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Imagined Slights
James Lovegrove
Victor Gollancz, 276 pages

Imagined Slights
James Lovegrove
James Lovegrove, who also writes as J.M.H. Lovegrove, is an Arthur C. Clarke Award short-listed author. He was born on Christmas Eve, 1965. Despite the rumour and the year and a half he spent in Chicago between 1995 and 1996, he remains inarguably, ineluctably, irretrievably, irrevocably British.

James Lovegrove Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Foreigners
SF Site Review: The Foreigners
SF Site Review: The Krilov Continuum
SF Site Review: The Hand That Feeds
James Lovegrove Profile

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Martin Lewis

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James Lovegrove's short story collection is a winner from the very first page. Thanks to the helpful "Contents of Imagined Slights (expressed in the form of a pie chart)", I know the shortest story takes up 2.77% of the book and the largest 11.27%.

A review of the contents itself would probably prove more useful however, so I will move onto that. For a writer most commonly associated with science fiction, Imagined Slights represents something of a mixed bag, tending strongly to hybridisation; urban fantasy, SF and horror spliced together. In this, the collection is similar to Michael Marshall Smith's What You Make It, though without the overweening obsession with cats and cigarettes.

A few of the stories are little more than vignettes but with markedly different success rates. "Britworld™," for example, is a nothing satire that barely goes further than its title whereas "Satisfaction Guaranteed" is perhaps the most touching account of necrophilia committed to print. Hovering somewhere in between is "Dead Letters," the story of two impossible correspondents and their uncomprehending go-between. The aim is clearly poignancy but unfortunately the story is too bland for that.

Moving onto the meatier stories there is a wedge of fantasies that suffer the same flaw as "Dead Letters;" the gap between the intent and the outcome. The best of these is "A Taste Of Heaven," about a Billy Liar character who may or may not be telling the truth about discovering Heaven in Streatham, a not-very-loveable borough of South London. Hiding alongside these fantasies are two stories that, whilst they do not contain any fantastical elements, share the tone and the failings of these pieces. "The Landlady's Dog" revolves around a love placebo and "Thantophile Seeks Similar" tells the story of two maladjusted goths who haunt a graveyard. While such a brusque précis doesn't really capture the contents of either story, there simply isn't that much to them.

In contrast the science fiction stories are much stronger. In particular, two stories make you forgive Lovegrove anything, where his striving for universality pays off. "Wings" is the story of a boy without wings growing up in a society where this is a unique disability. This time, Lovegrove does achieve the tone he is aiming for, producing a SF parable that is the most successful story in the collection. "The Gift" is set in the same world as Lovegrove's novel The Foreigners. It concerns the aftermath of the alien Foreigners exodus from Earth and the effect this has on the humans left behind. As with "Wings," there is a timelessness and an empathy that shows just how good a writer Lovegrove can be. In addition, there is a well thought through first contact tale about an all female colony's encounter with a shipwrecked male and a less successful look at the nature of cryogenic immortality.

Finally "The Unmentionables" is a slice of post-modern comedic horror. Amusing in its excess and its subversion of Lovecraft, it is nonetheless a throwaway piece.

It has been noted by various reviewers that Lovegrove has an excellent eye for detail. This is true but he often finds it hard to marry this with a successful story. Whilst all the stories here are well written, they are often not equally satisfying in construction. Although Imagined Slights is 17.15% excellent and 31.53% good, it does not seem uncharitable to suggest that perhaps Lovegrove is not entirely suited to the short story medium.

Copyright © 2002 Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis lives in South London; he is originally from Bradford, UK. He writes book reviews for The Telegraph And Argus.


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