Book Review: Uncanny Valley by Gregory Miller

I’ve gone off short story collections in recent years. I can’t help feeling that modern writers have lost the art of succinctness and good old-fashioned storytelling required of a short piece. Yet Uncanny Valley caught my eye thanks to the unique selling point. It claims to be a collection of short stories sent in to a competition.

There is nothing unusual about that, you might add. There isn’t, except that each of the stories was sent without a return address and with 1940s postage costs. The competition was for writers to send in short stories about the folklore of the places that they live. Except that the stories of Uncanny Valley – a little-known town apparently in Pennsylvania, went beyond mere quirky tales of local legend and folklore. This is a collection of dark fantasy, supernatural tales, including some eerie and downright scary. It’s a short volume (with around 2.5 hours of reading time) but comprising 33 stories. That means most are short, readable in under 10 minutes with some little longer than 600 words.

Some of the stories are linked, recounting events referred to in one story in another. Some recount the same events from another story but told from a different perspective or remembering the events differently. You’ll even find stories written by people mentioned earlier in the book. It creates a rich tapestry and a great world in which these peculiar and sometimes unnerving stories exist.

Some are morality tales, others recount a day in the life and many have twists (why do so few short stories today have these?). This is the sort of thing I want from a short story and not a novel crammed into 45 pages. This is the volume I never knew I needed for modern short story telling. You could say that this volume went a long way to recapturing the essence of the short story.

I strongly suspect that the author wrote all 33 of these tales and created the “mysterious entries to a competition” background story as a kind of marketing. Anybody who remembers the release of The Blair Witch Project will no doubt remember how the creator’s viral marketing made people wonder whether or not the events took place and whether Blair Witch was genuine folklore, such was the depth and richness of the background story.It seems to have worked for a lot of people. The end of the volume contains a few pages of researcher notes pertaining to a lost town in Pennsylvania called Uncanny Valley – about how it was destroyed by fire in the 1940s (a fire, incidentally, recounted in at least one of the stories) and how locals who live in the area now claim not to remember where it is. Evidence

It seems to have worked for a lot of people. The end of the volume contains a few pages of researcher notes pertaining to a lost town in Pennsylvania called Uncanny Valley – about how it was destroyed by fire in the 1940s (a fire, incidentally, recounted in at least one of the stories) and how locals who live in the area now claim not to remember where it is. There is no evidence for the existence of Uncanny Valley PA, but the author’s notes sows seeds of doubt in the mind – there’s no record because the authorities expunged its existence.

Assuming my hypothesis is correct, this is a great marketing trick that will always linger at the back of your mind.

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