Remember I said in another reviewer that I’m always looking for fiction suitable to read in a relatively short time when I get a quiet period while working in the Pub? I just finished reading Fables from the Fountain which was specifically written as homage to Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart. Tales from the White Hart was a series of short stories in which members of a group that gathered once a week at The White Hart told tales based loosely on sf themes. Written by Clarke in the Fifties and Sixties, I find to be somewhat dated and not terribly interesting when I re-read them a few years back after first reading them nearly forty years ago.
(There is a new edition of Tales from the White Hart that came out about a decade ago that had a new story co-written with Clarke by Stephen Baxter who contributed a story here.
Peter Weston’s excellent intro to these new stories explains the connection between Clarke’s stories and this homage to those stories.)
The basic premise is the same in Tales from the White Hart and Fables from the Fountain: a group of friends, mostly writers and scientists, gather once a week in their favourite pub to tell stories that sound plausible but most likely never happened. Oddly enough, the setting of Fables from the Fountain, a bar called The Fountain, feels a damn sight more realistic than The White Hart,as the writers spend a fair amount of wordage describing their favorites ales and single malts, snack food (do not eat the ploughmans lunch!), and even the bar itself. I remember feeling when I re-read Clarke’s stories that the Pub itself lacked any character and even the tale tellers were little more than ciphers. Not so here!
(‘The Hidden Depths of Bogna’, the Liz Williams tale herein, explains where the name came form and is arguably a work of magic realism, something Sir Clarke would have never done in his writings!)
I assume that Ian Whates, who edited this anthology and wrote the lead-off story, ‘No Smoke without Fire’, gave the various writers a cheat sheet of some sort but that would still require them to do something interesting with the sketched out premise. Should note that what I think is the best story here, ‘The Last Man in Space’ written by Andrew J Wilson is set in the Major Weir, a pub in Edinburgh! It also is perhaps the truest in spirit to the stories in Clarke’s collection.
There are no weak stories here and all are quite readable. If there is one difference between Clarke’s stories and the these stories that is really noticeable: these writers think of themselves actively as sf writers and it really shows in their writing.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in a good tall tale told well.
(NewCon Press, 2011)