Forget everything you know about this world - you need to suspend disbelief when you pick up Frantic Planet, and you'll be greatly rewarded for doing so.
When I bought this book, I honestly didn't know what to expect: was I going to get a series of throwaway stories that I was going to forget straight away, or would it be an astounding piece of writing?
Well, almost five months after buying the book, I still find myself flicking through it from time to time to relive the tales of the lunatic lottery winner, Ted Danson, and my own personal favourite, the man who was held hostage by an artist.
It's one of the best fiction books you read this year that hasn't been commandeered by a huge media-led bandwagon. Buy the book!
Reading Frantic Planet was a great relief; I bought it while studying and its quick fire nature was the perfect antidote to the heavy-duty enforced reading I was enduring. I'd definitely reccomend it to anyone experiencing the same circumstances - it's a pleasure whether you have time to read it in one sitting or in installments.
From the short opening stories the author's ability to marry astutely chosen references to clever writing makes the book funny and fresh. Allusions to popular culture don't mean a lack of substance here however; the darker, longer stories in particular (`Simple Choices', `Just a Statistic', `Rooting for Truffles') are as thought provoking as they are darkly hilarious.
Although there's innocence in sections like 'Mr Lee' and 'Nemesis', it's the sickness that runs through this book that kept me reading. Many of the stories filled me with a 'Blue Jam' sense of unease - there's a plausibility to the twisted but flawless logic of the characters that makes me wonder if these people really exist on the fringes of society (or how closely they may represent the author!). The prospect of more of the same in Volume 2 is an exciting one.
I picked up this book not really knowing what to expect. What you get is a collection of short stories unlike any other. Some are creepy, some make you think, some are touching, its impossible to put this into a category really, aside from the category "downright awesome!". My favourite story featured a vigilante with a difference, but to be honest I liked them all. Well worth a read, and reread and so on! Excellent!
If you enjoy the more twisted and warped side of humour, you'll love this book. Beginning and ending with a flurry of short stories, you are immediately thrown into the surreal and slightly sinister world of the writer's mind. Filled with tales of small town mentality, twisted people living in everyday (and not so everyday) worlds, robots who fall in love and just plain weirdness the stories are unique and engaging, and you're never sure what is coming next.
But nothing will prepare you for the bonafida page-turning qualities of part two, "Simple Choices" - six chapters which get more and more disturbing as they go along, as a deranged man takes the concept of art terroism too far. Sandwiched between the two sections of short stories, this is the strongest and most captivating section of the book. Thrilling and thought provoking, this is a real highlight.
So if you're after a read which is alightly off-kilter, give this book a go. It won't always be a comfortable ride, but it'll certainly be an enjoyable one.
To add to the wealth of deserved rave positivity being amassed here:
Frantic Planet Volume 1 is a wonderful collection of short stories for the modern reader; full of references to contemporary celebrity and culture, they are abrasive, irreverent and fantastic fun.
Firstly, the cover belies the true quality of Millard's writing; it doesn't seem to hint at what's to come. Having said that, I'm not sure what would prepare any reader for the cornucopia of fresh, innovative plots largely set against the background of run-away imagined, small-town worlds, full of jaded souls prone to the most outlandish twists and turns. Packets of flash-fiction pepper your senses with kaleidoscopic fantasy, while longer, usually first-person, narratives scratch at, and draw out your nerves to sinewy shreds.
If this book is self-published because it failed to find a publisher then shame on the industry for such oversight. Being self-published, there are some forgivable, infrequent typos, that don't ruin the book's flow, nor detract at all from Milliard's laugh-out-loud mind-bombs he sprays with liberal gusto: "...would make the efforts of Moses look like an old man trumping into a bathtub" is one such smile-simile.
Buy it. Be warned, but buy it.
Now, I'm going straight on to Frantic Planet Volume 2, with alacrity.
[Please bear in mind that as a self-published book, the only way an author can be financially rewarded for their efforts, is if you buy it direct from Amazon / Lulu, rather than via one of the alternative Buying Choices].
More terrifying tales of life's undercarriage from the Master of Darkness and Despair, Stuart Millard. Frantic through desperation, to be included, to be wanted, to be loved, Millard's central characters are ruthlessly eviscerated, revealing their innermost fears and uppermost fantasies. Few writers today delve so deep.
My favourite piece in this book, and possibly by Millard to date (although his blog is also worth checking out for new writing) is the 4-parter "The Ostrich and the Insects". Although typically dark and perverse in its dealing of an everyday supernatural occurrence, it is also a beautifully crafted piece of writing that leaves you knowing that you are reading something of quality.
Again undersold by the packaging, as was Frantic Planet /Frantic Planet: Volume I, Frantic Planet 2 is also full of imaginative plots, devilish twists and turns, and unforeseen surprises. Highly recommended.
I urge you to pick up this book, and Volume 2 as well. It's an extremely fun read. It's the kind of book you could easily read all in one go...but don't! No, savour it. Put it on that little wicker box you have next to the toilet that houses all the sweet smelling bath salts, and enjoy it in little morsels while you're sitting on the toilet waiting for your bubble bath to run. That's the way to go. Other reviewers have put into words far better than I can why you should buy this book, so I'm just here to add to that. Buy it now. If you buy it now, you'll be able to tell people you "were there" before the author blew up and "sold out" for the big bucks, and now all his work is commercialised pap and it's just not the same anymore :(
Sir Trevor McDonald read and enjoyed this book. If it's good enough for Sir Trev, it's good enough for you.
Frantic Planet Volume II is topped and tailed by two lengthy novellas which look at the uneasy relationship between modern society and the individual. "Via Delarosa" is a witty insight into fame, specifically the way celebrity culture and modern media can bring fame without achievement to people unprepared for its effects. Encompassing moments of comedic caper and psychological darkness, this is a twisting journey to an ending which trumps even the genre-savvy's reader's expectations.
"Between Flaws" is pegged on two incidents, one individual and repulsively comic, the other national and chillingly devastating. This disparity reflects the story's central theme: the juxtaposition of a 21st century world in which we are technologically more communicative than ever, yet many have never been so isolated. Like all truly successful storytelling, its free-flowing narrative is hinged on a deliberate structure which is clear upon later analysis, but does not clumsily encroach on the reading experience.
Whereas volume one arguably suffered from inconsistent degrees of reality across its contents all but two of volume two's tales are set firmly in the world that we inhabit under the rules of reality and logic we all face. "The Ostrich and the Insects" is, to all but the most God-fearing reader, not among this list, telling as it does the story of a literal fallen angel. However, like a Jim Carrey movie without the schmaltz, it tackles this in a realistic fashion in looking at how we would truly respond to such an event. Later the story turns its hand to both religious symbolism and elements of true horror.
The remaining seven short stories vary in style and length, though to my mind the weakest and most experimental of the concepts on display are also the shortest, meaning no story outstays its welcome. By far the highlight is The Diary Of Blue Horse, a tale of a man's descent into self-destructive insanity. In something of a homage to Memento, the story is told in reverse chronological order, meaning the reader's curiosity is about cause rather than effect.
As would be expected, Volume II builds upon its predecessor's strengths by better fleshing out ideas: experiences and incidents become fully-developed plots with overarching themes. It's difficult to imagine anyone who read the original not adding this to their reading list, but even those who've not had the pleasure will find the sequel rewarding.
"It's an entertaining read" is the type of lazy cliché pilloried throughout the novel, but it is true in the word's widest sense: it relentlessly engages both interest and emotion.
Frantic Planet is the literary bridge between reality and surreality. The stories include three separate realities: the world we inhabit and know (complete with effectively apt cultural references); our world as it could be without social constraints; and a world where our laws of physics do not apply. The collection veers back and forth between these different worlds which, in the hands of a less-skilled writer might easily be clumsy and destroy suspension of disbelief. But here the juxtaposition creates an effective sense of uncertainty: by the time the reader deduces which rules apply to a particular piece, they will already be compelled by the story. And so that world becomes just as real as our own. The collection also varies widely in length. Some are as brief as a couple of hundred words and, as might be expected, these can be hit and miss. It seems likely the author has produced the book over a lengthy period as there appears to be a notable disparity among the briefer stories in terms of the skill with which the pretext, the hook and the payoff are delivered. It is the longer tales that highlight the anthology, and perhaps not coincidentally they all inhabit the middle of the three literary worlds: that which follows our conventions of time and space, but rejects our conventions of behaviour . 'Just a statistic' is a twisted literal interpretation taking to ever more grotesque extremes. 'Rooting for truffles' examines the consequences of a 'What if?' scenario where only fate will ever allow the reader to confirm their conviction that they would never behave that way. And the centrepiece 'Simple Choices, clocking in at 55 pages (a quarter of the full book) treads a dangerous line between the revulsion provoked by the story's events and the contemplation provoked by its themes. The specifics are of a fantasy world but the message is firmly rooted in our own. A full appreciation of the subtleties of Frantic Planet may be contingent on a culture and humour overlap between audience and author. But the powers and burdens of free will are all that is needed to appreciate the way physical events in the book's fictional reality relate to less tangible ideals and behaviour in our physical world.
Stuart Millard's second book is a natural progression from his first, his style evolving, and longer pieces fighting their way through the torrent of ideas that was housed in the first volume. Millard's style is cinematic, a difficult trick to pull off without obvious cheats and tells, never claustrophobic and always accessible.
The author pitches you straight into things without a pause in the first story - there are so many pop-cultural throwaways in "Via Dolorosa" that you're tripping over them by chapter 3, giddy with all the bits that you know you know, and you know Millard knows, and the fact that you both know them is a great big smilemaker, and it all comes together in the way you thought it would, except different, because you thought it wrong. KEEPS YOU GUESSING. "I Am Edward Norton" is the best thing Millard has written so far, and is a short film crying out for celuloid (and Edward Norton, although it's not about Edward Norton), and by this point you really want to read more, and you do read more, because you bought it, and there's nothing like thinking you'vre onto a winner.
"The Diary Of Blue Horse" is a reverse-time BEAUT of a tale of a man losing his mind, giving into his shinebox, and just doing what the hell pops into his mind, with horrible, horrible consequences. A film of this would also be interesting. And also disgusting. Oh, and if you wondered what Snoop Doggy Dogg is up to these days, Millard has the answer. You turn to "Ostriches & Insects" and what first felt like it could be a romcom (yeah, right, as if Millard has an ounce of romance in his evil, stinky bones) turns into something dark and sinister and disgusting. Once again, this could be a film. Like that one with John Travolta where he's the angel - what was that called? - only not, but yeah, but not. And for once a sympathetic lead - writing like this is as easy to read as accidentally watching gay wrestling porn without realising it.
The final part of the book, "Between Flaws", is another longer piece, and by far the most accomplished thing in the book. It's a scathing indictment of modern friendships, and opinions, and TEH COOL, all tied up in a neat ball of irony. It had a couple of genuine LOLOLOL moments, and a few, "ah, that's so Millard", too. Overall, Frantic Planet II is occasionally uneven but immensely rewarding, and perfect for a train journey or a deprogramming of a cult member.