The teeth of a slow machine by Andrew Roff

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This is a highly original and intriguing collection of short stories, often dystopian and dark, with ambiguous endings that leave you pondering mental images and themes long afterwards. They are also quite varied in the worlds they create, so it’s likely that different readers will be drawn to different scenarios. From the cynical world of ‘Bock Bock’ about the guardians of the secret chicken recipe, to the clever ‘Else/If’ story written like programming code, or the choose-your-own-adventure style of ‘Reality quest’ there is sure to be something that will capture the attention of the modern technology-driven reading audience. At the same time another group of readers will empathise with the painful angst of ‘A house, divided’ where a disenchanted couple paint a dividing line through their home to create separate domains.

For me the stories that resonated most forcefully were the remembered worlds of children; the jealousy of siblings over Christmas presents and the stolen chocolate in ‘The last day of Christmas’; and then the heart-stopping story of children playing dare on the train track in ‘Home stretch’.

A poignant and touching story is ‘Third heaven’ which at initial reading suggests a sci-fi rendering of an alternate world between life and death, but then becomes recognisable as the lost world of the dementia resident of a nursing home.

The stories are quite different, with different themes, and different genres. What they show most brilliantly is the masterly craftsmanship of the short story format. Never giving too much away, they often start with snippets that create a world and then develop more complex layers that the reader gradually draws together to reach an understanding, like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. And even in the whole picture there is always something to contemplate and reflect on afterwards.

Themes: Short stories, Technology, Modern life.

Helen Eddy