Strange Horizons Review of Twelve Collections and The Teashop

An extensive review/essay by Lara Buckerton of my mosaic novel Twelve Collections and The Teashop just appeared at Strange Horizons:

Collections are harmless, right? It’s one of their conspicuous virtues—we come and peer into the collector’s murky world, fail to understand it, tut and shake our heads, but ultimately we approve of it, as a kind of monument honouring—not exactly the Unknown Oddball himself—but the social tolerance which allows him to thrive. But what if collections aren’t evidence of liberalism and diversity at all, but of a levelling, decontextualising waste? What if collections don’t have a special life of their own, but a special death of their own?

If these sound like ostentatious questions, they’re balanced by the spare and graceful way in which Zivkovic investigates them. The tales are quite slight—sixish pages, usually—and very moreish. There’s something a bit mannered about Zivkovic’s prose (an effect of translation perhaps?)— “stay there, all the way till lunch time,” “avoided by a hair”—but chaste and clunky is a fitting style for the quietly comic, fantastika material. Fiction which relies on keeping its readers’ interpretative machinery switched on will hardly want to hypnotise them with rhetorical pyrotechnics. The time is everywhen, the place is everywhere—or at least everywhere blandly Euro—and the protagonists are all pumped full of Everyman jelly. Stylistically, faux naivety is your only man.

Nor will such fiction really need to rock out plot-wise. There are thick traces, in almost every tale, of a pair of generic devices so distinguished that you might almost call them clichés—Science fiction’s “aah-aah-creation-turned-against-its-maker” is one, fantasy fiction’s “ooh-ooh-pact-with-the-devil” the other. The reader of Tweve Collections is still entranced and tickled by a stream of incident, but her excitations generally derive from a world of nuance. As the formulae become increasingly familiar (the collectors of tangibles are collected by their collections, anybody who hands over an intangible tends to feel ominious regret), more significance attaches to the little stuff—the manner, the mood, the colour, the detail—and to the cobweb of connections unfolding underneath the tales.

Link to the full review.

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