The latest instalment of the Unthology series from Unthank Books sets out to showcase a ‘variety of styles, voices and visions of what it is to be human’. The publishers are keen supporters of creative writing, through their evening classes and online modules, and the anthology features an interesting mix of new and established writers. There’s no overarching theme to Unthology 4, but editors Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones have exercised good quality control, and put together a collection which is broadly cohesive without becoming stale. Generally, the writing would be called ‘literary’ – there are a couple of entries which verge on the dystopian edge of sci-fi or psychological horror, but generally the ‘genre’ quotient is low.
Eden Dust, by Michael Crossan, and The Murder of Crows by Marc Owen Jones both explore dystopian themes. Of the two, I found Jones’s more interesting; starting with the idea ‘what would happen if all the birds suddenly disappeared?’, his story mixes gentle humour (the first sign of disruption is that ‘Nando’s was switching their menu to ribs and KFC was going out of business’) and insight (the profoundly disturbing effect of the absence of birdsong in public areas). There is a hint of John Wyndham about the way the story mixes the speculative and the everyday.
Overall, Unthology 4 is a good read. Its varied focus makes it hard to draw conclusions, although in terms of the modern short story, there are some common threads. The contributions are largely third person narratives, and generally eschew verbal pyrotechnics or unusual occurrences in favour of understatement and the slow reveal. However, there’s enough diversity in terms of theme and style to keep the reader interested – my own preference would be for more stories along the lines of The Laundry Key Complex, but I enjoyed sampling stories like The Angel too. The authors themselves are a mixture of the established professional, the up-and-coming, and the hobbyist, but the editors maintain a good standard of writing throughout; some stories interested me more than others, but there were none I would call badly written. The news is that short stories are enjoying a resurgence, and Unthology 4 backs this up – there are clearly lots of good ones being written. If you’re a fan of the form, or you’re starting to get interested, I’d recommend it.
I’ve edited down the review to highlight my own story, but all stories within the review get a considered and positive review and the full post can be seen by heading over to the Workshy Fop himself at http://workshyfop.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/unthology-4-edited-by-ashley-stokes.html