cover image Orpheus on the Underground and Other Stories

Orpheus on the Underground and Other Stories

Rhys Hughes. Tartarus (, $65 (224p) ISBN 978-1-905784-71-4

An antic spirit animates the 16 delightful fantasies in this collection, which gives the reader the literary equivalent of a wink and a rib nudge. In "Double Meaning," a man finds himself "betrayed by myself to myself" when a duplicate he has created to perform his work then creates a duplicate who is superior to both of them. "The Bicycle-Centaur," which lampoons H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, is saturated with Carrollian wordplay and features such giddily imagined characters as a centaur with bicycle wheels for feet, a leprecorn (half leprechaun, half unicorn), and Damon Nomad, "king of the traveling palindromes." In the title story, lyre-strumming Orpheus is reimagined as a busking musician whose Hades is the London subway system. The stories are showcases for Hughes's dexterous punmanship and his skill at conjuring the comically absurd through arresting imagery%E2%80%94for example, the enthusiastic writer who describes himself as "straining like a lobster at an avant-garde leash." Though Hughes proves capable of writing a completely serious ghost story in "The Upper Reaches," he is just as likely to subvert the form, as in "The Despicable Bungling of Yorick Porridge," a tale of an inept psychic detective that evokes the psychic sleuths of classic horror fiction, and "The Ghost Written Autobiography," in which a ghost discovers that his afterlife contains no less drudgery than his life did. In several of these stories, Hughes references the work of Saki, a 20th-century master of satirical fantasy, and readers will find his tales their contemporary equivalent. (Jan.)