Afternoon story-lovers! Today I have another title for the grown-ups and this one is a collection of short stories, something that I know many of you love to indulge in (for both reading and writing). Irregular Verbs and Other Stories by Matthew Johnson features a whole range of short delights that run the gamut from accidental time-travelling folk from ancient civilisations, to the deliberate time-travelling citizens of a future Now. But there’s more – much more than just time travel – to whet the appetite of anyone who likes to get stuck into a good yarn, and knows that for some readers, it’s better to be in it for a good time, than a long time.
*you keep meaning to read a short story collection, but never quite get around to picking one up (surely it can wait…what harm could waiting do?)
* you ever made up a pretend language as a kid and wish you’d written it down (mainly so that you could use it to escape awkward social situations)
* you’ve ever had nightmares about elderly zombies, gnashing their terrible dentures and waving their sharpened-to-a-point bus passes
*you appreciate a writer who can drag you in with only a few short sentences, over and over and over again
I was pleasantly surprised by this collection because, although I enjoy reading short stories, I often find that collections can be hit and miss. With Irregular Verbs I was happy to discover that not only did I enjoy the vast majority of these stories, but I also found myself deeply engaged in the tales within the first page.
Johnson seems to be a master at efficient, realistic world-building. A number of the stories take place in alternate versions of our own time, or worlds that feature some aspect of time travel and I never felt like I had to work to figure out what was going on. Within the first page or two, I was totally drawn in and the idiosyncracies of each world seemed perfectly reasonable.
My favourite stories of the bunch included the opener, which features a world in which complete languages are habitually created between partners, neighbours and small communities but are subject to the flimsy commitment of conversation in order to remain alive. A timely warning appears in a tale in which those things that we can’t seem to find time for have been turned into commodities, ready to be purchased on easy-to-manage monthly installments. Johnson also tries a new take on the Zompocalypse, with old-age pensioners making up the bulk of the shuffling hordes (complete with slippers and dressing gowns). Another highlight for me was the one-way time-travel tale in which welcome centres have been created to deal with a strange anomaly in space/time that causes random groups of people from Ancient Roman times to be whisked into contemporary history.
Overall, I found this to be a fascinating collection of stories that deal with scenarios that give pause for thought. Whether it’s the question of what exactly it is that keeps a common history safe in the minds of a society, or the conundrum of end-of-life directives for a being that seems to be immortal, these tales will get you thinking and I recommend it for the fearless, intrepid sort of armchair traveller.
Irregular Verbs and Other Stories was released on June 18th, and I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.
Until next time,