Reviewed by Sandra Scholes
Anthologies of stories, well, there’s lots of them about and what’s the difference between this one and hundreds of others? It could be that Douglas Thompson has plenty of published work under his belt and the fact that his work has won several awards, but it also could be that his work is interesting enough for the reader to get so engrossed in each story that he/she doesn’t want to put it down.
This is pretty much what I expected when I read them as most authors decide to gather all their popular published work and shove it all into an anthology – it’s something writers do, so we accept it, buy them and discover which stories we like, and if we do, we might want to buy their novels. Thompson’s work has appeared in Albedo One, Postscripts, Ambit and New Writing Scotland. As far as awards are concerned, he’s not done that bad; Grolsch/Herald Question of Style Award in 1989, second prize in the Neil Gunn Writing Competition in 2007. His debut novel, Ultrameta was published in 2009 and was nominated for the Edge Hill Prize, and shortlisted for the BFS Best Newcomer Award. Sylvow, Apoidea, Mechagnosis, Entanglement, The Rhymer and The Brahan Seer are his novels to date.
‘Volwys’ is Thompson’s latest offering and gives readers a good idea of what kind of writer he is. First off we have a novella, and later he has nine of his selected early sci-fi stories. Volwys is about a bio-dome being constructed to cover the rich and famous after man-made pollution has ushered in a new Ice Age. The upshot is the poor have to exist in the pollution, while the well-off live in luxury. There’s nothing new in that, but Thompson weaves a fantasy within the sci-fi I originally expected, he introduces a king, Rrio who has bird-headed soldiers guarding him and cherubs who have kept a single man alive who has seen the horror of what mankind has done to the planet. The evil Rrio has done to everyone else could have him realise that he could actually do some good in the world if he considers his past actions and acts now. This was inventive and original enough to encourage me to take a look at his earlier work, the characters are strong and the setting is dark and dismal enough to make us take notice of conserving our planet now.
The nine stories all have their own strange theme; in ‘Twenty Twenty Edinburgh’ has a power out across the country and a vagrant finally has his day, ‘Dogbot’ (this is pretty topical of late) has a terrorist tracked by a US android dog around Afghanistan with interesting results, Narcissi is even stranger still with a man who sells strange and rare objects and routinely mistreats an alien in his care. This also has one of those nice twists in it I like so much and Postcards From the Future are smaller short stories with similar themes; ‘Multiplicity’, ‘Black Sun’, ‘Quasar Rise’ and ‘Gravity Wave’. Douglas can write with the same originality he gives to his novella and the novels he has already penned, but his short stories are small gems that are as unusual as they are fantastic. Who else could write about a modern way to combat terrorism, an alien abuser getting his comeuppance, a man who can literally change to become someone else and a telepathic female version of Christ in a futuristic setting? I won’t give too much away of the other stories, only to say that it would be a good idea to keep a watch out for this author.