Columns in this issue include an appreciation of Iris Murdoch's writing by Nina Allan, plus interviews with Aliya Whitely and Helen Marshall. Notable reviews include Paul Sussman's first but previously unpublished novel, The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix. I am a fan of Sussman's archaeological mysteries, two of which I have reviewed in this blog, but he only published four before his death at the age of 45. Judging by the review, his first effort was set aside for a reason; it was a different kind of story, and perhaps too ambitious. The DVD reviews include Continuum, which got me all excited that the third season of the excellent Canadian time-travel series had made it across the Pond at last, but sadly not yet – it's an entirely unrelated movie (also about time travel) which attracted only a lukewarm review.
Now to the stories:
A Murmuration by Alastair Reynolds, illustrated by Wayne Haag. An ornithologist living in a remote observatory is working on a mathematical analysis of the movements within a "murmuration"; a great cloud of starlings which gather every day and form sweeping patterns. He is trying to gain approval from a scientific journal to publish his article describing the results, while simultaneously acting as a professional referee to another article submitted to the journal. As his involvement with the murmuration increases, it gradually becomes clear that his grasp of reality is not entirely firm.
Songbird by Fadzlishah Johanabas, illustrated by Vincent Sammy. A young woman is held against her will, drugged and compelled to sing. Her songs change the nature of a liquid so that when others drink it, they experience a range of strong emotions – depending on the nature of the song. Her captors make a good living selling the drugs she produces, but she is struggling to find a way to escape them.
Brainwhales are Stoners, Too by Rich Larson, illustrated by Warwick Fraser-Coombe. An adolescent couple break into a ThinkTank to see a Brainwhale; a whale which is wired into IT systems to make use of the computational power of its huge brain. One of them gets a lot closer to the whale than she ever expected.
The Worshipful Company of Milliners by Tendai Huchu, illustrated by Richard Wagner. Where do ideas come from? Invisible hats, of course, made by feline creatures who are themselves invisible to humans, and whose lives are spent in manufacturing hats for those people who have need of them.
Blossoms Falling Down by Aliya Whitely, illustrated by Richard Wagner. A close examination of an episode in the life of a woman in a Haiku Room, where people go to hear appropriate haikus for their concerns. It gradually becomes evident that this is just one of the varied entertainments provided in a vast generation ship on an endless journey.
I enjoyed this group of stories. While there is no humour in them this time, they are all intriguing and are very different from each other. It is unusual for a well-established novelist to contribute a story and I particularly liked A Murmuration, the kind of tale which has you wanting to read it again in the light of the conclusion. Which reminds me that I while I read several novels by Reynolds a long time ago, I have had a couple of unread ones sitting in my pile for ages; I really must dig them out.