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on 14 April 2008
I picked up this collection of short stories expecting primarily the "new weird" that M J Harrison occasionally writes under, or perhaps some speculative fiction to accompany his popular novels. In truth there are as many mainstream stories here as there are weird, and although this wasn't what I'd hoped for it didn't spoil my enjoyment in the slightest.

The author is a master of people, able to decipher individuals to the point where he can construct characters that are real and fully rounded to the reader. It's astonishing that anybody can assemble characters so believable and place them in situations from the banal to the extraordinary, but keep them accessible and emotive.

The stories that stick out in my mind are mainly the ones with a touch of surreality to them: the first story in the collection is a wonderful piece reminiscent of P.K. Dick in which God returns; another is about a man who is crumbling apart so thoroughly that the environment begins to crumble with him; and there is a fantastic yet unhappy tale of a woman who wants nothing but to fly.

Throughout the whole collection is an aura of melancholy and quiet despair, although there is a lot of humour as well. The emotive content of the stories is what drive them and it's the uncanny ability of Harrison to charge every line with feeling is what makes this book unmissable.

It's difficult to judge a collection of short stories, but on the whole:

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on 3 November 2005
This collection is your chance to catch up with one of the best short story writers now writing in English. Those are tales that take genre tropes and shakes them until all the clutter falls away. Here are ghost stories, sword and sorcery and science fiction tales that have become something new, odd and different.
It is the sheer pity at the way human beings suffer without trying, or even wanting, to draw a moral lesson from it that makes the short stories noteworthy.Harrison is capable to shine a bright, hard light in the dark spots on the back of our souls. They are not about comforting the reader or providing a map of the world. Harrison respects the reader too much for that.
It is not the technique (even thought it is dazzling) but the humanity of this tales that will make them lodge in the back of your skull like a splinter of ice that refuses to melt...
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on 26 August 2012
This is the first book I have read by this author, but it won't be the last. I really enjoyed this collection of stories - which are difficult to categorize (they don't feel like science fiction, the genre with which the author seems to be most associated. Are they fantasy (or anti-fantasy)?. Many of them are certainly slow-burners where you find yourself still thinking about them long after you have finished reading. The language of the writing is excellent and at times bordering on poetic. He writes with clarity, but somehow leaves you with a feeling that things are happening in the stories just outside your vision. Many of the characters in the stories are subtle, compelling and interesting and you find yourself caring about what happens to them. ("Running Down" - a story about a man who has a sadly destructive impact on everything around him - was my personal favourite, closely following by "Settling the World")
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on 20 December 2010
M John Harrison has some masterworks in here, set in finely-drawn London, Yorkshire and other settings, but mainly, in the hinterlands of the mind. Frequently beautiful, and almost always unpredictable.
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on 1 September 2005
This is the book that would suit the tastes of Marvin, the depressed robot of Douglas Adams' The hitch-hiker's guide to the Galaxy. If you'll feel dejected,depressed, gloomy, read this book and you'll know new bottoms of despair. All tales are grimy, settled in some hideous, hopeless world. Not only that, but they are dull, boring, and often you'll wonder if you've missed the point of the story, if indeed there is one. But even if there's one, it's not worth it. A total waste of time.
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