In Martin Amis's short stories whole worlds are created - or inverted. In 'Straight Fiction', everyone is gay, apart from the beleaguered 'straight' community; in 'Career Move', screenplay writers submit their works to little magazines, while poets are flown first-class to Los Angeles; in 'The Janitor of Mars', a sardonic robot gives us some strange news about life in the solar system. In 'Let Me Count the Times' a man has a mad affair with himself. 'Heavy Water', portrays the exhaustion of working-class culture, and 'State of England' its weird resuscitation. And in 'The Coincidence of the Arts' an English baronet becomes entangled with an African-American chess hustler.
Amis is an ingenious short story writer, and this collection of tales, three of which have not been seen here before, offers a good sampling of his range. This includes, of course, tone-perfect mimicry, which is evident in "State of England," about a disco bouncer with a son at a posh English boys' school, and "What Happened to Me on My Holiday," told in the misspelled, petulant voice of a hurt child. Then there is sharp, edgy comedy based on the notion of role reversal. In "Career Move," much admired when it appeared in the New Yorker six years ago, poets swagger around Hollywood in an atmosphere of big movie deals and heroin-fueled script conferences, while screenplay authors attend eager readings of each other's work and vie desperately for publication in ephemeral little magazines that never pay. "Straight Fiction" supposes that the world is predominantly gay but that outposts of heterosexuality remain in areas like New York's Christopher Street and San Francisco's Castro, exerting a malificent influence on the predominant, comfortable culture. "The Coincidence of the Arts" has an aristocratic and evasive English artist in New York trying to avoid reading an ambitious novel thrust upon him by his black doorman. "The Janitor on Mars" is a satirical science fiction yarn. Amis's work is wonderfully clever and often extremely funny, but there is no escaping a certain steely-eyed coldness at the heart of it. Author tour.