Thirty Years of Rain

By Neil Williamson

Rating: 3 stars

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that a book called “Thirty Years of Rain” tends to the depressing side. It appears that the prevailing weather in my favourite city has affected its writers. Those of speculative fiction, at least. The stories for this anthology were collected from the Glasgow SF Writers’ Circle, celebrating its 30th anniversary and while I thought that most of them were good, blimey, so many of them were depressing! Starting with a man in mourning for his recently deceased wife (and the substitute that he finds of her), leading straight into a story about a soldier who can be wired directly into a military aircraft and what happens when he’s let loose into civilian life with no support.

On and on they go, but, again like the city they’re inspired by, when the sun does break out, it’s glorious. For me the highlight of this book is Brian Milton’s The Lodger consisting of letters from a Certain Sort of lady to various destinations about the alien refugee who she has agreed to (temporarily) rehouse. Whimsical and often very funny, it still left me with a lump in my throat.

Back in chilling as *cough* territory, Headkiller is terrifying but very effective. Similar in theme, if not extreme violence is Crowd Control, about rubbernecking and social media in a world where personal teleportation is commonplace. There are other lighter stories in there as well. I enjoyed Duncan Lunan’s alt-hist I Believe That This Nation Should Commit Itself and Jim Steel’s self-aware Fritz Leiber pastiche The Crock of Shet. Neil Williamson’s Foreign Bodies was interesting and engaging, but I completely failed to understand the ending and Phil Raines’ The Circle closes things off with a story about a writers’ circle (very meta).

So a nice showcase for the authors, if rather tending to the darker side of the spectrum for my tastes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to re-read The Lodger.

Book details

ISBN: 9781326753429
Year of publication: 2016

Secret Language

By Neil Williamson

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve read the occasional short story by Neil Williamson in various anthologies over the years but never a collection of his own. Williamson’s style is quite dense and literary, I found I had to read the book quite slowly, taking just one or two stories at a time, otherwise it just got a bit blurry.

The major themes in the book are music and Scotland. He draws on the distinctiveness of Scots and Scotland to set up character portraits and story resonance without needing to go into great detail. And music is present in many of these stories in some shape or other, from the way the system dealt with Punk in Arrhythmia to the the very essence of what art is and if how it should be produced and consumed in The Death of Abigail Goudy, a piece which, it seems to me (and from the author’s afterword) came from very deep inside the author.

My favourite piece was probably the most science fictional story in the collection, Lost Sheep, a space opera set in the deep future, yet still coming back to the perennial theme of making and showing art.

It’s not what I would call a cheerful book, there’s a sense of melancholy running through it, even the stories that don’t directly have sad endings leave you with a sense of unease that things are probably going to get worse. There is a streak of dark humour running through it that stops it getting too miserable though.

So a book to dip into for me, rather than to swallow down. I can appreciate the quality of Williamson’s writing but he’s not an author that I’d want to read a lot of in quick succession.

Book details

ISBN: 9781910935149
Publisher: Newcon Press

Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction

By Neil Williamson

Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories about Scotland or written by Scots. The hit to miss ratio was really quite good. There was the odd story that I completely failed to get, but those were more than balanced by the whimsical Pisces, ye bass (about a Glasgow hard-fish protecting its pond), the ideas-packed A Case of Consilience and the wonderfully meloncholy Lest We Forget. A great collection.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841830865
Publisher: Birlinn Ltd
Year of publication: 2005

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