Orpheus on the Underground and Other Stories

Rhys Hughes. Tartarus (tartaruspress.com), $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—for 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.)
Reviewed on: 03/02/2015
Release date: 01/01/2015
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