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Tiny Deaths
Robert Shearman

If they’re going to turn the secrets of life and death into a crossword puzzle, they can hardly object when we all sit around trying to solve it."

Reviewed by Mark Dalligan

This is definitely a case of being able to tell a good book by its cover. Rachel Goodyear has depicted a young woman blowing soap bubbles that are like cigarette burns through reality. What an inspired match to Robert Shearman’s first collection of short stories. There are fourteen tales to savour. Each has a deceptively understandable beginning, so the reader is wholly unprepared for wormholes of plot, situation and character that echo a deep, alien reality. 

My personal favourites are: Mortal Coil (first published 2007 in Phobic: Modern Horror Stories) which has the original premise that a higher power reveals the form and date of their death to every individual on Earth, with the exception of the narrator. He is the only one with an unwritten future. In despair, he watches his wife leave him, his familiar world change, then strangers begin to ask him to perform a very special service. 

Damned if You Don’t can be read as very English story about the cost of loyalty. It seems to be inspired by some older American SF that used human-animal-alien relationships as the canvas on which a larger story was written. In some ways it is like Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog. In that work, a boy survives in a post-nuclear holocaust world with the help of his genetically-enhanced anthropomorphic dog, that helps him find food and women, and which is instrumental in leading him to a significant choice. In Shearman’s world his hero, Martin, is imprisoned in Hell. He finds the place to be "like the holiday village I once stayed at in Lanzarote". Befriending Hitler’s dog Woofie, Martin starts to change. Their unscheduled return to Earth is quite chilling. 

Static is a clever examination of relationships, death, lost opportunities and technology. A widower’s television starts to bleed on the carpet. What has caused this? Can it be repaired or must it go to the scrapheap? Quite bleak, with an ending that is either very positive or very depressing, depending whether you view the glass as half empty or half full. 

In So Proud, a young woman, apparently quite plain, can’t believe her luck in wedding a husband who now "wasn’t going to get away". Pregnancy quickly follows the ceremony but the baby is not at all the expected little bundle of joy, rather, a very large piece of antique furniture. She continues rapid breeding and soon finds her "children" being sold to fund an improved lifestyle. How does she come to terms with this? 

Tiny Deaths, despite being the title piece, at first seemed to let down the high standard Shearman achieved in this collection. I thought for a long while as to why this should be and finally decided it was an inability to identify with the protagonist. Very few works of fiction depict Jesus Christ as anything other than completely holy. I certainly know no others that use cross-gender reincarnation as one of the means by which he gained compassion. Rereading this work however brings its rewards, so persevere.

Mark Dalligan's short fiction has appeared in a number of publications including Static Movement, MicroHorror, Bewildering Stories, Boston Literary Magazine, Ranfurly Review, Twisted Tongue and Every Day Fiction.

Mark's other Short Reviews: Kim Newman "The Secret Files of the Diogenes Club"   

Philip K. Dick "Human Is?"   


PublisherComma Press

Publication Date: Nov 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Awards: Winner, 2008 World Fantasy Award for short story collection; shortlisted for the 2008 Edge Hill Short Story Prize; longlisted for the 2008 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize .

Author bio:  Still under 40yrs old Robert Shearman, playwright and screenwriter, has rung up an impressive level of achievements including a play produced by Francis Ford Coppola, winning the Sunday Times Playwright Award and, one for SF fans, bringing back the Daleks in Dr Who. Tiny Deaths is his first book.

Read an interview with Robert Shearman

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If you liked this book you might also like....

Robert Shearman "Love Songs for the Sly and Cynical" [due out 2009]

What other reviewers thought:

The Guardian

The Independent