peoples republic

From an AI ghost of H. P. Lovecraft forged from the real-life author’s many correspondences to a Communist revolutionary who discovers the awful secret of the too-hard-grafting Steam-Workers, from the quiet revolution bubbling beneath the streets of The People’s Republic of Everywhere and Everything to a new baby under the dubious protection of a Greek charm, and from the perils of social networking and a reality-twisting hitman to a father and son bonding over their homemade nuclear device, Nick Mamatas’ collection of (often very) short stories is a weird and wild descent through the imagination that hits its targets more than it misses. And even better than the stories themselves are Mamatas’ story notes, fascinating biographical insights into how each episode was created and their often-convoluted route to publication. For example, his anecdote about the novella Under My Roof is a very clear warning to the curious – don’t expect your work to travel fast, even with a movie producer on board. It’s a message that aspiring writers will do well to pay attention to – even an author as efficient as Mamatas struggles for his voice to be heard.

And maybe that’s where the problem with this collection lies – in Mamatas’ efficiency. Mamatas’ prose feels too controlled and stripped-back, with the themes underpinning the stories often taking precedence over the characters themselves. Perhaps that’s partly down to brevity – the shorter and punchier the story, the colder it feels to read (which could explain why the best story in this collection is also the longest) – but it could also be because Mamatas invokes communism, either directly or indirectly, so often in his work that the stories sometimes feel like outgrowths from the same idea. That isn’t to say he repeats himself, or that the stories ever become boring – quite the contrary in fact – but there’s so much political ideology bound up in his storytelling that the characters often feel like cyphers instead of people who live and breathe on the page. There are a few exceptions to that rule (Tom Silex: Spirit-Smasher, The Phylactery and Lab Rat are all infused with personality) but many of the episodes seem so tethered to their central idea that if you’re looking for characters you can connect with you may come away disappointed. Still, Mamatas does get extra credit for North Shore Friday and its tricky typography, a nice experiment with form. which arrives midway through the book like a breath of fresh air.

The People’s Republic of Everything is a mixed bag of speculative fiction that fans of short stories will probably tear through in a single reading. We just wish there had been more heart to it.