Work in Progress – Nick Wallace. Nick begins the anthology with a story that does a deft job at setting the scene. Work in Progress explains what has happened since Brax’s disappearance, while also introducing the weird and bizarre Quire. Where Nick excels is his ability to integrate good story-telling with info-dumping. A strong start to the anthology.
The Tears of Laughter – David N. Smith. The competition winner produces a solid piece of work. We get an interesting glimpse into Bev’s past as one of her ex-colleagues arrives on the Collection. While possibly not a piece to set the world on fire, the story is engaging and doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Outside the Wall – Sin Deniz. A story told from Adrian’s perspective and in his own words. Deniz does a very good job in capturing Adrian’s deliberate, careful, almost detached thought processes – though we still get a good appreciation of how much Adrian cares for Peter. The story probably lacks a little bit of oomph, but as a character piece it works well.
Key – Jonathan Blum. One of my early favorites. This is a great little story told through Peter’s eyes, with some great moments and a nice twist to boot. What makes the piece really work is how Blum captures childish enthusiasm without dumbing the story down or making it feel saccharine sweet. There’s even a cheeky reference to Chris, Roz, Ace and the Doctor. Oh, and Jon, you should be writing some YA stuff.
The Inconstant Gallery – James Swallow. Another story that offers a glimpse into Bev’s past. While I really liked the idea of the Varde Sphere, I didn’t really buy into the story. Too make the piece work I think Lakene needed to be a more sympathetic character, rather than a screaming loony.
Cabinet of Curiosities – Mags L. Halliday. Some great writing, coupled with a great idea, maketh an excellent story. Personally, I thought the ending could have been more desperate and more violent, but overall this piece really brings out how weird the Collection truly can be.
Anightintheninthage – Lance Parkin. In some respects, the first story by an author other that Phil Purser-Hallard, to deal with the Quire. Essentially, Benny invites Verso (one of the Quire) over to her place to have a drink and chat. This is a more of an extended scene than an actual story, but (a) it’s really well written (b) it’s funny and (c) it sets up some crucial stuff for the stories to come.
Grey’s Anatomy – Simon A. Forward. The return of Mordecan (he of The Sandman and Bone of Contention Big Finish audios) who comes to the Collection to offer Bev something… unique. In turns funny and surprising, in my opinion this is one of Simon’s strongest pieces of writing.
The Tree That Was – Steven Kitson. This is the first piece of fiction I’ve read by Steven and I have to say that it’s pretty decent. As a discussion piece that questions the subjectivity of “right” and “wrong” it succeeds. My only problem was how Benny pieced the puzzle together. Unless I missed something, her deductions seems based more on intuition than any clues shown in the story.
The Two Level Effect – Eddie Robson. I’ve become an Eddie Robson groupie. This is a funny, entertaining, well written story that’s very close to being the best in the anthology. I think Jason is an irritating git of a character and rather than fight that notion Eddie plays with it, putting Jason in a situation where his smugness and cockiness is pulled from under his feet. Great stuff.
Let There Be Stars – Mark Micahlowski. Another superb story. Unlike Mark’s other work, this one isn’t funny or filled with witty dialogue. Instead, Mark gives us an insight into Hass’ nebulous mind and his culture. And like Jon Blum, he captures Peter very well. There’s some beautiful descriptive writing here and the ending is just gorgeous.
Sleeptalking – John Fletcher. An interesting story that sees Bifolium and Parsiel trapped in a lift. This story offers us some background into Parasiel – which is great because the character always feels so one-note. Sleeptalking also hints at what makes the Quire tick. Again, while very much a stand-alone story, Sleeptalking does set a few dominoes in motion and it’s pretty well written as well.
False Security – Nick Walters. The other Nick’s story deals with the implementation of a new security system on the Collection. It’s part sentient, very expensive and, of course, goes horribly wrong. And while the story is predictable, it effectively highlights Bev’s growing paranoia and the rising tensions on the Collection.
The Painting on the Stair – Simon Bucher-Jones. Bucher-Jones is one of the more inventive Who and Who-related writers out there and it’s a shame we don’t see his work more often. And The Painting on the Stair is no exception. It’s quirky and clever, dealing with a series of very violent paintings which may, or may not, be tied up with some time-travel shenanigans. My only problem with the piece is that I didn’t find it as funny as I’m sure it was trying to be.
The Cost for a Collection – Ian Mond. I’m proud of this piece, and that’s about all I’ll say. Nick was great to work with and his suggestions were always spot on. It was a pleasure working with him. And I have to thank my mate Dave Hoskin who helped me with the stories structure. That is all.
Lock – Kate Orman. Not one of Kate’s strongest works in my opinion. A companion piece to Jon’s story, in contrast Lock felt a bit thin on the ground in terms of plot. However, like Jon, Kate does a wonderful job capturing Peter’s point of view.
Mother’s Ruin – Dale Smith. A corker of a story that reveals something important about what’s going on with the Collection and brings together the threads of some of the other stories. The writing style is fluid, flavorsome and full of life, mixing together humour with danger and sense that things have gone totally pear-shaped. Wonderful.
Perspectives – Phillip Purser-Hallard. Purser-Hallard came up with the idea of the Quire and therefore, throughout the anthology there are a number of interludes which fill in some of the background concerning the clan. Essentially, they’re a series of info-dumps and plot pieces. And while that might sound a tad pejorative, it’s worth pointing out that at no stage do the stories feel out of place. In fact the stories imbue a sense of wonder as Purser-Hallard offers the reader an insight into this very weird culture. Each one also does an excellent job at pushing the story along.
Future Relations – Phillip Purser Hallard and Nick Wallace. An excellent end to the collection that ties everything together and does so with an emotional punch to the gut. The story conveys a real feeling of inevitability and doom, and as the reader you know it’s all going to end in tears. And it does. A shocking but satisfying end to the collection.
For me this is by far one of the strongest Benny collections published. In fact, when you consider there isn’t a single dud in the entire anthology, I’d go as far as to say that Collected Work is the strongest Benny collection published so far. Yes, it even beats Life During Wartime, which was my previous favourite.
If there is one problem with the collection, it’s the struggle to mesh together the Quire with what else is going on. There are points in the anthology when you can go three or four stories with only a brief mention of the clan. It’s a not a major problem because when they do appear they make an impact. But it would have been nice to have seen more Quire activity in some of the stories presented.