Birthday Reviews: Peter Crowther’s “Cliff Rhodes and the Most Important Voyage”
Peter Crowther was born on July 4, 1949.
Crowther, who runs PS Publishing, has received two World Fantasy Special Professional Awards for the press, one in 2004 and one in 2008. The press has also received seven British Fantasy Awards for Small Press, and Postscripts Magazine, edited by Crowther and Nick Gevers, has also won a BFA for Best Magazine. Crowther’s short story collection Lonesome Roads was his first BFA Award in 2000.
The story “Cliff Rhodes and the Most Important Voyage” was published in Mike Ashley and Eric Brown’s 2005 anthology The Mammoth Book of New Jules Verne Adventures. It is one of the stories set in Crowther’s bar The Land at the End of the Working Day and was collected with three other stories set there in the collection The Land at the End of the Working Day in 2008.
“Cliff Rhodes and the Most Important Voyage” offers up a bar story, or rather, several bar stories. The drinkers gathered in The Land at the End of the Working Day begin sharing strange stories, some mundane, such as Edgar’s rides back and forth to work on a bus with a strange child, to the supernatural, with Jim describing how he helped free a ghost haunting the bars on his usual pub crawl. Cliff Rhodes, who has been listening, postulates that what all the stories have in common is that they involve journeys of some sort.
The story actually kicks off with two men entering the bar and asking if there was a back room. Horatio Fortesque and Meredith Lidenbrook Greenblat have a reason for asking their strange question, but Crowther is very content to allow the question, and answer, linger in the background as his barflies tell their stories, joke back and forth, and draw out the tale. Their question, however, leads to the focus of the story, tying the various tales to the popularity of Jules Verne, who is mentioned repeatedly throughout “Cliff Rhodes and the Most Important Voyage” as Crowther obliquely looks at the attraction Verne has maintained on the literary world since the 1860s.