AND THE HOUSE LIGHTS DIM by Tim Major
Luna Press p/b £9.03
Review by Nigel Robert Wilson
This is a collection of mild horror and science fiction short stories plus a novella. These generally incline towards a study of the mental condition and inclinations of either the narrator or principal characters as they struggle in often hostile conditions. The author generously recognises his debt to John Wyndham who wrote `The Day of the Triffids’, and there is an occasional whisper of John Christopher’s superb `The Death of Grass’ extant in the stories. The focus on post-catastrophe survival is a common factor within the collection but is not a theme.
Short story collections need to reflect the development of the writer’s thought with the intention of drawing the reader into a mutually rewarding relationship. This collection fails to fully achieve this which is rather sad as Tim Major has the ability to strike the proverbial nail hard on the head in both his plotting and writing, but the moments of genius are worth the entire volume and more.
The most significant story in the collection is the very short `Honey Splurge’ which verges on the prophetic, particularly given the dates. Not quite H.G. Wells but getting there!
`O Cul de Sac’ presents us with a house as the narrator. This device has been done before, but this one is more than the familiar side-ways glance at human history and circumstance. It is sinister to the point of ugliness, whilst the plot moves around leaving the denouement unclear right to the end. But twenty quid for a car-wash?
`Read/Write Head’ is all about a man with a mangled mind full of data scattered at random. It is both funny, tragic and a little cruel.
`Eqalussuaq’ describes a mother haunted by a shark who killed a close friend in the sea off Greenland as they made video and audio recordings of the seascape. This is a unique tale about hauntings and their potentially genetic nature.
`Finding Waltzer-Three’ is hard-metal science fiction in which the discovery of a missing spaceship leads to an investigator boarding it to find the reason for its disappearance. She discovers the entire crew of the missing vessel dead but in contorted positions in front of a vast amount of food. She returns to her spaceship but adopts an awkward pose as she insists she is very hungry.
`St Erth’ has a distinct touch of William Golding about it. A family on a weekend trip turn into brutal monsters.
`Tunnel Vision’ illustrates the dangers implicit to passing St Valentine’s cards at school. The pet bunny gets it.
`The Eyes Have It’ used to be an advertisement on London buses. I never understood it. This is an expressive tale about what can happen if you watch too much television.
`The Forge’ describes the risks attached to a computer program that permits a person to take on the attributes of another whom they admire for some reason. In this case unbeknown to the user the person they seek to emulate is a criminal. The story reminded me of those employment consultants who encourage their clients to adopt an assertive attitude.
`All I Can See are Sad Eyes’ is an amusing take on stalking.
`Winter in the Vivarium’ is good quality science fiction. It is a new Ice Age and humanity has divided between those wealthy enough to survive in the luxury of a controlled atmosphere and those left outside. The maintenance man gets his revenge.
`Lines of Fire’ is an over-lengthy tale about a youth who, having murdered his brother, lures another child onto a derelict site to play out the murder all over again. The plot is transparent and the ending predictable.
`Honey Splurge’ is pure unalloyed brilliance and exquisitely short.
`By the Numbers’ is about the tedious experience of waiting to catch transport. In this the narrator meets an old acquaintance who has adopted a life-style technique called `the quantified self’. It contains the best sentence in the entire collection: `You started coming on to a girl because a spreadsheet told you to. That’s messed up.’ Excellent!
`The House Lights Dim’ is a tale inspired by the opening sequence of `The Day of the Triffids’. A cosmic catastrophe almost blinds the narrator who then fails to survive in the post-catastrophe world.
`Carus and Mitch’ is a novella about vulnerable people finally going mad in a post-catastrophe world. It illustrates the view that Hell is to be found on earth because we make it ourselves.