Simon Petrie

Peggy Bright Books (2010)

ISBN 978 0 98069981 4

Reviewed by Joanna Kasper

A collection of short (some very short) stories that seemed to come from the dark recesses of Simon Petrie’s mind. Most are funny, some are spooky and others are just plain weird and then there are the ones that are all three.

I found that sitting and reading the book all in one go was not a good idea because each story was so short that they tended to blend into each other. On the other hand, it is a brilliant book for reading before bedtime, or if (like me) you have young children and reading is done in short bursts during the day. Like pinching a chocolate from the box when no-one is looking as opposed to sitting and gorging the whole lot in one go … equally as satisfying!

This is a highly entertaining collection, with some sharp and funny commentary on science fiction and fantasy tropes, human nature and the perils of going into space. There is poetry, crime solving, sudoku puzzles (yes, really), sex education, and downright laugh out loud humour (“Highway Patroller”). It’s not all rolling in the aisles though, with stories such as “Running Lizard” looking at a more serious, and grisly, side to genetic mutations.

Petrie enjoys the little plays on words and is definitely not above a bit of commentary on pop culture (the physics of space as we know it from shows such as Star Trek, in “Scuttle”) or the business world (a cut price space liner company called Chastity?)

I started off with a list of my favourite stories, but it kept getting longer and longer and started to look like the table of contents so I had to give that up. After some serious paring down, a selection of favourites appears.

“Three-Horned Dilemma” is a very amusing look at the problems with using new software and the fact that even the most heavenly database is only as good as the data entered into it.

“Three-Hundred-and-Twenty-Seventh Contact, and Rising” is a poem with twenty-nine words, eight of which are the title and manages both humour and horror in a very short time.

In “Q-Ray” we get to meet Dugald and his not very bright but long-suffering Captain. There are some people who are just accident prone. These are not the people you want to go to space with. Really.

Petrie is either a woman in disguise or a very empathetic man. His descriptions, in “Surrogacy”, of feeding and caring for a newborn took me back to a place I wouldn’t soon revisit, when you feel you can’t do anything right and wonder if it’s wrong that you love them so much more when they are asleep.

“Scuttle” has some gentle little digs at every space-faring movie or television show ever made, but especially Star Trek. Hollywood doesn’t respect physics and never will.

The third last story in the book is “DragonBlog”. A highly entertaining first person account of the search for and destruction of a dragon and the aftermath thereof. The hero quests were never like this when I was a kid.

I like to do sudoku puzzles and was initially pleased to see some included here. Unfortunately, even the easy ones were beyond me as I’m not psychic. Check out the book, you’ll understand what I mean.

These are the kind of short stories I like, there’s character, plot and usually a little twist in the tale. The short story form can be tricky and especially when dealing with such very short stories as Petrie has chosen, there is the potential for ending up with vignettes rather than something that entertains or challenges. Petrie has managed to do both and I would highly recommend this collection to anyone with a sense of humour and an appreciation for the ridiculous.