Hammer and Heat was Duncan Smith’s first published book – a collection of ten stories, including ‘666 AD’, ‘Marvy Day’, and ‘The Bishop the Knight and the Rookie.’
Hammer and Heat was first published under the pseudonym John Silvern. Smith had written an early version of the novel Cultown, which contained some controversial themes, so used the pseudonym as a precaution. But he soon tired of the confusion this caused and reverted to his own name for later books.
‘I found myself trying to publicize myself and my work and at the same time trying to hide my identity. It was ridiculous! In the end, I decided to risk the extremists’ wrath rather than go through such contortions.’
The stories are mostly absurdist in tone while still making some kind of philosophical point. ‘Marvy Day’ is a humorous look at moral relativism. ‘You Bastard Inc’ addresses the litigation frenzy of recent times, while the title story is a comment on the worth of fame and celebrity.
One of the biggest surprises is ‘The Untold Tale’ with its unusual take on the subject of abortion. Smith has said ‘one of the best compliments the book received was from a conservative Christian reader who said this story changed her view of abortion.’
‘666 AD’ is another story with metaphysical themes, describing a zone of purgatory where spoilt brats are sent for a year’s rehabilitation. ‘An Acronymious Dispute’ is a Gulliver’s Travels type political satire, in which an election campaign hinges on a tiny incident that gets blown way out of proportion.
‘Supernerd’ is a paean to the power of the nerd, (coming out, incidentally, long before Big Bang Theory brought the nerd to prominence), while ‘The Bishop, The Knight and The Rookie’ is a strange amalgam of the topics of chess and gambling.
Reception and Sequel
Hammer and Heat was well received upon publication, described as ‘full of riches and strange beauty’ by JP Bream, while David King saw it as ‘witty and philosophically intriguing.’
Smith has stated his intention to write a sequel. ‘I’m a great admirer of W.S. Maugham and other masters of the shorter form. If I could produce a body of short stories like Maugham, I’d be delighted.’