Thursday, 7 July 2016


Peter Tennant did a mammoth review of  titles from The Alchemy Press in Black Static #50. Below is the review for GIVE ME THESE MOMENTS BACK.

Mike Chinn[...]'s collection GIVE ME THESE MOMENTS BACK (Alchemy Press pb, 266pp, £9.99) opens with ‘Welcome to the Hotel Marianas’ in which a submersible with idle rich passengers voyages to a hotel built in the depths of the Mariana Trench, only to find that something monstrous is waiting. It’s a story that’s written with a feel of momentous events taking place and increasing unease as they unfold, the characters well drawn and the idea of the ultimate in adventure holidays coming across strongly, all of which can’t obscure the fact that ultimately it is just a gotcha story, one in which everything, all the careful preparation, leads up to the moment when the big bad jumps out.

There’s a genuinely creepy feel to ‘Facades’, with a couple on holiday in Venice getting on the city’s bad side, though you suspect that the fault lies as much in their natures as in that of the city. The atmosphere of menace builds gradually and surely, with Chinn showing a fine sense of place and grasp of his characters’ motivations. 

The scientist protagonist of ‘A Matter of Degree’ tries to prove the worth of the suction cups he’s developed by scaling an unfinished bridge building project. In a weird dislocation of reality his attempt at exposure backfires, though he does achieve immortality of a kind in a twist ending, the story entertaining with its gonzo ideas and the portrait of ambition warped badly out of true.

In ‘All Under Hatches Stow’d’ a group of foresters become stuck on a boat in the middle of a lake when their work unleashes a plague. Again, the sense of place is strong, with Chinn meticulously filling in the background picture, but the perils of the plague are overshadowed by the warped personalities of the people on board the boat, monsters in human form whose ire is directed at the only woman in their party. There’s a sense here of something else going on, something that hovers just out of the reader’s view, possibly related to Prospero’s Books, a film one man watches obsessively, and comparisons with Shakespeare’s The Tempest are there to be made.

Resurrected musicians play to adoring crowds in ‘Be Grateful When You’re Dead’, but the reality of their condition repels people when the music ends. Underlying all this is a subtext about how the dead hand of the past can be an end to future and present creativity, the suspicion that all our idols have feet of clay and only their untimely deaths prevents us from realising this.

Japanese whalers are lured into strange waters and attacked by a terrible beast in ‘Kami Ga Kikoemasu’, a story that has about it something of the weirdness of Hodgson’s nautical tales, while at the same time raising vital questions about our lack of respect for the environment and nature.

An advertising executive with a novel idea on how to promote a beauty product finds herself on the receiving end of the attentions of an otherworldly entity in ‘All Beauty Must Die’. The story explores our obsession with beauty and the things we might be willing to do to preserve it, while also casting a jaundiced eye over the advertising industry, all of which contributes to the ultimate horror of what is taking place. 

Set in Victorian times, ‘Parlour Games’ has a guest at a dinner party whose host is renowned for his unusual entertainments finding that he is to be the subject of tonight’s diversion, the story engaging and with a nasty sting in the tail. 

‘Cold Rain’ is perhaps the most oblique story here, with Adam wandering through a watered down landscape, one in which it’s never really clear if he is a ghost or haunted by others, the surreal feel of it all unsettling, but at the same vaguely dissatisfying, more mood piece than story.

In ‘Once Upon an Easter’ treasure seekers in Mexico fall out among themselves, with gunplay and treachery all in a day’s work, the story an exciting read that doesn’t outstay its welcome, but I suspect won’t be remembered long after the reading is done either. 

A brother and sister on vacation together have an unusual encounter in ‘The Appalachian Collection’, a story which is beautifully written but for my money is a tale where the payoff simply doesn’t justify the trip there. With its strange museum and overly obliging moteliers it reeks of the outré and weird, but on this occasion better to travel than arrive, as it feels like an assemblage of effects rather than a story. 

‘Just the Fare Back Home’ gives us the tale of a scam, with a man masquerading as a police officer and his partner a hooker in all but name. It was fun to read, with some decent characterisation and a fine comeuppance for the two deserving victims, though from the point of view of Molly for all practical purposes she is prostituting herself, so I’m not sure what purpose the scam served and I couldn’t really see any point to the betrayal by her partner in crime.

Tarl Genin and his fellows live in the Belows, surviving on whatever scraps fall from the world above, but in the story ‘Harbour Lights’ their numbers are being thinned by an unknown killer. Chinn excels here in the creation of a blighted world, one in which human beings are little different from the vermin with which they co-exist, and he wraps it up in an exciting and gripping story, one that revels in madness and bleak characterisation, but ends on a solitary note of hope. 

‘Like a Bird’ is the story of photographer Connor, taking publicity and promotional shots in the Azores, guilt ridden over the death of his wife, finding sexual consolation with two very different women who work at his hotel. It’s an erotically charged story, but one with something far more sinister going on in the background as the original inhabitants of the islands return to fill it with their progeny. At the heart of the story is the concept of taking responsibility for our actions, and what the failure to contain lust may result in.

A chance encounter with a woman from his past, results in a catastrophe for the protagonist of ‘Give Me These Moments Back’, the story intriguing but ultimately a little too off the wall for my liking, the feeling that we’re only being given clues which don’t quite add up. 

There’s a noir feel to ‘Brindley’s Place’, with a man taking a stripper to a gangster’s crib, but the real slant of the story is in the background details and the picture that finally emerges of our protagonist, a man who made one mistake and has been paying for it ever since. As if to underline the point, Chinn offers no happy ending, no way out from under, with our hero having to settle for the occasional gesture and sparks of verbal defiance that mock his fate.

Written in the form of daily diary entries, ‘Holding It In’ tells of a retired TV personality who works as Father Christmas at a local garden centre, his big secret that there is a kidnapped girl kept prisoner in his basement. The thrust of the story lies in the disconnect between the man’s rambling, self-indulgent memoir and the reality of what he is doing, with occasional lapses into reality where his real motives come to the fore and the reader is appalled by what is seen through the bars of the narrative. 

Ending the collection is the fantasy romp ‘Saving Prince Romero’, a gloriously entertaining melange of wizards and flying boats, swordplay and double dealing, with larger than life characters and some surprising twists in the plot. It’s an exuberant and fun note on which to end this assemblage of work by a writer who wears his influences lightly and seems to find inspiration in every corner of the genre and its culture.

Reproduced with kind permission of the author. Copyright 2016 Peter Tennant and Black Static.

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