To the younger
generations, with their CDs, minidiscs and i-PODs, the expression "extended
play" doesn’t mean much. To me and the people of my age "extended
play" indicates a 45 rpm vinyl record which instead of one song
on each side carried two songs per side for a total of four musical tracks,
something between the single record and the "long playing" 33
rpm ,typically featuring twelve songs.
So the title of this anthology on one hand explains that the book includes
fiction somehow related to the world of music, on the other hand informs
the reader that the contributions have a longer length than the average
story (so-called novelettes of 800 to 1500 words,), allegedly to allow
greater characterisation and complexity of plot. We’ll see in due
course if this came true.
The publisher, Elastic Press, is a small but renowned UK imprint, twice
winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Year's Anthology.
Elastic has some noteworthy characteristics: the high quality of its
books, in terms of both production and literary content, a total devotion
to short fiction , a preference for new and emerging authors and, last
but not least, very reasonable prices as opposed to most independent
publishers always ready to charge outrageous prices for their limited
Compared with the two previous Elastic anthologies, "The Alsiso
Project" and "The Elastic Book of Numbers", "Extended
play" is much more ambitious, but, unfortunately, also less accomplished.
The idea, you’ll agree, was excellent. Music plays a pivotal role
in our daily existence, songs mark events like love encounters, deaths,
holidays, journeys and so on. The potential for good fiction related
to music is enormous, regardless of genre labels , either musical or
The resulting book, however, is slightly disappointing.
Some story has such a loose connection with music to appear almost out
of place (Marion Arnett's "The little drummer boy") others
are more focused on the anthology’s theme such as Emma Lee's "First
and last and always" - where music provides the soundtrack to a
tragic love story and a subsequent unhappy affair marking the life of
a young woman - and Rosanne Rabinowitz's "In the pines"- in
which three episodes from different centuries share a link to an old
In spite of the assumption that the\ allotted length should provide more
room for developing the narrative in depth, those stories remain emotionally
shallow and the characters rather flat.
Similarly Nels Stanleys' "Some obscure lesion of the heart" is
a tedious representation of uninteresting events taking place in the
world of the musical scene.
On the other hand "Fight music" by Tim Nickels, a surrealistic
piece set in a peculiar Conservatoire where girls are taught to use music
like a weapon, far from being dull comes in flying colours but appears
a bit confusing and ultimately lacks heart.
Philip Raines & Harvey Wells ( "The Barrowslands' last night ")
provide a fair, but ordinary piece, reporting the last concert in a theatre
bound to be demolished, featuring the reappearance of a legendary "Mosh
Mind you, "Extended play" also includes some excellent tales.
To me the best story is "Last song", marking the genial return
of the talented Andrew Humphrey. The tale, set in the crazy world of
musicians, effectively portrays two brothers and a weird girl, their
hidden secrets and their complex relationship, providing solid narrative
and superb characterization.
Newcomer Becky Done contributes "Tremolando", her first published
story, exploring with gentle touch and deep sensitivity the intricate
bond among the components of a musical quartet which will disband as
tragedy bursts in.
Finally, in "A night in Tunisia" Tony Richards skilfully entertains
and disquiets the reader with a modern ghost story depicting the erratic
but rewarding life of a black jazz player.
The stories are introduced by a few short essays by contemporary songwriters
( whose names, unfortunately, will sound mostly unfamiliar to the readers
living outside the UK), that, frankly ,I found totally unremarkable.
Extended play", in short, represents a missed opportunity, which
provides a few compelling pieces but too many mediocre stories.