again looks at ancient things concealed beneath a modern veneer.
“Made from Locally Sourced Ingredients” is a ghoulish look at trendy restaurants and the advisability of knowing where your food comes from. Whilst not for the faint-hearted this is still a very enjoyable and ingenious story.
The final story in the collection “The Pigeon Bride” is essentially a fairy tale but in a modern urban setting. As with the original fairy stories, there is a grim element and a price to be paid for the “happy” ending.
Based on this collection, James Brogden has an impressive imagination. He is exceptional at taking small everyday elements and transforming them into the bizarre. I also like his use of Midlands locations and how he connects the mythological past with the more “rational” present. His stories also demonstrate a mischievous and satirical sense of humour (including some clever puns) and were one of the things I really relished in this collection.
Evocations is available via Amazon etc, etc — and is also available for the Kindle.