The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"The Serial Murders" by Kim Newman: An Appreciation by Tansy Rayner Roberts

The first time I read a Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, I discovered a Diogenes Club story featuring professional psychic Richard Jeperson. I loved it because it was a spooky horror-fantasy piece that felt (and looked) very much like an episode of The New Avengers. Or, if not that, then an episode of a very cool British 1970's show that I had mysteriously never heard of, featuring supernatural crime. Imagine if "The X-Files" was actually done twenty-five years earlier, in Britain. With Carnaby Street fashions, a charismatic older leading man with a Shakespearean background, a young male co-star who went on to star in cop shows or cheesy eighties sit-coms, and a young female co-star who went on to be a Bond girl.

Every now and then, a Diogenes Club story appeared before me, mysteriously, in an anthology here or there. I always noted them and enjoyed them--but, strangely, never noticed the name of the author (of course I'd heard of Kim Newman, but somehow didn't identify him with these particular stories).

Then, a few weeks ago, I wandered past SCI FICTION and found "The Serial Murders." Not only a Diogenes Club story, but a whole novella, divided into three episodes. I read it voraciously, savouring every bit of witty dialogue and glam fashion. There's something joyously strange about these stories--in this case, a story about soap opera and voodoo, complete with hypertext "footnotes" that explain all the Seventies Britisms of the language. The plot starts out with absurdity and descends into stylish weirdness and yet it works. It doesn't have anything overly significant to say, but it's an entertaining romp and one of my favourite stories of the year. One of the rare short stories I come across that I would happily re-read just for sheer reading pleasure.

And here's the thing: in the early days of stunned shock and disappointment as the news of the death of SCI FICTION filtered through the blogosphere, I kept hearing people talk about the stories that wouldn't be published if not for SCI FICTION. My first reaction was impatience--surely if they're good enough to earn 20¢ a word, then they would pick up publication somewhere else? (I know, I know, I've since come to my senses.) But it's hard to imagine "The Serial Murders" finding a home somewhere else. It's a quirky, oddball novella–-and it's very rare for a print magazine to allow a novella-sized chunk of real estate to be filled by quirky and oddball. That's why SCI FICTION was special–-not only for the brave and challenging and downright strange stories that found its way onto those well-presented pages, but particularly for the novelettes and novellas that found a home there. The number of high quality pieces of long fiction that we get to read every year has just been drastically slashed, and it's hard not to feel seriously depressed about that.

Too late to add this to my list for Santa, but what I really want for the New Year is for someone to give Ellen Datlow a job, a budget and a publishing outlet. It doesn't even have to be free to readers. I'll pay my way.

Sigh. In the meantime, I can take heart from the fact that Monkeybrain Books are publishing a collection of Richard Jeperson stories (The Man from the Diogenes Club) in 2006. Cue the 1970's soundtrack, and grab your knee-high vinyl boots . . .

Link to story.


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