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Music For Another World
edited by Mark Harding
Mutation Press, 270 pages

Music For Another World
Mark Harding
According to Mark Harding:
"I'm new to editing. My first project was the anthology Music For Another World (Mutation Press), 19 stories of science fiction and fantasy on the theme of music. Having thought about my desert island book, I see its (I hope) un-baleful influence on me as an editor. The fantasy stories selected are all "creepy stories." They all mix in horror and ghosts (including some of the SF ones) -- and all of them mix in another type of story altogether."

Music For Another World Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Seamus Sweeney

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"All art aspires to the condition of music." Walter Pater's famous axiom is directly invoked in one of the stories in this anthology of speculative fiction linked by the theme of music, and is one of the first quotes that springs to mind when considering the artistic challenge of capturing music in words.

Another well-known quote about music and writing is Frank Zappa's -- "writing about music is like dancing about architecture." Like sex, like religion, like love, music is one of the more difficult things to write about. In a few bars, music can evoke emotions, passions, memories and desires. All of this can seem clod-hopping on the page. Writers about music either seek refuge in the technical vocabulary of the conservatory, or write not about the music but about the sociology, the fashion, the politics, the personalities, or the history related to it. Look at the music reviews (in any genre) in your local paper -- how many of them fall back on clichés, on regurgitated press releases, and how few make you approach the piece in a different way?

What is a writer to do? My own sense is that (as with writing about sex) a direct approach will invariably fail. Sentences, paragraphs, pages will seem heavy-footed and all too literal, compared to the immediate access music grants to the senses. All the stories in Music For Another World are well crafted, readable, and in that most damning of phrases of faint praise, interesting. Few leave much of a lasting impression, however, and overall I was left with a sense of disappointment.

There are definite highlights. Cyril Simsa's opening tale, "The Three Lillies," is an atmospheric vignette set in a subtly altered Eastern Europe that is the closest any story in the collection comes to the condition of music. Jim Steel's "The Shostakovich Ensemble" is a clever alt-history story in which Dmitri Shostakovich was purged in the Twenties, the USA never entered World War II and the Iron Curtain fell across the Atlantic, and the post-punk music of the late 70s and early 80s (like all music) is under the control of a centralised state agency. Chris Amies's "Cow Lane" has something of the sweaty frenetic energy of punk, married to a delicious frisson of the supernatural. Vincent Lauzon's "Festspeel" is an engaging epistolary piece which becomes a meditation on being maimed and encounters with the alien.

There is wit and imagination in abundance. There is literal space opera (Jackie Hawkins' "Figaro"), there is an afterlife segregated between secular and devotional music (David H Hendrickson's "Blue Note Heaven"), there are Bruckner-devoted Manicheans hurtling through deep space (Sean Martin's "Deep Field") These are all entertaining, diverting stories, in their own way.

I realised something when I came to consider why the stories, well-crafted etc. as they were, didn't engage as much as they could have. Music features in all the stories, not only as a background or plot point, but as something integral. Indeed, it is the transcendent power of music that is key in almost all the stories. So all feature passages of prose bordering on purple describing the moment of transcendence. And here is where the authors hit the heavy-footed, all too literal (in every sense of literal) factor mentioned above. Simsa's story, so brief it is more of a parable really, is the one that comes closest to the condition of music. Perhaps transcendence is best hinted at, approach from the side, than described literally.

Copyright © 2011 Seamus Sweeney

Seamus Sweeney is a freelance writer and medical graduate from Ireland. He has written stories and other pieces for the website Nthposition.com and other publications. He is the winner of the 2010 Molly Keane Prize. He has also written academic articles as Seamus Mac Suibhne.


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