Evil Machines, by Terry Jones

What if you had a telephone that related not what you spoke but what you thought? What if bicycles carried out bank robberies? What if an elevator took you where you needed to go instead of where you wanted to go?  That’s the premise of a just a few of the entries in Evil Machines, where most normally inanimate objects live up to the book’s title.

It starts off as a collection of short stories: a woman gets a truth-telling telephone; a department store elevator captures a New Mexican bandit; two motorbikes and a bicycle form a gang; a preacher’s car kidnaps people. About halfway through, though, a train takes a businessman on an unexpected journey and all of the stories start linking together. Instead of a collection of thematically linked short stories, the book becomes a novella with a few set-up chapters. Not to say it doesn’t work – it does – but it was a little bit jarring to expect a new story and instead get a new chapter.

The humor and sense of ridiculousness you’d expect from Terry Jones is all there. There were many laugh-out-loud moments for me (why is Swindon so funny?). It’s got a bit of an old-fashioned feel to it; most of the stories feel like they’re set in the 1960s or so, certainly not in the present day. There’s an attention to brand names, but they’re treated like proper names for the machines, not as a status detail (Steig Larsson, I’m looking at you). The writing, overall, is clear and quirky and quick.

I also want to give a shout-out to the publisher, because they’re a relatively new thing: Unbound. It’s kind of like Kickstarter for books, where you donate to the projects you want to see published and if the necessary funds are raised (if there’s enough demand) the book becomes a reality. Ultimately it may even be sold in high street stores – I got this one at Waterstones. And of course donators and supporters get their names in the acknowledgements. I think it’s awesome in many ways, not least because I now have a fun hardcover of Terry Jones stories.

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