21st August 2010A new anthology hits the high notes.
There’s a lot to like about this anthology. The concept — speculative fiction on the theme of music — has prompted a lot of gnashing teeth online from people who wished they’d thought of it first. The editor, Mark Harding, was swamped with submissions, and indeed both successful and unsuccessful contributors seem to have cared a lot about being included — out of proportion to the resulting cheque or exposure.
What is it about music that motivates writers? Honestly? I think it’s jealousy. One of the first things I ask students is, why write fiction at all? and once we dispense with money and fame, a quiet voice from the back normally ventures that we want to move our readers. That’s true, and it normally requires a painstaking procedure of introducing our characters to the reader, making said characters likeable, and eventually putting them through the wringer one way or another.
Whereas musicians get to hit the heart immediately. Whether it be a boys’ choir on a winter evening, an old chart tune with associations, a lonely cello or a big fat power chord, they get right in there. If you don’t believe me, try watching your favourite adventure, weepy or horror film without the soundtrack.
Perhaps the best thing about Music For Another World is not the terrific stories inside, but the intention behind it. Mark Harding has put together the book he wanted, a collection “wildly variable in tone, genre, subject matter and approach”. This is what weary publishers always tell you that readers don’t want and will never buy. Feel like proving them wrong?