The Alchemy Press, 2014
"Merry-Go-Round" has been available for a while now. It's a perfect gem of a book by a writer who I've only known, previously, for his poetry. According to the introduction by editor Johnny Mains, however, Bryn has been writing stories like those featured alongside the poetry here for years and years. Shows what an authority I am.
I know some of the poetry. So might you, if you read the little magazines, or if you saw me read them at a festival last summer. They're presented in six sections between the stories, and they explore some of Bryn's familiar themes--music and family in particular. His science fiction poetry is new to me. A taxi driver on Mars studies to keep his brain ticking over. The Siren Women of a distant planet slaughter their males by tearing their flesh with sharp teeth.
Clearly the self-deprecating Mr. Fortey has an imagination as wild as H.G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe. And they are the authors I kept thinking of as I read the stories. Not because Bryn is copying them, or even, necessarily, influenced by them; I'm not an expert in horror or science fiction, genres that most of the stories fall into, so if the author's style has precedents, I almost certainly don't know them. But the horror stories, especially "Shrewhampton North-East", which starts the collection, have an eerie mystery, and a perversity, that almost belongs in the Victorian periodicals. (When I say the stories are perverse, I mean that as a compliment.)
And like Wells, Bryn's science fiction takes us to places our own minds could not conceive of. He imagines technological advances that allow for the instantaneous transfer of human beings from one place to another, or from one time to another. Time travel, of course, is one of the most venerable tropes of science fiction, but Bryn handles it with real ingenuity. In "The Oscar Project" the protagonist journeys back to the days before Christ's execution--an interesting premise in itself for an author who has rejected religion, as Bryn seems to have done. I won't spoil your reading by telling you what happens, but the drama that unfolds is intensely gripping and beautifully described.
As I've already written, music is never far away when Bryn's around. It's something he and I have in common. Other stories in the collection concern his beloved jazz, a subject he writes about as well as anyone. I like most "The Pawn Shop Window", a melancholy tale about a trumpet player who lives in the Golden Age of jazz but never makes it. In some ways, at least for me, that one's about poets too: all the really wonderful men and women Bryn has known and I have known who lived hard lives trying to bring something to the world that the world didn't want. People in the small press whose stars were eclipsed by greater talents (like Louis Armstrong in the story), or lesser talents, like the poetasters whose academic connections got them mainstream publication and write-ups in the TLS.
You can probably still order copies of "Merry-Go-Round" online at www.alchemypress.co.uk. I think it's a very good book, and not just because of my long-standing friendship with the author. There's science fiction in here, for Heaven's sake. Anyone who can get me reading, and even enjoying, that has got to be worth a wider audience.