The device used in cremations is called a cremulator. It burns the body and then grinds it down in to small pieces and a fine powder.
In Britain a group of writers calling themselves The New Puritans put together a manifesto and an anthology of stories. Their manifesto is comprised of 10 rules. Rule number one: Primarily story-tellers, we are dedicated to the narrative form.
In Britain, there are more cases of spontaneous human combustion than anywhere else in the world. There is no explanation for this phenomena.
Rule number two: We are prose writers and recognise that prose is the dominant form of expression. For this reason we shun poetry and poetic license in all its forms.
The New Puritans aim is "to blow the dinosaurs out of the water." It is a courageous move for a group of 15 new writers to take on. But who are the dinosaurs? Is Jeanette Winterson out of date? There are rumors that Powerbook will be her last. Martin Amis is old enough to write his memoirs; does that put him in with the Jurassics? How old is Helen Fielding? J.G. Ballard? Anthony Burgess? Are the British writers fossilizing?
Quantum-theory has been offered up as one explanation for spontaneous human combustion. If a body contains a cold fusion reaction then a body can ignite. The human body is a masterpiece of invention and there are thousands of reactions that happen in it at every moment, and most are still unexplained. Scientists are unconvinced by mystery.
Rule number three: While acknowledging the value of genre fiction, whether classical or modern, we will always move towards new openings, rupturing existing genre expectations.
Nicholas Blincoe and Matt Thorne chose the stories by Alex Garland, Toby Litt, Scarlett Thomas, Matthew Branton, Candida Clark, Daren King, Rebbecca Ray, Simon Lewis, Ben Richards, Anna Davis, Tony White, Geoff Dyer and Bo Fowler for their anthology, All Hail The New Puritans. They printed their own stories too. The stories are all new. The oldest story was finished in November of 1999, the newest stories were finished in April 2000. It is not available from an American publisher yet and is not on any bookstore's list of books that will come out in the next six months.
Rule number four: We believe in textual simplicity and vow to avoid all devices of voice: rhetoric, authorial asides.
Spontaneous human combustion was thought to be linked to heavy drinking. A man on the Discovery channel soaked a pork shank in bourbon for months and then tried to set it on fire with a barbecue match. The shank was singed a little but hardly burned. It did not even stay lit for long. Alcholholism is still a major problem but it does not cause bodies to ignite.
Alex Garland wrote a story named Monaco. It is about the Grand Prix, the people who died in the races, a woman in the crowd who gets herself off, and a photographer who has to get the perfect shot of all of it; death, sex and a camera. Erotica has moved away from standard fare. Toby Litt's story is named The Puritan's and it's about the people involved in an undercover hardcore porn dubbing operation. Calling the story hardcore porn would be misleading; it is more about dubbing on the beach for extra cash. The body still has surprises left untouched.
Rule number five: In the name of clarity, we recognise the importance of temporal linearity and eschew flashbacks, dual temporal narratives and foreshadowing.
The first story starts with these two sentences: "Mark got his Dreamcast five minutes before he died. His mother wanted it buried with him." It is by Scarlett Thomas and it is called Mind Control. Do these sentences follow the rules?
Some of the stories are about people who have holes in their lives and people who are missing pieces of themselves, not literally though, which effects the way that they relate to other people. It leaves some of the people confused and they persevere through it, for the most part anyway. Enduring a situation is not a test of a strong will in a terrifying world. The world is strange and it makes strange people who live in it, and by living in it, they make it.
Rule number six: We believe in grammatical purity and avoid any elaborate punctuation.
Some people believe that spontaneous human combustion can be explained by the wick effect.
Rule number seven: We recognise that published works are also historical documents. As fragments of our time, all our texts are dated and set in the present day. All products, places, artists and objects named are real.
The average age of a New Puritan contributor is about 31, so many of them won't make the next 30 under 30 list for talented young people. Also, they have each published about three books. As for day jobs, they work as editors, teachers, fellowship recipients, literary agents, lecturers, web site designers and one of them is something called a housing officer. Then again, averages are for stock markets and box scores. Bio pages are very helpful sometimes.
The wick effect is explained by the ignition of clothing. Clothes burn slowly when they are in contact with the human body which acts like paraffin. Many people understand what it feels like to be affected by a slow burn.
Rule number eight: as faithful representations of the present, our texts will avoid all improbable or unknowable speculation about the past or the future.
The New Puritan rules are a set of positives and negatives - things that they will and will not do; except for the first and the last which are pieces of lofty but dippy p.r. With slightly more negatives than positives, there are only 10 rules and being that 2 of them aren't even rules the math is easy, there's a push towards the minimal. Spare prose also does well in short stories but the New Puritans do not seem interested in the recognized minimal. They are trying to do something new that avoids the excesses of other prose. Minimal prose tends to hi-light layered complexities so by refusing to recognize the apparent it avoids the sickness of overwriting. The New Puritans seem to work it so that where they do not mention something it leaves an apparent hole in the story. Maybe this is their form of underwriting.
In 1982 Benedetto Supino set fire to his comic books, bedclothes and something that is only identified as a "plastic object." He did not torch anything with matches, a lighter, or even flint and steel. Electronics went out when he was near. He did not even need to give the look - it was his presence that did it. Doctors pronounced him well.
Rule number nine: We are moralists, so all texts feature a recognisable ethical reality.
Nicholas Blincoe wrote a story about the relationships between game designers-mostly board games. Geoff Dyer wrote a story about smoking pot and writing a travel guide to Paris.
In 1986 a Ukrainian boy identified as Sascha K. set fire to clothes, furniture, carpets and electric equipment-often quite explosively. When he was taken to a hospital the clothing of his room-mate caught on fire.
Matt Thorne's story about exgirlfriends, their families, sex, and running away. It is pretty good. So is Ben Richards's story about a filmmaker who's lost it and a girl who dies. Not all male fantasies are inherently flawed. Darren King's story, which is probably more about language than anything else, is pretty bad. He seems to know too well what the prefix meta- means : There's a lot of other stories too. They're both good and bad.
In 1983 Carole Compton was taken to court for arson and attempted murder because her employer believed she had set fire to 2 mattresses next to the crib that a small child was in. Earlier there had been an unexplained fire at the child's grandparent's house. Compton was found guilty, but was let off on time served and doctors said that they had never seen anything like it.
For 15 writers who have to work under the same 10 rules they manage to do a lot of different things with style, content, and all of the other things that writers work with. Anthologies are often uneven collections.
If patterns come freely but indirectly are they still patterns?
Rule number ten: Nevertheless, our aim is integrity of expression, above and beyond any commitment to form.
That seems like a pretty good rule. Even if it isn't much of a rule in the first place.