Prompted by a brilliant short story I read recently (see the first entry below) I’ve written up another round of short reviews of some books I’ve really enjoyed lately:
Shoreline of Infinity Issue 14 (2019)
The latest offering from Edinburgh’s BFS award-winning sci-fi magazine Shoreline of Infinity might be the best yet. Opening piece ‘Oh Baby Teeth Johnny With Your Radiant Grin, Let’s Unroll on Moonlight and Gin’ by Cat Hellisen is one the most original and stylish short stories I’ve read in some time. You’re dropped straight into a noir-themed afterlife, a kind of lucid nightmare world whose inhabitants are cobbled together from disparate memories, including title character Johnny, whose right arm is a gun and whose teeth are made form bullet casings. Other fantastic stories in the anthology include a bloody take on parallel worlds in The Anxiety Gene by Rhiannon Grist, and a tale of moon miners called ‘Superfine’, written in an experimental “spacejunk” dialect by my fellow Aether/Ichor editor, Eris Young.
HWFG by Chris McQueer (404 Ink, 2018)
The second collection of short stories from Glasgow author Chris McQueer, HWFG, ranges from crime to horror to sci-fi dystopia, the connecting thread being McQueer’s hilarious pub-yarn style. His knack for Glesga patter is on full show but the irreverent dressing doesn’t get in the way of emotional connection to the characters or hide the social commentary about working class Scotland. The crude humour is reminiscent of John Niven and Irvine Welsh but isn’t backwards looking. In fact, McQueer’s writing feels particularly keyed in to the zeitgeist of the social media generation. In ‘Leathered’, protagonist Frank gets into a boxing match with Kim Jong Un (with the fate of the people of North Korea in the balance) after innocuously tweeting that he could batter him.
Silma Hill by Iain Maloney (Freight Books, 2015)
Scots author Iain Maloney shows that Salem, Massachusetts, doesn’t own exclusive rights to witch-hunting in this spooky 18th century tale of religious paranoia set in a remote coastal village in Scotland. Accusations fly after the finding of a pagan idol starts a string of strange events and visitations. Like some historical episode of Ye Olde X Files, whether events are really supernatural or not is left up to the reader to decide for themselves. The insular and isolated atmosphere of Abdale is brilliantly conjured (pun intended) and the growing tension between the cruel and scientifically-minded Reverend and his gossiping, wayward flock drives the drama towards its grisly conclusion.
Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Head of Zeus, 2017)
The latest in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s long oeuvre, Dogs of War, is the first I’ve read and won’t be the last. Rex is a bioform, an intelligent human/dog hybrid and soldier being used in a dirty war in Mexico. It’s a zany premise with talking animals and Resident Evil-esque mad science (albeit far smarter) but has real emotional weight, especially for a dog person like me. Discussions around abuse of power, complicity, slavery, and the future of artificial intelligence round out the novel’s series of high-octane action sequences.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber and Faber, 2005)
I’ve been a fan of Ishiguro for some time now but have only just got around to reading his sci-fi tinged sixth novel, Never Let Me Go. The usual Ishiguro themes are here – memory and nostalgia and the ways in which they warp with time – as is the back and forth style of story-telling often found in his work, where the narrator, Kath, talks us through various events in her past, holding each scene up to close scrutiny and slowly eking out, bit by bit, those hidden parts of her life.