I took Tim Jones’ first book of short stories, Extreme Weather Events, into hospital with me this week. His comment, before I went, was: EWE [is] a darker book, overall, than Transported [his second book], so it may not be ideal cheering-up fare if that is what you're looking for next week ... but that's up to you, of course. Well, EWE is certainly fairly dark in spots: Lizard, for instance, is plain horrible, in my reading of it, but it’s the darkest by a long way.
Some of the themes in this selection are similar to Tim’s second book: the apocalyptic destruction of the earth, climate change and the curious desire of people to worship in cultic groups where somehow morality is switched off.
Consequently, apart from the vile worshippers in Lizard, we have a bunch of them causing havoc in Temple in the Matrix, a sci-fi story with certain links to the film, The Matrix, and a vibrant language that’s sometimes unusual but never unreadable.
Maria and the Tree, the first story, takes place after some disaster has occurred in the world, and in spite of its gloomy tone, has a hopeful ending. Equally in the next story, Wintering Over, we know that there’s probably been a major nuclear disaster, but it’s only the background to the story of three scientists marking time in the Antarctic, rather than the main point.
In Tour Party some fairly large-scale disaster has happened, but we’re not party to the details.
These three stories lean to the pessimistic side of Jones’ writing, but, like many of his other stories, there’s a curious playful satire running across the surface. It’s not quite like the wit and humour of the second book (which was what encouraged me to read it), but it’s there.
The three short short stories, The New Land, The Kiwi Contingent, and The Pole, contain that delightful playing with a quirky idea that is Jones at his best, and The Man Who Loved Maps, quite apart from being set in my home town of Dunedin, is a warm-hearted story about a man who becomes the maps he so loves.
In another story, My Friend the Volcano, the female vulcanologist becomes one with Mt Taranaki via a bio-chip in her head. This story is told by a male narrator who falls in love with the girl, and who turns out to be surprisingly supportive of her rather odd approach to scientific study.
Black Box, the story of a kind of picture into the past that appears in the middle of Wellington one day (Wellington comes off rather badly in Tim’s world) ended a bit abruptly for me. I’d like to have explored further with the anonymous student who manages to break into the box, and discover what’s beyond its borders.
And finally, there’s Flensing, a very strange story about an abandoned fishing village and a church full of ghosts – and a family - father, mother and son - in which Oedipus might feel at home. There’s no doubt Jones has an imagination that hives off into peculiar corners. I can’t say I much liked this story (but then I’d just had an operation!), but it certainly sticks in the mind.