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Stories of The Smoke edited by Anne C Perry & Jared Shurin

Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke brings you London as you’ve never seen it before – science fiction and fantasy in the great tradition of Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens lived and breathed London in a way few authors ever have, before or since. In his fiction, his non-fiction, and even his own life, Dickens cast an extraordinary shadow over the city he so loved – so much so, indeed, that his name has become synonymous with a certain image of London. A London of terrible social inequality and matchless belief in the human potential; a London filled with the comic and the repulsive, the industrious and the feckless, the faithful and the faithless, the selfish and the selfless.

This London is at once an historical artifact and a living, breathing creature: the steaming, heaving, weeping, stinking, everlasting Smoke.

At the tail end of 2011, those crafty folk over at Pornokitsch published their first anthology Stories of the Apocalypse. I’ll admit that I rather enjoyed it (what can I say, I have a soft spot for the end of the world, feel free to ask me about it sometime). In April this year, their second release Stories of the Smoke was released. I had such a good time with the first collection there was no way I wanted to miss out on the second.

For the princely sum of just three pounds and ninety nine pence, there are eighteen stories to be found in the pages of this compendium. That works out at a mere twenty two pence each, and that doesn’t even include the introduction from Christopher Fowler and some nice illustrations scattered throughout.

Inspector Bucket Investigates by Sarah Lotz –  I’m a firm believer that the first story in any anthology has the toughest job of all. It has to act as the perfect hook. If it doesn’t draw me in the chances of me reading any further are vastly reduced. I’m pleased to say that this story manages that and then some. Dark, a little mysterious and containing a subtle understated humor, this is a great way to begin. Blending the classic elements of murder mystery and science fiction, as well as a nice homage to one of my favourite movies; I don’t think I could ask for much more.

Londoner by Jenni van der Merwe – What was once London, is now a city divided by a huge wall. A story of segregation, the haves and have-nots. I particularly liked the concept of guilt workers – people who take on another’s guilt to make a living.

The Hound of Henry Hortinger by Michelle Goldsmith – A self important and thoroughly unpleasant business man is plagued by a huge supernatural hound. This has nice traditional quality and reads like classic Dickens. It feels like Henry Hortinger could easily have escaped the pages of Dickens’ own work.

A Brief History of The Great Pubs of London by Lavie Tidhar – Possibly the most informative of all the items in the collection. This author has obviously done a great deal of research into the more notorious drinking establishments in our nation’s capital. If you’ve never visited London I would strongly suggest purchasing this compilation on the strength of this article alone. (Wait, what do you mean this is fiction? Boo! I want this story in particular to be one hundred percent real).

Cuckoo by David Thomas Moore – In the seedy world of illegal bare knuckle fist fights there is a new champ who isn’t quite what he appears to be. The author manages to subtly incorporate some fairytale-esque elements into this short story without being heavy handed about it. Nothing is ever explicitly mentioned but I am sure if you read this you’ll pick up on it. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting these two worlds to collide in such an effective manner.

Martin Citywit by Adam Roberts – By the 22nd century self-aware cities spend their time accruing fabulous wealth, pondering the mysteries of existence and tinkering around with time travel. I think the best short stories always leave you wanting more and this definitely falls into that category. I would love to see the ideas explored here being expanded on in more depth. I feel like I’ve had just a split second glimpse of something much larger. I really enjoyed this.

On top of the six stories I’ve just mentioned above there are another twelve, yes twelve, tales from the likes of Jonathan GreenSarah Anne Langton and even one from Dickens himself. Each story explores the differing faces of London, from the hypnotic hustle and bustle to the dark seldom travelled streets. This collection will take you a grand tour through the highs and lows of Victorian society right up to the present day and, in some cases, beyond. Overall this is a wonderfully crafted anthology that is likely to leave any reader hungry for more.

Stories of the Smoke is published by Jurassic London and is available as an ebook now.

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