That's Entertainment

Author: Robert Neilson
Elastic Press
RRP: 5.99, US $8.99
ISBN: 978 0 9553181 2 2
Available 01 August 2007

Through the whirlwind imagination of Robert Neilson you'll be taken on a journey where Lennon left The Beatles, reality television plumbs the depths of history for more thrills (
The Big Fellow) and the Pope is a dipsomaniac who needs to make money fast (The Pope, Sonny Liston and Me)...

That's Entertainment is a new collection of fourteen short stories by Dublin based Robert Neilson. Most of the short stories have been previously published elsewhere, though there are a couple of unpublished stories to satiate the appetite of any Neilson fan.

Neilson uses many different literary genres as a jumping off point for his stories, so that whilst some look like science fiction or horror, these are often just hooks to hang the story on. One thing you do notice is that Neilson seems most enamoured with music and musicians especially The Beatles. A lot of his stories have either a musical theme, Love Song, or examine what would have happened if the careers of world famous stars had taken a different turn, including To be a King, Faces I Remember and The Great Eddie Clarke Farewell Tour.

In Bigger than Jesus, Lennon reminisces on a life that could have been very different had he not been thrown out of The Beatles at such an early stage. Although the story looks to be a deceptively easy idea, after all you just need to change the order of events; Neilson uses it to ponder on the true value of fame. In the alternative timeline Lennon lives to a ripe old age, in the bosom of his family, alive and in the end not so discontented not to have been famous.

Many of the other stories could also be said to have a point, where as others are there for the final line pay off. Trouble Ahead tells the story of a writer whose growth on his neck starts to grow a face and take over his life. Written in the form of a diary entry, I thought that this was the least successful of the short stories in the collection, not because it was badly written but that the story bore too much of a similarity to both Harlin Ellison's Shatterday and Bruce Robinson's film How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989), which, if you are familiar with these, gives away most of the ending.

The title story That's Entertainment shows Neilson at his best, juxtaposing the ordinary with a reality where comic book superheroes are real people. How does a fading, cross dressing super villain finish out his final years? The story highlights many of Neilson's strengths as a writer. Its unexpected twists offer up equal measure of amusement and thought provoking undertones, which often don't pay off until the last few lines.

Elastic Press continue to bring great new writers to the market and in That's Entertainment have found another pot of gold for their readership. Whilst some of the stories have weaknesses the quality of the writing cannot be denied.

Charles Packer

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