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Book Review

Book Cover

Volwys and Other Stories


Author: Douglas Thompson
Publisher: Dog Horn Publishing
ISBN: 978 1 907133 88 6
Publication Date: 30 September 2014

It is always with delight and anticipation that I receive one of Douglas Thompson’s books for review, a Scottish writer of talent. From his first published novel Ultrameta, which was nominated for a British Fantasy Award in 2010, Thompson has never stopped pushing the boundaries of his creative art, which has culminated in this, his tenth novel.

Volwye and Other Stories (2014. 274 pages) combines a new novella, with ten short stories, which have been previously published. For the most part the stories could be roughly described as science fiction, but Thompson is not a writer to be restricted by genre, preferring to explore the more surreal aspects of his narratives, which manifest themselves in surprising ways in the titular Volwye.

Overall, thematically, the idea of an ending, whether personal, sociological or the slow collapse of human civilisation, binds the stories together. Some are set at a time when mankind is, or has, moved out amongst the stars and whilst Thompson has stopped to smell the flowers in his descriptions of alien environments. The heart of his stories never waver for the personal conflicts of his protagonists.

Twenty Twenty juxtaposes the stories of Stella and Jakey, who at first appear to be at the opposite ends of the social spectrum. He a small time thief and she the possible victim of a collapsing social structure and yet in the chaos they find each other, creating a new paradigm.

DOGBOT allows us into the head of Shareef, a revolutionary/terrorist depending on which side wins, being chased, Terminator style, across country by a relentless mechanised killer.

Theonae takes an almost spiritual examination of the revelation of the world’s first true telepath, a reflection of human behaviour with most separated in to the competing groups of either true believers or Luddite reactionaries.

Narcissi is a darkly humorous look at the idea of owning an alien for a pet, obviously by a character who had never seen Gremlins.

Postcards from the Future. Having found a way of sending postcards back in time, a series of people from different strata's of society do just this. Oddly enough I found, initially, this the weakest of the book's short stories. Many of the ills of the present have been eradicated in the future, but at what cost. The story reminded me very much of Brave New World and the penny didn’t drop that this was deliberate until I got to the end of the story and one of the characters referenced the book which transposed the story into homage of those great science fiction novels.

Black Sun takes us to Cerberus-12, a planet being slowly extruded into the maw of a black hole. But as the planet unravels, so does Verner’s mental state, threatening to reveal a secret which he holds close to his heart, for fear of discovery.

Multiplicity. Traversing deep space is always going to be fraught with dangers, but what happens if an accident creates multiple copies of yourself?

Quasar Rise is another story of transition and change. Who determines whether this is a good or bad thing, is very much in the eye of the beholder, in this case Sophie Saleri. Epileptic from an early age she must wear glasses to protect herself from the pulsing of the quasar on a planet apparently devoid of life.

Gravity Wave. I remember when there was much hoo-ha about the Large Hadron Collider and how it was going to destroy the world by creating a small black hole, but what if it had created something much more exotic, a wave that distorted space-time, what wonders and disasters would that bring forth.

Volwys is the longer piece, taking up much of the second half of the book. The world has changed. Mans inability to mediate his avarice and greed has brought down environmental devastation in the form of a new ice age. The powerful live in a domed city, still technologically advanced, while the greater majority of humanity slowly slips towards medieval peasantry and eventual extinction. Rrio, artificially kept alive for more than two hundred years by the mysterious cherubs, has grown weary of life and suspicious of the cherubs motivations. When the general population become rebellious, Rrio hunts down their leader, which becomes a personal voyage of discovery.

This is only a taste of what the stories are about and in the main I have tried not to include too many spoilers. All are written to Thompson's usual high standard and many of the stories contain striking imagery, such as the wolf king and stork guards in Volwys. Overall it is another strong collection from Thompson and well worth seeking out.


Charles Packer

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