Jared Shurin (ed.) – Irregularity

shurin-irregularityIrregularity is about the tension between order and chaos in the 17th and 18th centuries. Men and women from all walks of life dedicated themselves to questioning, investigating, classifying and ordering the natural world. They promoted scientific thought, skepticism and intellectual rigour in the face of superstition, intolerance and abuses of power. These brave thinkers dedicated themselves and their lives to the idea that the world followed rules that human endeavour could uncover… but what if they were wrong?

Irregularity is about the attempts to impose our order on nature’s chaos, the efforts both successful and unsuccessful to better know the world.

From John Harrison to Ada Lovelace, Isaac Newton to Émilie du Châtelet, these stories showcase the Age of Reason in a very different light.

Reading Irregularity, Jurassic London’s sixth full-length anthology and the second edited solo by Jared Shurin, was a strange reading experience, as I’ve read a lot of seventeenth and eighteenth century literature at university. Much of that was in the Penguin Classic editions (the ones with a black spine and a red bar at the top) and while the cover is in no way reminiscent of those, the font used for Irregularity really resembles the look of those editions. Add to that the fact that a lot of the stories are written in the same language and with the same sensibility as those classics and for a moment it seemed as if I’d traveled back in time to my student days. Thankfully, reading Irregularity in no way felt like an essay assignment, in fact it was fantastic fun.  

Irregularity is clever, subversive and just so much fun. Out of fourteen stories there were only two that didn’t really work for me: Rose Biggin’s A Game Proposition and Roger Luckhurst’s Circulation. Biggin’s story didn’t sit well with me, because I had a hard time following the game and the dialogue, which made me have to reread sections several times and caused me to lose the rhythm of the story. Luckhurst’s Circulation just didn’t connect. A story of a clerk sent to San Domingue in the Caribbean to check up on one of the sugar plantations, the story is both a critique of slavery and a horror story about medical research. And I didn’t really get it.

The other stories all worked really well for me though. How could I not love the grandfather paradox library in Nick Harkaway’s Irregularity, or Simon Guerrier’s Ada Lovelace creating a Victorian version of Jurassic Park, literally loosing the dinosaurs in the crystal palace? Or James Smythe’s exploration of failure and its ability to drive a man insane? There are five stories I wanted to give bit more time too as they really hit it out of the park for me.

E.J. Swift – The Spiders of Stockholm
This amazing tale set in eighteenth century Sweden mixes the Enlightenment drive to classify things and order them with magic. In traditional secondary world fantasy magic and (mechanical) science are often exclusionary, either because magic precludes the drive to invent machinery to perform tasks humans can’t or won’t do, or because understanding how a thing works destroys its magic. Swift takes this latter trope and places it in our own eighteenth century and combines it with the belief that there is power in the knowledge of true names. This combination made for a bittersweet story and Swift managed to write a story about spiders that didn’t give me the willies, which is a feat in and of itself.

Adam Roberts – The Assassination of Isaac Newton by the Coward Robert Boyle
Robert’s story starts with the line: “You will excuse me if I remark,” said Boyle, “how strongly I am struck by your resemblance to Brian May.” After which I was properly sold on this story, no matter where Roberts was going to take it. I love me some Queen! Roberts litters this tale of a scientist desperate to speed up scientific progress with references to Queen lyrics and other classic pop songs. The most referenced and most iconic of these is Bohemian Rhapsody which left me to wonder whether it would age well or if in a decade or so younger readers would even get the references, but given Bohemian Rhapsody’s almost permanent top three spot in best of-lists perhaps this isn’t that much of a worry as it would have been for say Single Ladies.

Richard de Nooy – The Heart of Aris Kindt
In the Netherlands the seventeenth century was known as The Golden Age in which our country prospered: we sailed the seven seas, we were a bastion for free expression of thought with many natural philosophers publishing their work out of the Netherlands because they were forbidden in their own country, and some of our greatest painters were active in this period. One of them was Rembrandt and it is he and his work on one of his master pieces The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp that are the focus of Richard de Nooy’s story. What happens when the subject of the painting, the titular Aris Kindt starts showing some strange phenomena? And is science always more important to scientist than prestige? I loved De Nooy’s smart and atmospheric story and now I want to go visit the original painting when I’m next in The Hague!

Kim Curran – A Woman Out of Time
It’s no secret I’m a fan of Kim Curran’s work, but I’d never read any short fiction by her before or non-YA work for that matter. So I was looking forward to seeing how her style and voice worked in adult short form. The answer is that it worked beautifully. I truly loved this mysterious tale of time-traveling beings – it remains unclear whether they are aliens or god-like entities – who have a decidedly patriarchal outlook on how life on Earth and its scientific development should progress and the trouble they have to go through to keep women from out-thinking and literally out-shining the men around them. It’s a tale with a modern sensibility but one that fits in-between the other tales in the anthology quite harmoniously.

Tiffani Angus – Fairchild’s Folly
One of the received wisdoms about anthologies is that they should close out with a bang and so with one of their strongest stories and Irregularity’s editor Jared Shurin certainly kept to that rule with Fairchild’s Folly. A beautiful meditation on the nature of love and humanity’s unrelenting need to categorise things I really loved this last story. The structure of the story told through letters and short sections of straight narrative, flashing between several points in time within a twenty-year span was very well done and lent this relatively short story a far larger feeling and scope than its length would have the reader expect.

As I’ve come to expect from Jared Shurin and his small press Jurassic London, Irregularity is a solid anthology with impressive and fantastic stories. I really like Irregularity’s theme and while I wasn’t as blown away by this anthology as I was by their last anthology The Book of the Dead, it’s still a highly recommended collection of short stories. Shurin has once again gathered together a strong slate of authors, some well known, some less so, but just as talented. If you’re looking for clever, intelligent and entertaining stories Irregularity certainly has that for you in spades.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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  • Paul Weimer

    Hmm, I might have to go with my gut of trusting Anne and Jared’s editorial eye and try this after all!