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Book Review: Stories Of An Awkward Size

Jonathan Swords-Holdsworth, 313 pages

Good science fiction is thought-provoking. It makes us reconsider our place in the world in ways that is often dramatic and unsettling. Unlike mysteries or romances, genres built around the suspense and seduction of readers, good science fiction also provides its audience fresh insights about life, technology and society that no other forms of narration are tasked to accomplish.

Australian writer Jonathan Swords-Holdsworth lends a talented hand to the genre he grew up loving and clearly illustrates through his first collection, Stories Of An Awkward Size. The former software engineer, who now dedicates himself to writing full-time, shares five tantalizing tales that take place in the near future and offer the kinds of subtle plot twists, tech developments and creepy catharsis that television-savvy readers at first might rightly compare to the Netflix series Black Mirror.

However, unlike the world-building in Black Mirror that is ultimately immersed in disappointment, setbacks and satire — with the intellectual terror and gallows humor such a treatment of characters provides its audience — the short story collection written by Swords-Holdsworth glimmers with a slightly more promising vision of the future. In it, readers slowly acquire the astonishing sense that humankind might – just might — succeed in making a damn of a difference solving the myriad of problems and tackling the grave threats to survival on this planet it has caused.

Thus, to be fair, then, when considering the finely written tales of Stories of an Awkward Size, it might be best to imagine an updated version of The Twilight Zone, delivered as episodic narratives of the mind, often based on hard science, and presented with the deadpan tenderness of your favorite friend from down under.

To quote a character from Swords-Holdsworth’s metaphysical romp, “Mr. Devrie’s Red Bowler Hat,” which concerns the misadventures of a man who discovers an odd afterlife awaiting him after a car crash … “Bugger this … let’s explore.”

On that note, the four other stories in the collection include:

  • “Black Prince” – Try not to be too superstitious after reading about what happens when a digital black cat crosses the protagonist’s path.
  • “Come Silent Winged Sleep” – Be careful of eyes watching you in the sky. Great story that would make a great drama.
  • “The Ghost of Rene Magritte” – Virtual reality sometimes sounds better than promised. You’ll see.
  • “The Thousand Yard Stare” – What youth wishes for isn’t always a waste, or is it?

These stories would be great shorts developed for TV or film, a more upbeat series in the tradition of Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone. Maybe for us lovers of science fiction, one day they will be adapted for our screens, big or small. Until then, they remain great reads worthy of your time and space.

Swords-Holdsworth is currently finishing his first science fiction novel, tentatively to be released in 2018.

Ryan Hyatt, November 24, 2017

Categories: Reviews

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