Irregular Verbs and Other Stories
By Matthew Johnson
Debut collections of short stories sometimes hit like a band’s breakout first album, the material gathered from a writer’s early and often most creative years. Such, anyway, is the feeling you get reading Irregular Verbs and Other Stories, Ottawa author Matthew Johnson’s meaty collection of speculative short fiction.
The Johnsonesque fidgets with a reality that has all sorts of bends and gaps in it. Just to stick with the category of time, in “Another Country” a fissure in the time-space continuum sends “prefugees” from falling empires to present day safe havens where they join semi-assimilated communities of Mongols, Goths, or Aztecs, while in stories like “Written by the Winners,” “When We Have Time,” and “Outside Chance,” characters manipulate history or surf alternative chronologies as though they were so many different data streams.
And reality isn’t the only mode in play. Johnson also bends and twists genre conventions, with highly original riffs on everything from superhero to zombie fiction. But no matter how bizarre the setting, his stories always keep focus on how individuals cope with the stress of these disruptions and intrusions into strange new worlds. Luckily his characters are sensitive but adaptable types, and given the plastic nature of Johnson’s universe another jump in time or space, or genre, is often the solution closest to hand.