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[personal profile] mtvessel
Oct 2013
An A-Z of Possible Worlds - A.C Tillyer - Roast Books, 2009 / Tales of Old Northumbria - Joan Morgan - Countryside Books, 2006
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Good names are crucial to storytelling. They add colour, spice, humour and consistency to a world. Whether elegant, like Mr. Darcy, or outrageous, like Wackford Squeers, a good name makes the difference between a bland tale and a memorable one. A point that is well illustrated by these two books of short stories.

Though to describe An A-Z of Possible Worlds as a book is pushing it a little. It has an unusual presentation consisting of a box containing 26 soft-bound pamphlets, each with a title such as "B is for Bog" or "G is for Golf Course". There is also a tube-style "mind map" that supposedly links the stories together, though I couldn't see any connections at all other than the author's cynical and nasty take on human nature.

The individual stories are often based on good ideas - the golf course tale, for example, is about a billionaire who takes over a golf club and then fills it with golf-playing robots to fool the council into thinking that it is still a public amenity - but at no point does Tillyer name any of the countries, towns or the people that feature in them, instead referring to the latter by their occupations. This makes the stories bland and unmemorable. These are not possible worlds, they are artificial constructions created purely to make the basic ideas work. I was utterly unengaged.

By comparison, Tales of Old Northumbria is much more my sort of thing. These are stories with a strong sense of place and powerfully atmospheric names that sit in the mind. My favourite was "Meg of the Moneybags", the ghost of a female miser that cannot rest until all the places where she hid her riches have been found. I also liked "Cuddy Alder's Goose Pies", describing the rough Tyneside keelmen whose privations that led them to raid the house of a gentleman whose housekeeper fought them off with everything she could lay her hands on. Most of the stories are romantic re-tellings of historical events in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries and as such tend to have abrupt and sometimes unsatisfying endings, but they evoke the time and the period as well as any fantastical novel I have read. Even the map has names that make you want to know what happened there - Alnwick, Vindolanda, Thorngrafton, Cullercoats, Seaton Delavel. Good names catch the heart, a fact that Morgan knows but Tillyer, apparently, doesn't.

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