Thursday, August 23, 2012

Anthology 1: The Other Side, by Hamidah Gul (2012)

Hamidal Gul certainly isn't lacking in imagination. Many of her stories would find a welcome home in something like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. However, her self-published collection of short stories, Anthology 1: The Other Side, is lacking in polish and her stories fail to deliver, great as some of her ideas may be. They play out as cheesy camp, the so bad they're good kind of stories, which is okay as long as the bad is able to transform into the good. In this case they don't. And believe me, I was rooting for Gul along the way.

Gul just might find a decent line of work in marketing. Her book has a great cover and is an attractive package overall. To read the premise of each story is enough to fall in love. I mean, who wouldn't want to read a story titled "Come Home with Me," and advertised like this: "Do not invite her to come home with you."  Or: "The Best Friend - Ever wondered what your best friend is thinking when she smiles at you." The irony and simplicity of the first is borderline genius, and the ambiguity of the last is sinister: is she smiling at you lustily, or is she smiling at you because she wants to kill you? The problem is the stories just don't measure up to their descriptions. "The Best Friend" has a clever twist end to be sure, but it doesn't really make a lot of sense. And "Come Home with Me" suffers from a lack of development. In fact that's the problem with most of the stories. In these kinds of stories I'm not looking for in-depth character analysis, but something like a powerful atmosphere would have done wonders.

One of the problems is the language. Gul is from Singapore, it turns out, and she could not have gotten this published in the U.S. if not for the help of That English is her second language is obvious, sometimes painfully so, and there were many parts that were unintentionally funny. For example, Gul writes in one story, "...she was smiling as if it pleasured her." What Gul means is "pleased," but this is exactly the kind of mistake a foreigner would make, out of innocence. There are also tense problems; it's not rare to find that one sentence contains both a present tense and a past tense verb. These kinds of things just serve to detract from the reading experience as a whole.

In all there are ten short stories of varying lengths. Some make very little sense, such as "The Death Star," which is not so much about Star Wars as it is about a young star that decides to destroy the Earth. Others are boring, such as the companion stories "The Other Side" and "Mission of Mercy," stories about the end of humanity first from the perspective of humans and then from the perspective of "peace-loving" aliens who see destroying humans as the only way to save the planet. Gul is a utilitarian - she seems to believe it's okay for the life of one person or one species to end in order to save that of another. This is also seen in her story "The Suicide Case," where a man's suicide blocks traffic and redirects a would-be killer into a deadly earthquake. "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is sickening, about a woman who kills her loved ones to prevent her own death. The stories with the most promise, other than her flash fiction piece mentioned in the next paragraph, are "Children of the Mist" and "The Lonely Heart." "The Lonely Heart" has a nice twist and a great idea, but its execution is lacking, both in character development and an appropriate atmosphere. "Children of the Mist" has promise in setting up a scenario where five people could choose either their memories or a promising future, but Gul fails to set up compelling consequences for choosing one over the other, and so the story ends in disappointment.

Her best is her shortest, a flash fiction piece called "Mother and the Birds." It reflects Gul's sinister sense of humor, all punctuated in the last paragraph by a rather brilliant twist. One thing going for Gul is that she isn't trying to be too serious. That's a problem I have with many authors that work in the paranormal. Stephanie Meier is too serious, and Suzanne Collins, though perhaps not paranormal, is even more serious. Gul is not. She tells impossible things, like a story from the point of view of somebody who has just died, without skipping a beat. Some of her dialogue is fun, and so are her setups. It's the execution that's lacking.

(I received a free copy of Hamidah Gul's book in exchange for an honest review)


  1. I saw your review of this one first on Goodreads, because I started reading this book yesterday. I've given up on it, though, for the same reasons you describe. In the first story, I had no clue what was going on, and even in the less confusing ones after that, the grammar bothered me too much.

    1. I'm glad to find someone who agrees. Thanks for visiting, Lianne!