Irregularity edited by Jared Shurin

July 24, 2014

Irregularity is a collaboration between the National Maritime Museum and award-winning publisher Jurassic London: a collection of fourteen original stories from some of the most exciting voices in contemporary fiction.

Using the Longitude Act as the jumping off point, Irregularity is inspired by the great thinkers of the Age of Reason – those courageous men and women who set out to map, chart, name and classify the world around them. The great minds who brought order and discipline to the universe. Except where they didn’t.

Irregularity contains new stories from Nick Harkaway, Claire North, Adam Roberts, E. J. Swift, Tiffani Angus, Rose Biggin, Kim Curran, Richard de Nooy, Archie Black, Simon Guerrier, Roger Luckhurst, Henrietta Rose-Innes, James Smythe, M. Suddain and Adam Roberts. The anthology includes an afterword from Sophie Waring and Richard Dunn, Head of Science and Technology and Royal Museums Greenwich.

The stories are illustrated by Gary Northfield, based on imagery from the archives of the National Maritime Museum. The cover shows “Resolution”, a work by Howard Hardiman.

It’s been a while since I’ve read an anthology and when Irregularity dropped through my letterbox it appeared that the book gods were indeed smiling on me. Fourteen new works of fiction from a plethora of genre’s best and rising stars.

A Game Proposition by Rose Biggin – Four very special women meet regularly in one of Port Royal’s seediest taverns. They play an intricate game whose outcome affects the events across the globe. A subtle but evocative fantasy to begin the collection.

The Spiders of Stockholm by E.J. Swift – A young girl called Eva discovers three magical spiders and the strange powers they possess to predict the future. Through her new friends, she learns the power of names and the importance a name can have.

The Last Escapement by James Smythe – An escapement is a device in mechanical watches and clocks that transfers energy to the timekeeping element. A master clockmaker becomes obsessed with the mechanics of his latest time piece. Just how far is he willing to go to perfect his creation? Descending into an almost Clive Barker-esque body horror, this was a real highlight of the collection for me.

The Assassination of Isaac Newton by the Coward Robert Boyle by Adam Roberts – Astronomy, astronomers, the nature of the universe, and a passing resemblance to Brian May. This is exactly the sort of surreal madness I’ve come to expect from Adam Roberts, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Animalia Paradoxa by Henrietta Rose-Innes – A naturalist seeks to capture the most outlandish and obscure animals in the dark heart of Africa. Striving to document nature and all of its myriad wonders he happens upon a creature that defies categorisation.

Footprint by Archie Black – The engineer responsible for assisting Sir Christopher Wren with St Paul’s cathedral is consumed by his work. Recreating one of the capital’s signature buildings is a mammoth task pushing him to the limits of his own sanity and beyond.

The Voyage of the Basset by Clare North – Charles Darwin is set a very specific task to accomplish before Victoria’s impending coronation. Will nature’s elements and the enemies of the British Empire allow him to succeed in his endeavour or not? I loved the premise of this particular tale.

The Heart of Aris Kindt by Richard De Nooy – At the dawn of the age of reason, surgeons began to unravel the deepest darkest secrets of human anatomy.  Some discoveries however are beyond anything resembling explanation.

An Experiment in the Formulae of Thought by Simon Guerrier – A young reporter is given the opportunity to meet some of the most renowned scientific figures of the age. Ada Lovelace and her fellow scientists have created something wonderful that has the potential to capture the imagination of the entire nation. The Great Exhibition is set to deliver sights never before been seen by man.

Circulation by Roger Luckhurst – Mr Fotheringham, lately of London, has travelled to the Carnache plantation in Haiti to uncover the mysteries of the region. Used to the hustle and bustle of city streets, the Caribbean islands are like a different planet to the young bookkeeper. He is ill-prepared for his meeting with the mysterious Sangatte. Another story that dances deftly round the very cusp of horror. I loved the ending and the ever-darkening tone.

The Darkness by M Suddain – Samuel Pepys and his famous diary recount the events of the Great Fire of London. In this version of events however, the fire has a distinctly darker feel. This story has a wonderfully pulpy period science fiction feel. I could happily read an entire novel based on this idea alone. I loved Theatre of the Gods and I loved this short story as well.

A Woman Out of Time by Kim Curran – Universal forces are compelled to take action when a lowly woman takes it upon herself to question the establishment and rock the intellectual boat. How dare she, a woman, make discoveries and make all her male counterparts work look pointless. In a just a handful of pages, Kim Curran dissects the gross inequalities of eighteenth century gender politics with a dry, satirical wit.

Fairchild’s Folly by Tiffani Angus – A botanist’s journey to create perfection and understand the nature of love. A tragically bittersweet denouement to a fantastically evocative collection

I’ve struggled since finishing Irregularity to adequately articulate my feelings regarding the book, there is just so much to appreciate and enjoy. After much pondering, I realised the answer was staring me in the face from the very beginning. There is a comment in the introduction by Nick Harkaway that struck a chord and perfectly sum up the fiction on display here..

…any text is an image of a mind, and any mind is worthy of attention.

Irregularity is best viewed as exactly that, fourteen individual, impeccably formed, visions of literary minds. I’m pleased to confirm that each and every one them, and the tales they have to tell, are most definitely worthy of your time.

Blurring the lines between science fiction and science fact, the stories in this collection all feel wonderfully apt and cover the full gamut of experience from the age of reason. Imperialism, scientific endeavour and technical innovation sit hand in hand with obsession, fantasy, philosophy, and in some cases horror. It’s wonderful to uncover an anthology that delves into such lofty subject matter with such obvious gusto. To strive for perfection, to succeed or to fail – all this and more is what it is to be human and the authors featured here all know it.

Irregularity is published by the good people of Jurassic London and is available from 24th July.

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