Strungballs by Mike Russell

(6.0/10)

I received a copy of Strungballs in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the author and also, Jay the Strangebooks secretary for this opportunity. This review will contain minor spoilers.     

This is a short novella, numbering only 66 pages and when it commences, we are introduced to a young gentleman called Sydney who is in a 4m x 4m x 4m room awaiting an operation. The medical procedure is to have a cube of his flesh removed, this cities initiation into adulthood for the youngsters. He is then gifted a Strungball by Mother and Father for his bravery. This is simply a cube with a red ball on a white string, and the device is inserted into the place where his cube of flesh used to be, leaving the Strungball dangling in front of Sydney's white gown. He has the latest, coolest design and it beaming with pride. He promises to adhere to the Strungball-Rule:   

"Once a Strungball is inserted it must never be removed."

The action takes place in an uncomplicated, utopian, science fiction type city full of Strungball advertising posters, where the inhabitants must always "do what is good". The city is a torus corridor containing 999 identical rooms. After room 999, room 1 comes next. Numbers, sizes, and measurements seem important to the cities tenants as well as in the way Russell writes this tale. Everything seems equal and perfect. Their existences seem very routine, such as residents going to work or school daily and like clockwork, and in addition; the aspirations most children have is to either work in the highly respected industries of Strungball sales or a Strungball advertising. This must be this world's equivalent of an actor or footballer. The curtains to Sydney's room are always closed. The city is protected by a barrier that keeps the monsters away so that the citizens can continue living their tranquil existence. All is good - until Sydney meets a gentleman called Albert who makes him question "Why?"

The characters all seem robotic and stereotypical in this city. Like they have been brainwashed. It is no coincidence that the book cover looks like it does. All except Albert, who is the only individual who has doubts and questions this good society and the need to dangle Strungball from their gowns. What does the city need the cubes of flesh for anyway?

The first half of the narrative flows at a steady pace. After this stage through, Sydney starts questioning things and then embarks on a bizarre journey where he encounters a hollow inside out giant, travels through a forest of veins, all whilst contemplating the difference between what is finite and what is infinite. He may also meet one of these fabled monsters on his travels.

Strangebooks is an apt name for this Brighton based indie press, who released this as well as Russell's short story collection Nothing is Strange. This was a highly unique, weird and perhaps even mind-altering reading experience which I enjoyed. The second half of the story does descend to another level of peculiar chaos that was sometimes confusing. I had to work hard to follow what was going on when reading towards the conclusion. It is like nothing I have ever read before.

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