Monday, May 9, 2016

Review: Brutal Pantomimes by Rhys Hughes

Egaeus Press is a publisher that consistently prints beautiful hardcover editions, and has become one of my favorite small publishers of the past few years. Their most recent offering is Brutal Pantomimes, a new collection by Welsh author Rhys Hughes, who writes absurdist fantasy and horror. Humor is a large part of his work, which consists of several novels and hundreds of short stories. Michael Cisco provides the introduction.

For awhile I've been familiar with who Rhys Hughes is, but this collection is the first time I've read his fiction. And while it wasn't my favorite release from Egaeus Press, it was still a solid collection, further proof that this is a publisher worth following. Physically, this book is a beauty. Lithographically printed, cover and endpaper art by František Tichý, and illustrations by Jacques Callot.

Humor can be truly hit or miss, and sometimes depends upon the mood of the reader. Hughes writes fiction that is imbued with humor, and at times I found it tiresome. To remedy this, I took my time reading the book, and found that I much more appreciated it in that manner. The stories within show a clever mind and a dangerous imagination. Hughes manages to find the whimsical in nearly everything, and considering this collection contains his 500th written story (500!!!!) I would dare say he has one of the most powerful imaginations working today.

Some Stories:

The Jam of Hypnos is a great opener for the collection, and one of my favorites. A young man is given a power by the Deity of Dreams. Any food the man dreams of will materialize next to him while he slumbers. The man ends up marooned on an island, where he must use his power to survive and escape. The story plays with the gift/curse duality. Worth noting, this story first appeared in a Poe tribute anthology.

The second story, The Private Pirates Club, is a funny set of stories with a story. A barroom full of men, each one telling his own story about the pirate they believe to be "the world's second worst pirate." These tales eventually lead to the punchline about the World's Worst Pirate, and the story is quite a fun little tale of adventure.

Corsets on the Outside pokes fun at Steampunk fashion, but overall fell a bit flat for me. Wise Man follows, and while at times I found the story really funny, it seemed overlong and embodies the tiresome comment I made earlier, although there are many moments of brilliance in the story.

Another adventure story that I quite enjoyed was The Inflatable Stadium. This absurd adventure story begins with a man who puts wheels on his ship, and finds himself blown miles and miles inland. In a silly town he meets an assortment of oddball characters, including an inventory with multiple pocket watches, a cruel but pretty woman acting as the town's tyrannical leader, and a fractured version of the town's former mayor, who knows appears as copies of himself in all different sizes. The man finds himself trapped, and schemes to escape and take his revenge on the town in the form of the inventor's inflatable stadium. The story moves long briskly, and was definitely a favorite of mine.

The Eeriness That Lurks on the Far Side of Furniture is one hell of a story title. The story itself is quite short, but doesn't find itself lacking because of that. A man seeks shelter in a mansion filled with bizarre furniture, the failed experiments of an inventor hoping to turn ordinary furniture into weapons for war. The majority of the story is the conversation between the two men as they thread their way through the labyrinth of cupboards, chairs, couches, tables and cabinets.

Overall, an enjoyable collection and a nice introduction to the work of Rhys Hughes. Even though I found the humor to be a mixed bag, I feel that his imagination may be unmatched, and I'm very much looking forward to digging into more of his work.