The English debut of Dutch writer Mike Jansen contains stories dating from the past 5 years, with a few exceptions. So it’s all rather modern stuff. I was a little surprised then to find 10 poems in between the stories, apparently meant as intermissions. Poems in a genre book were something from the past, so I thought. Maybe I was right here, because in the interview I had with Mike I learned that the poems are sort of micro stories, stories of minimal length like a twitter message or even less. Not my thing really.
But luckily the rest of the book is quite good. There are 13 horror stories and 8 SF stories. Horror seems te be the majority, but that’s maybe only in number. In word count the categories might be closer, because most of the horror stories are rather short. So you might say there is a nice balance between SF and horror.
Two-thirds of the stories are fun to read without breaking new grounds. But some are really special. The horror story ‘Assigned To Almwch’ for instance breathes deep Lovecraftian atmosphere and keeps you in suspense till the sudden ending. ‘Brood Carnival’ is a well executed tale based on familiar elements. And ‘On The Origins Of Ghost Towns’ casts a refreshing light on the subject.
What I liked most however are the SF stories. ‘The Legacy Of Twilight’ deals with the necessity of having an enemy in order to unite the people towards a common goal. In this story the people are rather meek and need some extra push to stimulate them to further develop their civilization. ‘The Agent Of Change’ is a story about US biochemical experiments that created an unbeatable threat, which amazingly confined itself to one state. There was a reason for this, of course. ‘View Of Diluvipolis’ is a SF-horror cross-over. It’s about sinister dealings in a new ice-age where the North sea has withdrawn. The harbour town that was build on the sea floor appears to be just as dominated by the rich and the powerful as the old world was.
The real jewel in the book is the story ‘The Copper Oasis’. It’s about a very alien, hostile world where an old cowboy is looking after people who get stranded there because of a malfunctioning spacecraft. The fate of the unlucky space travellers and the properties of the planet blend beautifully in a theatrical ending. This story deservedly won a first price in an important Dutch contest.
The bottom line: ‘Ophelia In My Arms’ is a strong debut in the English market, absolutely worth reading.
Ophelia In My Arms by Mike Jansen – 230 pages, 2013, JWK Publishing