Friday, 7 November 2014

Review: Dirty Work, Chris Farnell

Quick confession time: I hate screen reading.

If you're wondering why I tend to review only physical substance books bought in bricks and mortar book shops - and can persuade me not to mumble unconvincingly about aesthetics and supporting local businesses - it comes down to two things: an eye condition called scotopic sensitivity syndrome and the fact that I do most of my editing (and beta-ing for others) on an e-reader. Basically, ebook technology makes me a fussy bitch with a migraine.

But, as short stories are less likely to give me eye-burn and this was recommended to me, I found that dipping in and out of this over about a week wasn't enough to send me running for the ibuprofen and a smoke coloured transparent overlay. So, here is the spoiler free premise of Dirty Work by Chris Farnell.

Eight stories linked by the rather tenuous theme of 'jobs' within an generally SF/F set up, we have post-apocalyptic soldiers in a war against no-I'm-not-telling-you, dystopian futures of advertising narratives, and someone who felt a bit like a dodgy financial advisor who specialises in Faustian pacts. Suffice to say that even the blurb was enough to call up a giggle.

I think what sold me on it was the way that there was clearly the mind of tinkerer at work, a writer willing to take a worn premise and giving it a fresh little kick to bring it to life. While bleak and occasionally horrifying , there is a real playfulness to these stories. They read like shaggy dog tales told by a skilled comedian, not afraid to indulge in genuine human emotion but always willing to throw in the laugh.

Farnell's prose is snappy, idiosyncratic and light. These are stories you can enjoy over a cup of tea and a biscuit while you're pretending to reply to a very important text message - just be careful not to laugh too much. Although the plots are at times convoluted, the cleanness of style and the general 'flash fiction' quality of the collection keeps things simple and easy to follow.

On the downside, I had a bit of a gripe with the way that most of the stories opened. The first page or so or narrative felt somewhat perfunctory, as though character and style were being set up before the real business of the tale commenced. 'Flipped', for instance, starts with something of an info-dump before the second page drops what could have been a killer hook. Still, if you have the patience for a slow beginning (and you won't need to wait long. As I said, flash fiction) then it quickly kicks off to something compelling, amusing and just a little bit scary.

So, if you want something light to read midweek and enjoy your SF/F, then Dirty Work is well worth it's very modest cover price.

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