My life in outer space

Watson – Ian

The Very Slow Time Machine – Ian Watson (1979)

The Very Slow Time Machine

‘The Very Slow Time Machine arrives on Earth in 1985. Its sole inhabitant is old and mad. Soon it becomes apparent that for him, time is going slowly backward. With every day, he is getting younger and saner. The world, and its whole concept of time, science and philosophy, must wait for him to speak. But while the world waits, it changes…’

Blurb from the 1981 Granada paperback edition

There aren’t many authors who master the art of short story writing, but Watson is definitely in there with the greats. I remember reading a couple of these stories in their original publications and it is to Watson’s credit that the memory of the essence of the tales still remains. Watson is also one of the most inventive and creative writers around and a more diverse collection of ideas and subject matter from one author will be a tough order.
He is also particularly prolific, and has several collections of short stories available. They are all highly recommended.
Ian Watson exhibits a prolificacy and breadth and depth in theme, subject and setting in his short stories, something unusual in SF writers since their short forms on the whole tend to fall within certain parameters.
Furthermore, each story is exquisitely constructed, its brevity belying the wealth of concepts employed.
The title piece for instance examines not only issues of causality and paradox, but also looks at religion’s relationship with the media.
The stories here are a selection from the Nineteen Seventies, covering a period of about five years.

The Very Slow Time Machine (Anticipations – Christopher Priest (Ed) 1978)
Thy Blood Like Milk (New Worlds Quarterly 1973)
Sitting on a Starwood Stool (Science Fiction Monthly 1974)
Agoraphobia AD 2000 (Andromeda 2 – Peter Weston (Ed) 1977)
Programmed Love Story (Transatlantic Review 1974)
The Girl Who Was Art (Ambit 1976)
Our Loves So Truly Meridional (Science Fiction Monthly 1974)
Immune Dreams (Pulsar 1 – George Hay (Ed) 1978)
My Soul Swims in a Goldfish Bowl (Magazine of F&SF 1978)
The Roentgen Refugees (New Writings in SF #30 – Bulmer (Ed) 1978)
A Time Span to Conjure With (Andromeda 3 – Peter Weston (Ed) 1978)
On Cooking The First Hero in Spring (Science Fiction Monthly 1975)
Event Horizon (Faster Than Light; an original anthology about interstellar travel – Jack Dann and George Zebrowski (Eds) 1976)

The Very Slow Time Machine

A beautifully crafted piece where the themes are paradox and causality. A capsule appears from nowhere in 1985 containing a mad and incoherent old man whose life appears to be running backwards. The capsule appears to have been sent back in time from the near future and is impregnable, but the highly efficient recycling system inside the allows its occupant to sustain himself. As he grows younger and saner he begins to deliver a message.
Over the years the time-traveller begins to assume a Messianic status with the general public.
Ironically it would appear that the media storm around the capsule and its passenger has ensured that we build such a ship and send it back in time and has also ensured that that the occupant – who has grown up somewhere outside the capsule knowing of his destiny – will be compelled to come to the launch site, believing that he is destined to be God.

Thy Blood Like Milk

An ecological tale in which gangs roam the highways searching for sunspots; moments when the sun breaks through a permanent cloud layer caused by pollution and global warming. One of the leaders of the gang, who has revived the Aztec cult of the sun god, is being punished for a death he caused on the road . Having his blood milked for hospital use is paying his penance. The story however focuses on his relationship with his nurse who happens to be the girlfriend of the man he killed.

Sitting on a Starwood Stool

Watson is adept in packing several extraordinary concepts into a deceptively short story. Every 1.23 years aliens appear at a certain point in space to trade a few small cuts of the rare Starwood for valuable products from Earth; a Botticelli or even a group of humans.
Starwood is the product of trees grown on an asteroid with an eccentric orbit about its sun, and absorbs the energies of trees. When turned into something such as a stool, it will leak its stored star energy into whomever it comes into contact with, rejuvenating or curing the subject.
A cancer victim hatches a plot to steal the stool form a Yakuza boss, but things do not go according to plan.

Agoraphobia AD 2000

Watson again demonstrates his fascination with Japanese culture in this surreal tale in which an astronaut is required to enter a virtual environment in order to commit hari kiri.

Programmed Love Story

A highly stylised Japanese tale of a businessman who is requested to abandon his bride as she is rather too complaint to be a corporate wife. When she becomes a hostess at the Queen Bee they meet again, but in her work she has been endowed with the persona of an aggressive and ruthless Imperial Consort, and it is this with which he falls in love,
Beautifully written and beautifully structured.

The Girl Who Was Art

A story which examines Art and Japanese culture in which a young girl undergoes muscle training in order to reproduce three-dimensionally the work of a twentieth century photographer in tableaux forms. But Art, it appears, is fickle and transient.

Our Loves So Truly Meridional

The world becomes divided into segments along the meridians by immense glass-like forcefield walls. Two people in separate segments attempt to reach the poles to find out what happens at the nexus of the barriers. It’s in the detail where Watson excels, envisioning societies where a globe of the world has been reduced to a single bowlike segment with a steel string connecting the poles.

Immune Dreams

A man who may or may not be suffering from cancer believes that dreams are the body’s way of correcting errant DNA, He elects to become part of an experiment in which the part of the brain which suppresses volitional control during sleep is turned off.

My Soul Swims in a Goldfish Bowl

A rather weak tale in which a man is convinced by his wife that the amoebic creature he has coughed up is his soul, and keeps it alive in a goldfish bowl

The Roentgen Refugees

Following the unexpected supernova of Sirius, the world is blasted by the resultant flux of Gamma radiation and only a fraction of the world’s population are saved, mainly in the Western World. Set in South Africa (and written during the time of apartheid) it’s a philosophical piece about third world issues, faith and racism on various levels. Like most of Watson’s short fiction it is brief, yet complex.

A Time Span to Conjure With

A scheduled inspection of a young colony world finds the colonists childless and oddly philosophical. It appears that an indigenous species (spoken of as ‘fairies’ due to their apparent transparency and elusiveness) exist in Time in a different sense to ourselves.
The aliens appear to be very alien, made more so by the fact that Watson keeps them at arm’s length. We see them briefly on the page, but realise through the narrative that they are always around.

On Cooking The First Hero in Spring

Three human anthropologists examine an alien tribe who show little signs of intelligence and seemingly have only one word in their vocabulary, although a Buddhist member of the team looks at them from a different perspective.
Initially it is thought that the creatures had built an aisle of statuary, depicting themselves or their ancestors, but it transpires that every ‘dawn’ one of their number is chosen to be baked alive in a shell of clay, and then put in position among the statues forming a strange highway to nowhere.

Event Horizon

Maybe the least accessible of the stories, this features a black hole which may or may not have a mind trapped with it, and some investigators, who achieve telepathic union by the use of drugs and tantric sex. It’s very much a tale of its time and seems – unlike the other pieces – oddly dated.

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Lucky’s Harvest / The Fallen Moon – Ian Watson (1993 / 1994)

Lucky's Harvestn: The First Bood Of Mana

‘Lucky’s Harvest is the first in a two-volume epic – a work that rivals Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ in scale, richness and complexity.

Drawing his inspiration from the great Finnish saga the Kalevala, Ian Watson has created a totally realistic and wonderfully exotic alien world. On Kaleva, Earth’s first and only interstellar colony, the entire community is indebted to Lucky, whose encounter with the mysterious entity known as the Ukko transported them across space to a land of lake, sea and forest, Kaleva.

Unfortunately, by her 402nd birthday, Lucky is more than a little crazy, and an exiled daughter is seeking sanctuary.’

Blurb from the 1984 VGSF paperback edition.

Ian Watson, amongst other things, is probably for me the David Bowie of SF (If indeed Bowie himself isn’t already the David Bowie of SF) since he is consistently and proliferously creative, inventive and not afraid of changing his style, sometimes taking SF or fantasy conventions and reinventing them in interesting ways. This has often been seen in his short stories. His previous novels have been dense, complex and pushed the envelope of SF.
Here, in a two volume epic, Watson moves into another direction and takes the tropes of Science Fantasy to make his own.
The backstory: Lucky, a young asteroid miner, encounters an Ukko, an asteroid-sized ship with convoluted chambers and pathways resembling a giant ear. The Ukko takes a liking to Lucky and asks her for her stories. In return the Ukko gives her a fabulous gift, a world resembling the world of the tales she has been telling, plus the bonus of immortality for her and her chosen husband who are destined to be the rulers of this new world. Additionally the Ukko arranges for a shuttle service between Earth and the planet Kaleva, and bring settlers from Earth who in turn tell tales to the Ukko during their journey.
Watson’s narrative begins centuries later. Lucky is by now a little unbalanced, as is her husband, Bertel, tired of his unending life. Lucky has given birth to a succession of daughters, each of whom has Lucky’s gift of giving their husband immortality, although they themselves age normally and die.
Some years after the humans started colonising, the Ukkos began brining the Isi to Kaleva; huge intelligent serpents with their humanoid slaves, the Juttahats. Their motives are unclear, but they like to meddle in human affairs.
The fantasy elements of ‘Lucky’s Harvest’ comprise of the combination of feudal society with the phenomenon of Mana, being a force that permeates the Northern hemisphere and allows certain people to perform acts of ‘magic’.
Osmo, one of the central characters, is a young proclaimer. By the use of his voice he can ‘bespeak’ objects and people. Prior to the start of the novel the young Osmo confronted the sadistic proclaimer tyrant Tycho Cammon and turned him tos tone. The staue was then kept in an alcove on osmo’s ‘keep’ and occasionally brought out for Osmo to depetrify Tycho’s face for the entertainment of his guests.
Osmo gains the enmity of the militant proclaimer Juke and his one-eyed sister Eyeno.
One of Lucky’s daughters, Jatta, has been seduced by a genetically engineered Juttahat in order that the Serpents can engender a human/juttahat hybrid. The resulting child is fast-growing and appears to have proclaimerlike powers.
Meanwhile, some people begin to suspect that the Mana force is emanating from an Ukko child which is buried somewhere on the planet and feeding on the stories and the drama of the world beneath which it is gestating.
Most of the characters, it seems, are seeking something. Lucky is seeking her true self, which she believes is still being held by the Ukko. Her husband Bertel is seeking death. Osmo is seeking immortality, as is Minkie, the lecherous young lord. The immortal Lord Beck is seeking a way of connecting with his long-dead wife Anna.
Eyeno is seeking a new eye, and her brother Juke is seeking victory over Osmo for reasons unknown.
Watching over all are the cat-eared green-scaled cuckoos that fly about the realm carrying gossip and news.
Those with some knowledge of Scandinavian mythology may recognise some of the elements being described here, since Watson has based this wonderful work on the Finnish saga of The Kalevala, something which also provided inspiration for novels by Emil Petaja and for Tolkien’s ‘Silmarillion’.


The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories – Ian Watson (Ed), Ian Whates (Ed) (2010)

The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories

Alternate histories – in which some aspect of our past history has been changed, leading to minor or major changes in subsequent timelines – have formed a large subgenre of SF since at least the early sixties, although there may be earlier works. The earliest piece in this volume (Keith Roberts’ excellent ‘Weihnachtabend’) is from 1972.
This is a varied and high quality collection, showcasing some of the diversity of work in this most malleable of subgenres.

The Raft of the Titanic – James Morrow (The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories 2010)

It’s odd that the passage of time allows us to make light of tragedies of 100 years ago. I’m glad it does since this is an wonderful piece, speculating that had the passengers and crew of the Titanic pooled their resources and cannibalised the ship to make a raft, all the passengers (and dogs) could be saved. Morrow goes further, and suggests that the passengers, having become accustomed to their odd new life (once the real cannibalism was over with) would not wish to abandon it.

Sidewinders – Ken MacLeod (The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories 2010)

There are people, sidewinders, who can travel easily between alternate timelines. They are divided into two factions, The Improvers, who wish to optimise every possible world, and The Conservers. In a world where a Socialist Scotland extends to the middle of London, an Improver is being pursued by a Conserver.

The Wandering Christian – Kim Newman and Eugene Byrne (Tales of the Wandering Jew, Mar 1991, ed. Brian Stableford)

A somewhat disappointing tale which suffers from the ill-suited combination of alternate histories and the supernatural. The Jew who stamped on Christ when he was on his way to the cross, is cursed by The Son of God that he will not die until Christ returns. Newman and Byrne’s idea is that this ‘Wandering Jew’ converts to Christianity and wanders for a thousand years through a world where Constantine died before Christianity could be established, leaving Christianity (and Islam) as a forgotten sect. It’s somewhat dry and heavy on historical detail. One wonders why Christ would bother returning.

Hush My Mouth – Suzette Haden Elgin (Alternative Histories, Dec 1986, ed. Charles G. Waugh, Martin H. Greenberg)

A quite powerful piece set after the American Civil War in which the North declined to include ‘Negroes’ in its forces. The war was extended far longer than it should have been with appalling consequences to both sides.

A Letter from the Pope – Harry Harrison and Tom Shippey (What Might Have Been? Vol II: Alternate Heroes, Jan 1990, ed. Gregory Benford, Martin H. Greenberg)

When Alfred the Great was famously ‘burning the cakes’ a letter was on his way to him from The Pope, a letter which he never received. Alfred went on to defeat the Danes and reclaim England. Harrison and Shippey consider what the situation might have been if the letter had been received.

Such a Deal – Esther M. Friesner (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 1992)

An entrepreneurial jew travelling with Columbus does a deal with the Aztecs, makes his father a god, and claims America for God’s Chosen people.

Ink from the New Moon – A. A. Attanasio (Asimov’s Science Fiction, November 1992,)

A Chinese traveler visits an America which was colonised by the Chinese

Dispatches from the Revolution – Pat Cadigan (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, July 1991,)

A powerful political punch from Cadigan, which sees a very different history of America from the Sixties onwards changed, it seems, by the non-appearance of Bob Dylan in Chicago.

Catch That Zeppelin! – Fritz Leiber (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1975,)

An excellent bit of alternative jiggery-pokery from Leiber, who postulates that Thomas Edison met and married Marie Curie (before she met Mr Curie). From this union came an electric battery that fuelled all transport needs and made Germany a leading economic power, obviating the need for fossil fuels.
But where would leave this leave Adolf Hitler?

A Very British History – Paul J. McAuley (Interzone, #157 July 2000)

The British steal the secrets of V2 and V3 engines before the Germans can make use of them and inaugurate the space race early. McAuley here provides a review of a book exhaustively covering man’s expansion into the Solar System, placing us with bases on The Moon, Mars and the moons of Jupiter by the beginning of the 21st Century.

The Imitation Game – Rudy Rucker (Interzone, #215 April 2008,)

Turing, the gay genius legend of the Enigma Code, is here planning a clandestine holiday with a Greek lover. Turing, in this reality, is toying with growing human cells and manages to use his new (and somewhat improbable) techniques to his own advantage when his lover is poisoned by the security services.

Weihnachtabend – Keith Roberts (New Worlds 4 1972)

This is how one writes a short story. Roberts sets his in a Britain under Nazi rule (or ‘The Two Empires’ as it is now called). Martin is a trusted aide to the Minister and is invited to his country house for Christmas talking along a young Aryan lady with him. In his room he finds a book, a banned publication of Jewish/American propaganda and gets a call from an American reporter.
It’s a very clever story. The hero is continually running through his thoughts and doubts on the page as though reviewing ‘alternate actions’. This is a device often used on TV and film but is not often seen in literature. In this story it is also entirely appropriate since this is a view of an alternate history. The reader soon gets the idea of what is going on, but Roberts is careful not to flood the piece with historical information. The setting is important but is secondary to the story which is about motivation and manipulation. Just who is pulling the strings?

The Lucky Strike – Kim Stanley Robinson (Universe 14, (Jun 1984, ed. Terry Carr)

The original pilot of the Enola Gay, scheduled to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, crashes the plane in a test flight and is killed. His replacement has more of a conscience. There’s a lovely period feel to this story. Very atmospheric.

His Powder’d Wig, His Crown of Thornes – Marc Laidlaw (Omni, September 1989)

A rather strange tale of an America where Washington was arrested and crucified, but now has become a religious symbol among the Native American population and the disaffected.

Roncesvalles – Judith Tarr (What Might Have Been? Vol II: Alternate Heroes, Jan 1990)

An alternate view of the Romantic epic of Charlemagne. Charlemagne’s forces, while travelling through the pass of Roncesvalles, are ambushed, Charlemagne having been betrayed by one of his Counts. Traditionally, Charlemagne was ambushed by Saracens, i.e. muslims, but here it is shown that they are disguised as saracens. Charlemagne subsequently proclaims himself a Muslim.

The English Mutiny – Ian R. MacLeod (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October-November 2008)

An interesting first-person account of an uprising in London in a world where Europe has been conquered by the Mughal Empire.

O One – Chris Roberson (Live Without a Net, Jul 2003, ed. Lou Anders)

A beautiful little tale which features a world-encompassing Chinese Empire, the threat of an analytical engine to the abacus counters, and genetically engineered mathematical pirhana. Quite neat and lovely.

Islands in the Sea – Harry Turtledove (Alternatives, (May 1989, ed. Pamela Crippen Adams, Robert Adams)

Turtledove (possibly the most prolific of alternative history writers) here posits that the Muslim invasion of Constantinople succeeds in 715 and southern Europe is conquered by Muslims. Delegations of Christians and Muslims visit the King of the Bulgars to present arguments as to which religion the Bulgars should subscribe.
It is quite an amusing and educational piece which highlights not only what the religions have in common, but the slightly obscure and absurd reasons for their differences of opinion. The King of the Bulgars, after suffering days of theological nitpicking, makes his choice based on the size of the armies camped on his borders.

Lenin in Odessa – George Zebrowski (What Might Have Been? Vol II: Alternate Heroes, (Jan 1990, ed. Gregory Benford, Martin H. Greenberg)

Post revolution in the Soviet Union, an interesting alternative to the death of Lenin.

The Einstein Gun – Pierre Gévart (aka Comment les choses se sont vraiment passées) (The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories, (Feb 2010, ed. Ian Watson, Ian Whates)

A fascinating and amusing piece, featuring Einstein in a world where Archbishop Ferdinand did not die in the assassination attempt.

Tales from the Venia Woods – Robert Silverberg (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October 1989)

Silverberg takes an unusual viewpoint on a history where the Roman Empire never fell, and has only recently become a Republic.

Manassas, Again – Gregory Benford (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, October 1991)

A bit of an odd story from Benford, set in 1850, where some mechs (robots in truth) seem to have revolted and are fighting back against humans. Or are they?

The Sleeping Serpent – Pamela Sargent (Amazing Stories, January 1992)

Genghis Khan conquered the world, and one of the subsequent Khans has sent a minor son to the Americas to enlist the tribe’s help in conquest of the Inglastanis. A truly marvellous story, filled with character, depth, cultural history and verisimilitude

Waiting for the Olympians – Frederik Pohl (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, August 1988)

This is Fred Pohl at his best; witty, ironic, keeping us on our toes, throwing in clues as we are dragged in to the story.
In a future where the Roman Empire never fell, an alien race, whom the Romans term The Olympians, have made contact and are on their way.
The narrator is a writer of Sci-Roms, and is in trouble, since his latest work has been plugged by the censors, since it features the Olympians themselves, and the censors fear he may cause offence. The author has 28 days to submit an alternative or facing being sold into slavery to cover his debts.

Darwin Anathema – Stephen Baxter (The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories 2010)

In a somewhat gloomy alternative present, a young church official is summoned from Australia to stand witness at the posthumous trial of Charles Darwin for blasphemy. In this world, the Catholic Church regained control of Britain and subsequently most of the world.


The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction – George Mann (Ed) – (2007)

The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction

In His Sights – Jeffrey Thomas
Bioship – Neal Asher
C-Rock City – Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout
The Bowdler Strain – James Lovegrove
Personal Jesus – Paul Di Filippo
If at First… – Peter F Hamilton
A Distillation of Grace – Adam Roberts
Last Contact – Stephen Baxter
Cages – Ian Watson
Jellyfish – Mike Resnick & David Gerrold
Zora and The Land Ethic Nomads – Mary A Turzillo
Four Ladies of The Apocalypse – Brian Aldiss
The Accord – Keith Brooke
The Wedding Party – Simon Ings
Third Person – Tony Ballantyne
The Farewell Party – Eric Brown

Solaris is a new SF imprint, making an enterprising splash with an anthology of newly commissioned material from the great and good of the SF world.

In His Sights – Jeffrey Thomas

Jeffrey Thomas starts us off with a story from Punktown featuring a character who also features in a novel shortly to be published by Solaris. Bearing this in mind, I was setting myself up to be disappointed, but was genuinely impressed by this story of a shapeshifter war veteran whose face has frozen as one of his victims from his time in the war (with blue-skinned people from an alternate reality).
Very dark. Quite Gothic. China Mieville likes it.

Bioship – Neal Asher

A rather weak tale from Asher about sexual rivalry on board a sentient ship (a sea-vessel not a spaceship).
It features the genetically modified lip-tentacled humans (I presume) that we met in the novel ‘Brass Man.’

C-Rock City – Jay Lake & Greg van Eekhout

One of the crew of a trading vessel docks at a city composed of three linked asteroids where he has a regular date with a security guard. However, the man is also on a pilgrimage to find his mother; one of the blind slaves who built the station for The Proctor.
Very moving. Well-paced. Atmospheric.

The Bowdler Strain – James Lovegrove

An excellent tale from Lovegrove about an escaped logovirus which alters the speech centres of the brain. This particular virus, the Bowdler strain, makes it impossible for people to swear. It comes out as gibberish. It is up to the scientist in charge and the military to get the situation resolved.
See also ‘The Isolinguals’

Personal Jesus – Paul Di Filippo

Set in a world where on can have one’s own personal Jesus, rather like an i-pod, giving one advice in one’s ear. Is it all just too good to be true?
The voice of God was discovered when the first quantum computers went online and now everyone has their own godPod through which they can talk to Jesus whenever they wish. The world is a peaceful and contented place.
Our hero, however, has his doubts as to how happy he actually is.

If at First… – Peter F Hamilton

Hamilton’s story, in contrast to the previous two, is a fairly simple idea, but told ingeniously. Narrated by the policeman who investigated the original case, it slowly becomes clear to us that his history is a different one to our own.
It turns out that a man has been stalking a multi-millionaire businessman because he suspects that he has a time-machine and has been passing information to his younger self.
Things, however, are not quite as simple as that.

A Distillation of Grace – Adam Roberts

A religious cult (Roberts seems keen on his religious fanatics) settles on a world 2700 light years from Earth and, following the teachings of Shad, are composed of two thousand and forty-eight people, half male, half female, who will pair off and produce one child per couple in every generation until the birth of the final child; The Unique, and thus install Grace into the Universe.
Grace, the cult believes, travels backwards through time and will therefore reach Earth at the time of Christ’s birth.
It’s no more bonkers than any other religious theories, and Roberts writes so damn well that the characters’ convictions come across startlingly powerfully.

Last Contact – Stephen Baxter

What does one do when one knows that the world will end on a specific date, and ironically, just when SETI is beginning to receive messages from the stars?
A mother and her daughter come to terms with the discovery of the Big Rip, which is destroying the universe by degrees and will deal with the earth on October 14. Perversely, SETI – with which the mother is involved – has begun receiving messages from super-civilisations across the cosmos. The mother has her own ideas as to what these messages may be.

Cages – Ian Watson

Watson has made a name for himself by taking absurd premises and carving exquisite short pieces from them, like beautifully wrought ivory figures.
Here, earth has been invaded by Hoops, which hang in the air and disgorge giant bee-like aliens (The Harrow) who attach irremovable cages to various parts of people’s bodies. An intelligence agent is sent to a festival where some musical reactionaries are planning to transmit some of the bees’ remixed sounds back through the hoops in order to provoke them into some kind of dialogue.
As with all Watson’s work, it’s a brilliantly dense piece of writing, full of complex ‘stuff’ and surely deserves a larger format to explore more global and personal ramifications.
The concept of ‘cages’ of course, works on different levels in this story, some obvious, some more subtle.

Jellyfish – Mike Resnick & David Gerrold

In this post-modern parody, Resnick and Gerrold show us the life of a writer based on an amalgam I suspect, of PK Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and William Burroughs. A tale full of SF devices, clichés and in-jokes and featuring an attack on a whole plethora of SF writers, thinly disguised, including the two authors themselves. They even manage to sneak in AE van Vogt’s famous Sevagram.

Zora and The Land Ethic Nomads – Mary A Turzillo

A brilliant bit of character-driven drama in which an African couple and their young son, working on mars, have to temporarily take in some Land Ethic Nomads. They believe that Man should live nowhere but Earth and are trying to persuade Mars settlers to return.
When they leave, it appears that one of them, Valkini, has sabotaged their nuclear plant since their radiation monitors are showing high levels.

Four Ladies of The Apocalypse – Brian Aldiss

A prose-poem-ish piece from Aldiss in which four ladies (and a fifth) visit a dictator. The horsemen are, it appears, too exhausted by their labours to appear at this juncture.

The Accord – Keith Brooke

Tish and her husband run a bar on a strange and beautiful world. They are happy until a mysterious stranger turns up, pursued by three other mysterious strangers, intent on his capture. She becomes infatuated with the stranger and is determined to discover who or what he is.

The Wedding Party – Simon Ings

Simon Ings often reads like Ian Watson a serious acid downer.
In a future Europe, a man goes to extraordinary and somewhat surgical lengths to smuggle his African lovers into the UK.
Beautifully written. Very poetic. Very dark.

Third Person – Tony Ballantyne

The British Army are in Spain, fighting the S.E.A., and have to pillage what they need to get back to Britain. It’s a tale about military ethics and who or what one might sacrifice for the greater good.

The Farewell Party – Eric Brown

A surprise story, which starts in the real world where a group of friends who meet at a village pub are curious about a new arrival, a writer. Then we are hammered by the news that first contact has already been made, and that the aliens, the Kethani, can resurrect humans who have been implanted with one of their chips.
The narrator has already been resurrected but his recollections of the Kethani world are vague. The writer’s latest book is about a group of friends who commit joint suicide in order to be resurrected and travel the Universe together.
So who or what is the writer, and should the group be tempted by the idea?
It’s one of the most intriguing stories in this volume since its theme is Faith and conviction, and although the fact of resurrection has been proven here, the details of the ‘afterlife’ are unclear, perhaps necessarily so, or perhaps there is a more sinister purpose in the Kethani’s plans.


Evil Water – Ian Watson (1987)

evilwater

Contents

Cold Light (F&SF 1986)
When the Timegate Failed (Interzone 1985)
The Great Atlantic Swimming Race (Asimov’s 1986)
The Wire Around The War (Asimov’s 1984)
When Idaho Dived (Afterwar, Janet Morris, Ed. 1985)
On the Dream Channel Panel (Amazing 1985)
The People on the Precipice (Interzone 1985)
Skin Day, and After (F&SF 1985)
Windows (Asimov’s 1986)
Evil Water (F&SF 1987)

I was privileged to provide the illustrations for a short story of Watson’s some years ago. (The Real Winston, published in The Third Alternative in 1999) and felt honoured because I have always considered him to be the best genre short story writer of the late Twentieth Century. Every piece is like a finely crafted miniature carving, each one vastly different but somehow relating to each other like the pieces in a Japanese chess set.
This is Watson’s fourth collection of short stories once again showing his stunning talent for diverse styles, subject matter, personal viewpoints and genres (since one at least of these borders on supernatural horror.)


The Jonah Kit – Ian Watson (1975)

The Jonah kit

Watson, along with Greg Egan, is one of modern SF’s foremost exponents of not just Hard SF, but scientists’ SF. Watson’s novels tend to be a far tougher reading assignment than his short stories which are exquisitely crafted nuggets of genius for the most part; SF haikus if you will.
‘The Jonah Kit’ is a triple narrative which follows:-

1. Paul Hammond, a borderline psychotic scientist with a messiah complex, whose work has revealed not only God’s footsteps in the Big Bang but the truth that God created another – more real – universe leaving us in a state of being mathematically irrelevant.

2. Nilin, a boy kidnapped from the Russian scientists who had imprinted the consciousness of a Russian cosmonaut on his brain.

3. A sperm whale whose brain had also received an imprint of the cosmonaut’s consciousness.

Their stories ultimately converge and it becomes gradually obvious toward the final third of the book why they would need to do so.
The main problem I have with this novel is that none of the characters (with the possible exceptions of the boy and the whale) are likeable. One really wouldn’t want to spend time with them. Richard Kimble (Paul Hammond’s scientific partner) is the most likeable but his character is never sketched out enough. The rest of them are reminiscent of characters from JG Ballard novels, and they have their own reasons for containing such people.
Morelli is a castrated Italian reporter who whose frustration feeds his intense manner. Paul’s wife, Ruth, is it appears a sardonic nymphomaniac engaged in a desultory affair with Richard. Paul Hammond’s extraordinary behaviour is reminiscent of Silverberg’s Vornan-19 from ‘The Masks of Time’ in his flirting with the role of Messiah, encouraging crowd violence and deliberately shooting a ‘Satan Cult’ biker to kickstart a riot. There seems no real motive for Hammond to behave this way.
Most of the other characters are just as unpleasant.
However, there are beautifully poetic depths and connections that resonate throughout. The idea of sound and communication is repeated and reflected via the whistling codes of the Mexicans, the clicking of the Jonah kit, the clicking messages from the stars and the music of the blind and now mindless Russian.
It’s certainly a novel that makes one think, if a little bleak and nihilistic.