brockI’m a slow reader.

Hell, I do most everything slow.  I walk slow, I drive slow, even my speech is slow.  Which is probably why I always felt an affinity for the Flash.  If I had a superpower, I’d want it to be superspeed.  Maybe then I’d be able to catch up to everyone else.  But it’s in reading that bothers me the most.

It’s really created a lot of problems for me over my lifetime.  In school, it always took me longer to read textbooks.  When a new book comes out, others are already writing reviews about it while I’m still on the first chapter.  It’s not that I’m slow in understanding concepts or have a reading disability, I just read at a much slower pace than most other people.

Which makes it hard if I’m struggling to get through a book when I look over at the “to-be-read” pile and it keeps growing and growing.  So a book has to really grab me in order to make me finish it to the end.  Otherwise it gets tossed aside for the next item.  Short story collections can be even worse because, for so many writers, all the stories blend into the same.  After a while, I can’t even remember what I’ve read.

These days, I can’t be bothered with a book that bores me or is poorly written or just an effort to get through.

SIMALCRUM AND OTHER POSSIBLE REALITIES by Jason Brock is not one of those books.

Brock is one of those writers that you just really want to hate.  He’s so damn prolific.  At any one time he’s writing a dozen short stories, a novel, two non-fiction books, articles, a screenplay, editing a documentary and probably ruling an alternative dimension or two.  He is the Flash to my Turtle.

And it would be easy to hate him if it weren’t for the fact that he’s so damn good at it all!  You’d figure that in a collection of short stories and poetry that there’d be a dud in there somewhere.  Some chink in the armor that I could prod and scheme in my head with a Wicked Witch of the West voice, “I’ve got you now, my pretty!”  But there isn’t a misstep in the bunch.

Not a one.

This is Brock’s first collection and, if this is any judge, there’ll be many more to come.  Most of the stories are reprinted from other sources but in such a wide variety of titles that it’s doubtful that anyone would have seen them all.  And it’s that variety that really binds the book together.  You literally have no idea what he’s going to do next.

Not many writers come off well when you read a lot of their work at one time.  It’s like watching an old TV show that you used to love on DVD.  As the episodes roll by, you’re amazed at how similar they all are and you find yourself spotting the same patterns over and over again.  It changes the way you look at that show and that proves true for many writers.  You spot their patterns, you can predict what they’re going to do and how the story is going to end.

That doesn’t happen with Brock.

Each story and poem is wonderfully different and unique.  From plot to style, they each stand alone.  It’s as impossible to classify these stories as it is to classify Brock himself. Neither fit into clean, neat niches.  There’s horror in these tales but also science fiction, mystery, death and life.  The poems experiment with different forms and structure in a way that will likely make traditionalists cringe.  Yet, in each and every story and poem there is no doubt that you are in the hands of a master craftsman and all you can do is hang on until the ride is over.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite although several stories stand out.  “What the Dead’s Eyes Behold”, which begins the collection, is an unsettling examination of the title question.  “The Central Coast” has echoes of Lovecraft and The Twilight Zone.  In fact, “The Black Box” is a direct sequel to a classic episode of The Twilight Zone and brings it to a newer, darker conclusion.  “Milton’s Children”, a novelette about unexpected exploration, brings up memories of Lovecraft, King Kong and The Thing.  One of the most effective aspects of Brock’s fiction is the way it sneaks up on you.  Much of the horror is implied in that, much like the characters in the stories, it sneaks up on you and then stays long after the story is finished.  “The History of a Letter” is a perfect example of this.  You feel the confusion and compulsion of the narrator and, like him, are swept up in events you can’t understand.

There echoes of many writers in Brock’s works.  There’s Beaumont here along with tastes of Serling, Lovecraft, Bradbury and several others.  But it’s the combination of them, and the way that Brock makes them uniquely into his own shifting, acrobatic voice that propels these stories and poems.  There will be a lot more stories and novels and poems to come from Brock and I can’t wait to find out what they are.

SIMULACRUM AND OTHER POSSIBLE REALITIES by Jason Brock.  Hippocampus Press.  Paperback.  $20. Available from: http://www.hippocampuspress.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=10_12&products_id=121

About Sam Gafford
My name is Sam Gafford and I've been doing critical work on William Hope Hodgson for many years. I wrote the article "Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson" in which I presented evidence that WHH wrote his novels in the reverse order in which they were published. I've recently written an article on Hodgson's confrontation with Houdini and am currently working on a book length study of WHH.


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