THESE NOVELLAS ALL
TAKE PLACE AFTER THE
ANTHOLOGY "THE PANDA
BOOK OF HORROR."
CODY SCHELL &
RELEASED IN MAY 2010.
WHEN EDWARD MALONE
DISCOVERS A PECULIAR
YELLOW BOTTLE ON THE
BANKS OF AN ANCIENT
SOUTH AMERICAN RIVER,
IT TAKES THE COMBINED
EFFORTS OF PROFESSOR
CHALLENGER, SEÑOR 105
AND THE MANLEIGH HALT
IRREGULARS TO KEEP
THE CONTENTS UNDER
AND THAT's BEFORE
MISS IRIS WILDTHYME
STICKS HER NOSE IN...
NEXT (DOCTOR WHO)
Miss Wildthyme & Friends Investigate
1. THE FOUND WORLD 2. THE IRREDEEMABLE LOVE
3. ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR SHEILA 4. THE SHAPE OF THINGS
Obverse Books’ third volume of transtemporal shenanigans takes a slightly different format to the previous two, dispensing with the short stories in favour of four linked novellas. Each story stands comfortably alone, but together they make up a single, over-arching narrative. The linking MacGuffin is a mysterious yellow perfume bottle with uncanny properties, which makes only the briefest of cameos in the first story but becomes essential to the plot of the fourth. More than that, the four storylines are linked by and through the ever-expanding universe that has sprung from the minds of Paul Magrs and his equally loopy associates.
Jim Smith’s The Found World kicks things off in highly enjoyable style. While ostensibly a sequel to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic work The Lost World, events soon grow beyond the scope of Doyle’s original protagonists, Edward Malone and Professor Challenger. The author concocts a world filled with fictional characters from a manner of sources, be they further Doyle works (a starring role for an older John Watson) or more obscure sources (Molly Malone puts in an appearance, but I don’t think she’s related to Edward). It’s a Kim Newman or Alan Moore styled version of the Edwardian period, held together by pure verve and a sense of fun. That’s not to say a few dinosaurs don’t make it into the mix; there’s even mention of a poor Brontosaurus who is saddened to discover that it’s nothing more than a misidentified Apatosaurus. Among the palaver, we’re introduced to the idea of Incrementals, entities that exist because the collective imagination insists that they must. It’s a fine exp-ansion of the Obverse world to yet more peculiar boundaries. While the novella spends a good deal of time introducing and then dropping characters, when the narrative kicks in its rewarding, leading to a final, spectacular confrontation with none other than Count Dracula - and finally explaining just why he always comes back from death…
Nick Wallace, best known to Who fans as the author of the eighth Doctor novel Fear Itself, provides the second story. The Irredeemable Love features the Manleigh Halt Irregulars, the peculiar band of time-hopping sleuths introduced in the Panda Book of Horror (in the short story The Delightful Bag by Paul Magrs). It’s a work of thick, potent prose; a chilling and seductive murder story. Each of the Irregulars gets their turn as the focus of the investigation, before it rewinds to explore the background to the terrible events that are occurring in what was once a respectable household. The telling is somewhat opaque in places, occasionally to the point of confusion, but the richness of the prose conjures up an evocative atmosphere and is worth persevering with. It stands alone as an effective chiller, while at the same time linking into the further mysteries of the book.
The multi-talented Cody Schell, as well as providing glorious graphic design for the book,
is the author of tale three, the wonderfully-titled Elementary, My Dear Sheila. It features a return from his character from his previous story in The Celestial Omnibus, the Mexican masked wrestler Señor 105. The mysterious masked man invites various acquaintances to a small shindig and bookgroup, the likes of which include a snake-skinned rival wrestler; an overweight nightclub owner; and a sort of were-tiger, who appears as a Japanese man but dresses as a stereotypical Englishman. All of which pale in comparison to the eponymous Sheila, who exists as a sentient isotope of helium safely encased in a party balloon. Before long, murder is afoot, which soon descends into a truly bizarre series of adventures involving a mystical lost city, time-travelling aliens and a horrific zombie plague (and more). Utterly
daft and utterly charming, the overall impression is of an author bursting with ideas and too little space to explore them. Give Schell a novel and he could rival Robert Rankin for far-fetched fiction.
Having made brief appearances in the preceding three instalments, Iris and Panda finally return as the stars of the fourth and final story, The Shape of Things, by Obverse supremo Stuart Douglas. Characters and events from the earlier tales come together in unexpected ways to impact on what, at first, seems to be a simple case of Iris and Panda assisting with a murder investigation. Before we know it, Panda has been radically inflated, increased to the human-like stature seen on the books cover (in the rather beautiful illustration by Bret M Herholz). Not only that, but his intellect has been increased in kind. Soon, Iris has become Panda’s sidekick, as they zoom around time and space solving mysteries and showing off,
a situation that Iris doesn’t like one bit. We even get to explore Panda’s deeper character, something treated with more seriousness than one might expect from a stuffed animal.
Nonetheless, events can’t continue like this, for there is still the enigma of the yellow bottle and its arcane contents. Getting Iris and Panda back into the centre of events helps give this story more focus than the preceding three, and the enjoyably daft tale quite cleverly ties up previous events while still leaving them thoroughly baffling. Although it fails to truly work as an overarching story, the four novellas are linked enough to satisfy, and are individually distinct enough to provide the variety we’ve come to expect from the short story collections. Although I still prefer that format, this new approach is a successful experiment and one that could only benefit from being repeated.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Iris has previously claimed, in the audio adventure Iris Wildthyme and the Panda Invasion, that she is unique in the multiverse and has no counterparts or alter egos across the various realities. Yet here Panda refers to a “terrifying mirror universe” with its own Mirror Iris. From this, we can deduce that Iris is talking out of her arse.
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