March 4, 2022

Exceptional writing, but stories are hit or miss. On A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth

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A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth

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Two years since the publication of his The Winter Soldier, psychiatrist Daniel Mason returns with a collection of human survival stories

Varied in style and length, each short fiction is set in a historical time and location: “Death of The Pugilist, or The Famous Battle of Jacob Burke & Blindman McGraw” in 1824 while “On Growing Ferns and Other Plants in Glass Cases”, in the midst of the Smoke of London” takes place in Industrial Age London.

A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth review

By Daniel Mason

Pan Macmillan

2020
256 pp
£14.99 / 8.99 (paperback)

Above all, Mason captures the mental state of human struggle remarkably well. “The Ecstasy of Alfred Russel Wallace” traces the historical naturist’s discoveries and correspondence with Darwin; through the third-person perspective, the story shines in moments that break away from Wallace’s internal dialogue and foreshadow what’s to come: “Did he recognize that the letter contained not only praise but a veiled intimidation?”

Though all nine stories possess unique setting and subject, they are connected by the heroism of each main character. For example, Uncle Teddy in “For the Union Dead” spends his time reenacting Civil War battles as his injury prevents him from enlisting, while Céleste of “On the Cause of Winds and Waves, &C” challenges gender norms and current scientific knowledge through her discovery of a new phenomenon in the sky.

Despite exceptional writing throughout, the stories are hit or miss; some result in papercuts from over-eagerly flipping the page while others require multiple sittings to get through. One example of the former is “The Second Doctor Service,” which follows the narrator as he experiences seizures and a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde-style dual personality. The line “I am not myself” sends a chill down the reader’s spine, as does the increasing frequency of these attacks. Other stories, like “The Miraculous Discovery of Psammetichus I,” is only memorable in how it references Herodotus, a work that invariably reminds me of The English Patient. Others fall in the middle: in parts entertaining and in others not.

Ultimately, A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth is an exploration of the boundaries to human capability. From new scientific breakthroughs to geographic discoveries, each story asks the reader to be innovative and challenge the status quo. Mason shares nine journeys of success and failure, prompting the reader to begin theirs.

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Noemi Elliott

Fiction & Poetry Section Editor

Singapore / United States

Co-founder of Harbingers’ Magazine

Born in 2003, Noemi Elliott divides her time between Singapore and the United States. Noemi holds American, British, and Hungarian citizenship and speaks English, Hungarian, and Mandarin.

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