Robert Shearman’s debut collection offers a gravity-defying spectacle: a procession of perfectly weighted what-ifs floating just above the real world, self-contained hypotheticals all buoyed up by a single, infinitely variable theme: mortality...




Tiny Deaths







As the reviews on The History of the Doctor illustrate, I read a lot of Doctor Who books, to put it mildly. But I also read a lot of non-Doctor Who books; so many, in fact, that the room in our house that the wife had initially earmarked as an en suite has instead become something of a modest library. But even though I flitter away so many hours of my life with my head stuck in a book, it’s incredibly rare that I devour one with the relish that I did Tiny Deaths.

I purchased this tome after hearing Robert Shearman co-host a Big Finish podcast back in August 2009, during which he read a little drabble from his Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical collection. The succinctly-titled “Sharp” told of a man whose wife had been beheaded in South America whilst off on some wilful sojourn, and his increasingly desperate attempts to make his life as worthy of note as her death was. Instantly I was sold. And so with his Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical sat proudly atop my Christmas list, I thought that in the meantime I’d try out Shearman’s World Fantasy Award-winning collection, Tiny Deaths.

As one would infer from the title, Tiny Deaths is about mortality. And as was the case with “Sharp”, within just a few lines of reading this anthology’s opening story, “Mortal Coil”, once again I was enraptured. This fitting opener tells of the day when, having finally admitted that they misjudged the level of “knowledge of death” that humans should have been given, the powers that be decide to inform every person in the world of how and when they will perish. Everyone, that is, save for one disgruntled fellow, who finds himself unemployable in this post-“knowledge of death” world as, amongst other things, he’s unable to prove his expiry date to prospective employers.

Shearman’s mordant prose is direct and clipped, practically every word vested with its own, twisted irony. And his style is certainly all his own; the preposterous bureaucracy and twisted logic of this post-“knowledge of death” world is perfectly drawn, and what’s more it’s drawn with such a patent lack of enthusiasm that it feels unfalteringly real. It’s almost plausible, and at the end of the day that’s what makes it so damned funny.

The ensuing procession of stories continue to blend the lifelessly mundane with the surreal to similar effect, as Shearman relays the tragic tale of Woofie, Adolf Hitler’s pet dog, who from the moment that the young führer bought him was destined for hell in any event; Tanya, an astonishingly mature – but nonetheless imaginary – child; and, most impressively of all, Jesus Christ, a tortured soul destined to suffer an everlasting number of concomitant, tiny deaths in the collection’s concluding novelette.

It’s so rare that I stumble across an author that caters to my admittedly rather peculiar and specific taste, but Robert Shearman can now count himself amongst their number. Much in the same way that Gavin & Stacey’s Smithy has helped to rid me of the last vestiges of the guilt that I used feel when I’d have to tell people to get their filthy hands out of my curry, Tiny Deaths has reminded me that it’s okay to laugh at those “tiny” things that we all constantly half-dread; those “tiny” things that really don’t stand up to much logical scrutiny.

Thought-provoking in the extreme and categorically hilarious throughout, I don’t recommend Tiny Deaths but forcefully advocate its immediate purchase. It’s little wonder that Shearman won a “knobbled head” for this tour de force.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design

 and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.

Doctor Who is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.