by Alex Khlopenko
I struggle with writing. Each review, even the one I’m writing right now, is a chore and pain in the ass, no matter how much I enjoyed the book or wanted to review it. For a content producer, it is important to be honest about these things, to show that life’s a struggle, and a creative one even more so. For honesty’s sake – I’ve been putting this review off for two months, despite devouring A Collection of Obsessions in a couple goes. Now I’m typing it up like a madman.
Another mad man is Michael R. Fletcher, who likes to indulge in batshittery and outright insanity and that’s why his grimdark niche loves him. Rightfully so they do – Beyond Redemption and Swarm and Steel are probably the darkest, most sickeningly violent tales of the last decade, where everyone is literally beyond redemption. His A Collection of Obsessions is simultaneously a showcase of how Fletcher developed this outlook and style, and how it was cultivated behind the scenes.
More than two dozen stories offer something for everyone. Phildickian cyberpunk and corporate espionage? Here you go. Hard SciFi? He’s got some of those. D&D inspired stories, stories from the universe of Manifest Delusions, love stories, even twilight-zone-ish mindfuckery – it’s all here: come and get it.
The ones I loved the most were Intellectual Property, Fletcher’s second-ever pro sale, polished to perfection, and Less than 20/20 – a previously unpublished and unedited piece. They couldn’t be more different. Intellectual Property feels like Philip K. Dick turned up to eleven and produced by the people from HBO, without losing any of the depth and social critique inherent to tales like this one. The effective and efficient use of language and tight constraints of the presented POVs takes the reader on a very personal adventure in the world that has no regard for the personal and personality whatsoever. He plays to the standard most of the genre’s classic tropes, yet his personal brand of insanity subverts any expectations. Precise and visceral, it may be one of his best-crafted stories.
On the other hand, we have Less than 20/20. It made me angry. It annoyed me. Then I learned not to worry and love it for what it is. Whereas Intellectual Property presents Michael’s professionalism. This one induces the reader with the raw energy, the undiluted inspiration one has when there is that one idea that you simply can’t put away anymore and need to put pen to paper. It’s an unpolished gem that would only suffer if a tight-assed editor – like me, would come in and start polishing it. Less than 20/20 teaches the reader that some things are good as they are and that we should accept them that way, be it a story or another person. I couldn’t put it better than Fletcher himself in the preamble to Fire and Flesh –
“The story is what it is, and rewriting and editing it now would be lying about what it was (and where I was).”
It’s a daring and courageous move to include untouched stories like this and show them to a wider audience, every one of us being a lab rat in his literary experiments. Moves like this either make or break a collection, and it seems like it worked like a charm this time. It deserves all the respect and praise it can get.
Despite the variety of offerings and their ranging quality, it doesn’t seem like Fletcher wanted to satisfy everyone, quite on the contrary, he provokes the reader into contemplating his own reflections on his craft. And those are the real treasures of the collection. Fletcher doesn’t shy away from the details of his personal life, his struggle with the craft and alcohol consumption, the publishing business, his inspirations, and aspirations, and it is such a revelatory experience I can’t overstate its importance. This patchy modernist meta-narrative, shedding light on where the author was in the moment of writing, deserves a separate book.
List of Stories: Intellectual Property, The Broken Dead, Death at the Pass, Death and Dignity, A Second Chance, The Summer of ‘79, The Commuter, Less Than 20/20, At the Walls of Sinnlos, Personality Pirate, Character is What You Are, The Message, The Undying Lands, Just Like the Rain, Artificial Stupidity, Fire and Flesh, The Invisible Assassin
If you are a new author or are struggling to write – you absolutely need to read this collection. Fletcher never goes as far as giving concrete or coherent advice on how to write or how to overcome writer’s block. I doubt he is 100% sure about any of those things himself. Yet his lessons and insights are invaluable to any writer out there. Fletcher as an example and his stories helped me deal with the struggle to review those same stories. Maybe I’m just a slow learner, so I had to read them twice, but I learned a lot in the end.
It would be a false start to begin your journey into Fletcher’s oeuvre with A Collection of Obsessions, despite its brilliance and significance for the grimdark niche. Beyond Redemption is probably the most radio-friendly place to start and work your way up to here. A Collection of Obsessions is a wonderful companion to Fletcher’s bibliography and a handy guide behind the scenes for those who are already stuck in the muddy waters of his prose and style. It was well worth the two months of struggling and procrastination and a couple rereads, and it says something.
A Collection of Obsessions is available via Amazon below