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Gary Couzens, Editor
Extended Play: The Elastic Book of Music
Reviewed by: Mario Guslandi ©2006

Elastic Press
UK First Edition Trade Paperback
ISBN 0-9548812-9-X
300 pages; £6.99
Publication Date: 11-04-2006
Date Reviewed: 11-23-2006

Index: General Fiction  Mystery  Horror Science Fiction  Fantasy

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 editions.

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 literary.

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 folk song.

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 Demon".

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.

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