What a varied collection this is! In the opening story, ‘Softies’ the concept of “robotic” Companions is turned on its head. The Companions in this yarn are human-sized soft toys, dolls, teddy bears. Cuddly toys – but what happens when they get fed up with being taken for granted? The story revolves around Piers, a journalist, and his relationship with Mr. T, his companion bear. The author builds the tension with a few well placed fragments of text and dialogue, slowly revealing the growing hatred of the Companions for their owners. As the tale develops, the nature of relationships is explored. Combine that with a social uprising and with the science fiction twist and the result is an unsettling and ultimately terrifying story.
A provocative and apocalyptic tale, ‘SPOIL’ has a power punch of an ending. SPOIL is a terminal disease, but is it transmitted by the wrath of God as many believe? This theological dilemma is what the characters in this episodic tale struggle with as the end days begin and the strangely concealed mystical last stages of each individual’s death is revealed. A disquieting read.
The politically correct should look away now: ‘Throwing A Wobbly’ is a dystopian tale, an amusing and topical one. An age when everyone and everything (all living creatures in fact) is overweight, dare I say it obese par excellence. In parts the text reads like the patter from a dire music hall comedian, but does the humour work? Yes; it’s meant to be ironic and Stan Nicholls has fun with his inane, incompetent characters. People of the plumper persuasion might be offended, but let’s face it (spoiler follows!), the tubbies win in the end! But it’s a great read even if the conclusion is faintly obvious.
In the cloisters of Will Shakespeare’s Grammar School, a foul murder has taken place and an innocent gardener stands accused, in ‘We Are For The Dark’. The twelve year old Bard is determined to seek out the real culprit and has just one day to do it, in typical whodunit fashion. Nicholls relishes his Shakespearian detective’s turns of phrase and in using the Elizabethan era’s form of dialogue, there’s plenty of humour to enjoy. The yarn’s characters delight in putting down the great writer’s work, his “tedious poems” and, we are treated to the occasional ‘misquote’ from the Bard’s own mouth, such as “All pisse and wind, signifying nothing”. I suspect I missed quite a bunch of Nicholls’ inferences and references in this clever little tale!
‘Polly Put The Mockers On’ is reprinted from The Mammoth Book of Awesome Comic Fantasy. It’s full of quips and one-liners involving the animal kingdom, for this tale is set in an alternate reality where animals have replaced bank notes as legal tender. The storyline concerns private investigator Eddie Markham and his job tracking down the mythical (and hugely valuable) Macclesfield Macaw. Think Philip Marlowe meets the Marx Brothers and you have some idea of the story’s execution! And there are several more stories to enjoy in this volume, including one previously unpublished, ‘The Gripes of Wrath’. The collection is a worthwhile addition to your genre bookshelf.
I confess I have known Stan for a long time, a really, really long time but this is no sycophantic review written to flatter a friend, no - it`s all good stuff.
In spite of Stan`s global fame with (amongst the many other things he has penned,) his series of Orcs books, I have never read anything of his before. So it was with cautious anticipation I opened the pages of this, my first Stan Nicholls read. I have to say it is a delightful book, a set of 10 fantastic tales, each one readable in the half an hour before you go to sleep and each tale totally unique. I`m not going to give you any spoilers here, but my favourites are....
Polly Put The Mockers On, delivering very droll dialogues, reading this tale is like stepping back in to a 1950`s movie - with a twist.
SPOIL, what a brilliant concept!
and finally..... The Grapes of Wrath, very funny and poignant too.
My apologies Stan for never having read anything of yours in all the time I`ve known you, I thought I had grown out of short stories such as these but to my delight, I haven`t and am now a firm fan! Your book put me in mind of Ray Bradbury`s The Illustrated Man, I have loved his writing since I was a kid. You are a master wordsmith and I highly recommend this fabulous little book and by the way, the cover is pretty ace too!
This book is filled with 10 short stories which confound, confuse and delight the reader. They're just the right length to be able to read in one sitting without getting into trouble for neglecting other things.
All the stories capture the readers attention early on - and hold that attention to the end,sometimes unexpected, sometimes leaving the reader to come to their own conclusions. Always satisfying.
All in all, a very good read - and jolly good value for money!