Breathmoss and Other Extractions is a superb short story collection by the British author Ian MacLeod. MacLeod uses Science Fiction and Fantasy to examine the human condition. These are classic short stories that harken back to an earlier time, where plot, setting and character all are given equal importance-a breath of fresh air from the 'epiphany' fiction that currently crowds mainstream magazines.
The titular Breathmoss is a novella about a young girl growing up in a far-future, mostly matriarchal society on a distant world. It's a slow-moving piece. The girl meets a rare human male and forms a friendship with him; falls in love with another girl, has her heart broken; and decides what her future destiny will be in the course of the novella. The imagined future is rich and strange, with sentient seas, strange aliens, and obscure technology. It bears the influence of Ursula LeGuin. The passage of time, and personal sacrifice-along with growing pains-are the major ingredients of this story. The Chop Girl, set in a World War II England, is a Typhoid Mary tale. The narrator is a young woman who has joined the war effort, and has gradually gained the reputation of having bad luck: every man she dates ends up dying in the various war missions. She meets up with a maverick pilot who appears to be indestructible. Period flavor and a solid first person narrative from the female point-of-view are the strong points. The Noonday Pool is brief story about the chance encounter with an aging composer and a wild child who may or may not be a fairy. Isabel of the Fall is an SF fairytale, set in the same world as Breathmoss. It is reminiscent of Gene Wolfe's excellent Book of the New Sun series in that technology and magic are indistinguishable from one another. It's a beautiful future myth about forbidden love and secret knowledge. The Summer Isles, the closing novella, is an alternate history piece about a closeted gay man in a fascist Britain (where they lost WW2) of the 1940's. Protagonist is an Oxford professor who was once the lover of the fascist leader. The plot twists and turns of the story are amazing, and MacLeod captures the voice of a repressed homosexual, and the since of dangerous desire, very well. The glory of Greater Britain, and the clandestine brutality of the alternate history are utterly believable.
MacLeod writes beautifully. His style and sentences are pleasurable to read-he is as much influenced by Thomas Hardy as he is by Arthur Clarke (name-dropped in one of the stories, "New Light on the Drake Equation"). His style is musical, rich, and elegiac.