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Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities
Jason V. Brock
Hippocampus Press, 252 pages

Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities
Jason V. Brock
Jason V. Brock has been widely published in magazines, comics, and anthologies such as Butcher Knives & Body Counts, Animal Magnetism, Fangoria, the Weird Fiction Review, S. T. Joshi's Black Wings anthology series, Like Water for Quarks, and many others.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Seamus Sweeney

Jason V. Brock's collection, Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities, consists of sixteen stories with thirteen poems interspersed. The poetry, which could be described as free verse with a vaguely horrorish, vaguely science-fictional, vaguely misantrophic vibe, left me cold. The stories vary in length from a few pages to novella length. Many have arresting premises, such as "The Central Coast" with its riff on the theme of an old world curse in a New World wineskin, and the Lovecraftian (in every sense) "The History of A Letter." These two stories are well executed excursions in horror and are the best in the anthology.

Others however are ruined by wildly implausible, unnatural dialogue and inner monologue. The tone is set in the first story, where we read the father of a murdered girl report to the TV news that "Now she's gone. The marriage, the kids, the SUV, and the big house in the suburbs -- her list was left undone." Immediately before the innermost thoughts of his wife and himself are reported as being "she had never been right, not like her brother, the short-haired, God-fearing Republican."

Throughout, characterisation is fatally undermined by a tendency to delineate the dramatis personae as if they were personifications of the most irritatingly hackneyed online argument. The nadir of this is undoubtedly the opening pages of "Milton's Children," which would otherwise be a promising horror tale (with various nods to Mr. Lovecraft) set in the Antarctic; instead we read pages of straw man characters attacking each other. Sample dialogue:

  "Obviously elephants have culture, customs, burial rituals, and long memories. Do they have religion? Who can say? Doesn't seem to have helped us much. The Crusades, jihad, the Inquisition, terrorism "

"Yeah? Well, fuck those towelheads! They just want to destroy our way of life. They hate it that we have freedom!"


On and on it goes, two characters whose opening scene never allows them to rise above the level of the most entrenched ranting YouTube Commentators. One rarely loses the sense, with Brock's characters, of stock figures defined by the formulated phrases of a few attributes -- the God-fearing Republican, the righteous atheist vegetarian, the meat-headed jock.

Brock clearly has a conceptual élan and, when the story is either a brief execution of a concept, or a longer pastiche of another writer or style, things go well. When characterisation of any depth or length is required, things break down. For some readers this may not matter much, but for me the stories were far too full of the jarring, implausible notes which can break the spell of even the most conceptually interesting story.

Copyright © 2013 Seamus Sweeney

Seamus Sweeney is a freelance writer and medical graduate from Ireland. He has written stories and other pieces for the website 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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