Chuck McKenzie

MirrorDanse Books (2005)

ISBN: 0975785214 

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack (this review was first published in June 2009)

Confessions of a Pod Person is a collection of short stories, the majority of which have been previously published in a period spanning 2002 to 2005. Given the wide variety of publications in which they appeared, if you read much Australian speculative fiction, you’ve probably come across at least one of these stories before.

The ideas behind most of these stories aren’t particularly original, and the commentaries by McKenzie suggest he’s well aware of this. Nor are they strongly plotted stories; I’d be inclined to describe most as vignettes, or at best, skits.

And yet, this collection, and most of the stories in it, work. McKenzie writes humorous science fiction, and most of these stories are successfully amusing. None were really uproarious (but then, humour is a personal thing; some of these stories may have you rolling on the floor where I didn’t), but neither did they fall flat. There’s a wryness to the humour in many of these stories that will raise a smile from most readers.

The characterisation is a strength; I must say that a lot of the protagonists were fairly interchangeable, but they were nevertheless believable. Where the reader needs to empathise with them, they do. Each character behaves credibly within their story and you can believe in them.

In general, the writing is good too. McKenzie doesn’t go in for big flourishes; he uses a direct, simple style that is nevertheless vivid and flows well. There are some small problems, but it’s hard to tell whether they’re problems with his original writing or with proofreading; “annunciating” is used for “enunciating” for example, and “proscribed” for “prescribed”. The main difficulty with this sort of small error is that it’s a distraction from the story; for me at least, my internal editor takes over to figure out what word should have been used. That means I lose the flow of the story and am no longer immersed in it. And in a short story, you don’t have a lot of time to get caught up again before it’s over. There are, however, very few of these errors.

While I said that these are not strongly plotted stories, that doesn’t mean that what plots do exist are weak. The plots are very simple, and most of the twists are fairly obvious – but the plots are logical, there are no gaps or cheats, and each story hangs together nicely.

The pick of the bunch for me was the exceptionally short “Howler” and the particularly funny “All I Want for Christmas”, the story of a Santa Claus finding his clientele a little harder to deal with than he expected. “Conquest” also raised a particularly wide grin, even though it depicted the inevitably successful conquest of earth.

There were no really bad stories in this collection, although for me “Catflap” fell flattest, as the punchline (so to speak) was so very obvious so very early in the story. I also found “Retail Therapy” – the story of a shop assistant having a very bad day – and “Eight-Beat Bar” – the tale of a DJ who finds himself in hell – fairly slight stories without much to smile at. Some of the longer stories suffered a little from the slightness of their plots; I’m not sure there was quite enough to sustain them.

This is a pleasant collection. I enjoyed it, and I won’t hesitate to read more of McKenzie’s work. This collection is light-hearted and fun, and most readers should find something to enjoy in it.