Reviewed by Sandra Scholes
These self-published short stories are introduced as: “A city of the lost…a future of deserts and desperate remembrance…a universe of dreams…a Martian resurrection…a man pursued by the Aztec god of death…”
They grasp the interest by being original and unusual in their nature and capture certain moments in time with each of the stories. Matt Colborn gives us every opportunity to see how versatile a writer he is as his stories vary in genre to a point. He proves he can write “straightforward” science-fiction, creepy ghost stories, mythic fantasy and everything else in between.
‘The City in the Dusk’
This short story appeared in Interzone Issue 165 of March 2001 and concerns two people; an unnamed man and Alison, his sometime girlfriend who he once roamed with, and soon finds himself alone in Simeon, the city in the dusk. Either day or night, the city’s setting is beautiful, but empty, at least to her boyfriend who seems to wait for her to return to him. The story is more than just a science-fiction story, it tells of a failed relationship, one his girlfriend feels, yet there are times when she thinks he has to return even though when she does, she might be a different person. One he might not accept. There is a vomit scene in this but it is brief – there, you have been warned. The City in the Dusk is Matt’s first published story and flows from the pages well. As it is a memorable one, it once got nominated for an award.
‘The Proteus Egg’
As one of the first mythic stories in here, it mixes Babylonian and ancient Greek legends of fish men or Annedoti (‘repulsive ones’.) The myth also merges with modern day where Tim gets some bad news back home, and learns of the Proteus Egg, one of three that were given by the “scholar god of the sea to the people of Pharos.” This is Matt’s second published story for Interzone 169, of July 2001 and stands as a fitting tribute to his grandfather.
Back to the mythic again with this tale of a man who wakes up to death and destruction all around him, and he does what he can to survive in what looks like a drought on a large scale. He isn’t alone, though, he has Scab to keep him company, regaling him with tales of the aboriginal gods. Ainslie Roberts’s paintings of the great frog Tiddalik inspired this, and it appeared in Interzone Issue 176 of February 2002, and stands as one of his most unusual stories; the desolation of the land and the thought that the end of the world might be nigh after an economic downturn makes it a topical one. Though it is strange and original in its idea, there is a touch of Lovecraft about it.
‘The Brutal Shadow’
Roger works with Pamela at a research laboratory in the UK where they are working on the cloned DNA of already extinct species. Mammoths feature heavily in this story that fills one with a sense of caution from the future as cloning seems more popular. They come across stiff opposition from protesters who see what they are doing as “playing God,” and when one young protester stops to give him a piece of his mind, he wonders if he shouldn’t be concentrating more on those species who are near to extinction now, rather than those who are thousands of years old. It could be viewed by many as a cautionary tale, and is another that was published by Interzone in their 188th April issue in 2003.
Originally written for a space elevator competition, this is also more of a “think before you do anything” story previously published in Running the Line: Stories of the Space Elevator edited by Bradley Edwards and David Raitt in 2005. Though technological advancement might be a good thing in theory, Matt weighs the good against the bad when mentioning the Tower. John blames the Tower for his daughter’s death, and sets about punishing the Tower for being there even though his wife finds his hatred of the structure “futile.” Matt delves deep into the human psyche to teach us that we should take responsibility for our actions when making structures in space.
‘Return of the Wolf’
Connecting certain objects within stories is a fun thing to do, but careful readers will notice the egg with a god carved in it from The Proteus Egg also appears in here. This is Matt’s attempt at an original werewolf story using a sacrifice to resurrect a centuries old wolf specimen. The effects of bringing it back to life is the most interesting part of the story as the protagonist finds he has been given something special in return for his good deed, but he will have to work out for himself whether it is a blessing or a curse.
‘Thread of Memory’
When an old man finds he is losing his memory and possibly dying, he sets about trying to retain what memories he has kept all those years. Michel remembers his time as a monk when he enjoyed visiting the library’s ancient books and read for hours, yet one idle moment he wonders whether it is possible for him to communicate with the dead, or whether he has a memory bank in his head he can pluck memories from. Are they really stored in there like date inside a computer, no one knows. Inspired by the fall of Rome, Mat gives us a detailed account of the man’s memories; of childhood, manhood and middle-age.
‘Last Resting Place’
Immortality has been the theme of Matt’s earlier stories, and here it lets readers witness a powerful family struggle for a man’s dead son who wants the family inheritance. With inspiration from Rudy Rucker’s work on his Rucker lattice from Infinity and the Mind, he has readers thinking of what it would be like to live in an artificial body after death, but also has to live with the fact that the real living aren’t necessarily interested in the dead.
‘On The Fractal Planes’
This is one of the longer tales in this book, a man has a series of dreams, one after the other where he sees various planes in a huge world and wonders what they all mean. He needs scholar for all that valuable information, and finds one who answers all he needs to know. It isn’t hard to see what the writer is trying to say about this story, as it is pointing at our own society where we look back on better days of green fields, birds singing and no air pollution. Matt’s love of Borges, Callino and Carroll who were able to “work complex philosophical ideas into fictional stories” works well here.
For some, history is a touchy subject, and the Lunar landing is in this story is where all knowledge of the first man on the Moon has been kept from the people, and instead the first settlers of 4718 on New Year’s Day have been credited with having gone there first to set up their own colony. Esteban knows of his father’s curiosity about the Eagle, and of the real first settlers on the Moon, and when he leaves, the Inspector comes around wanting to know where he is. Esteban would like nothing more than to leave for the Moon and see how amazing it is, but as the history he has been told is “forbidden,” he is informed that if he leaves, he will be arrested once he returns, making his journey a pointless one. The Eagle shows that people can’t be fooled by false information as people will always seek the truth.
‘The Frost Princess’
When Sophie goes missing, her father calls his friend, Ridgeway to help him out. She could be anywhere, but when he sees the book of fairy tales in her bedroom, and a doll representation of her in her bed, he fears the worst, and wonders if he will see her again. It is about the power of the imagination and how it affects other people, and maybe one day the imagination will take us to places we could have never visited before. This story was inspired be a dream Matt had one day, and, as we well know many famous writers have used their dreams in their work.
Religion has often been a source of great debate depending on whether you are religious or atheist, and as there are so many different religions around to choose from, who is right? In this representation of the future of 2075, the people of Earth have had to be evacuated to a place called the Refuge where the carers have to deal with everyone whether they are clinically insane, quirky sane or just eccentric. For the carers it doesn’t matter as all races, colours and creeds have to mix with each other on a daily basis. The question is, are any of them closer to finding the truth about their religions?
The further we get into the future, the more we set about trying to change something, and lessen criminal activity. One way of doing this is to use mind reading to minimalise threats by finding out whether a person being interviewed is lying or not. Ralph, a worker on a business trip to a Buddhist retreat discovers certain techniques he can use to block someone trying to read his mind when he is later interrogated over a woman he met while there. What is so impressive about this story is the mantra “Om Mane Padme Hum,” which he mentally recites over and over again to prevent his interrogators reading his mind.
‘Dio De Los Muertos’
As one of the most peculiar in the book, the subject matter of the Mexican Day of the Dead is as poignant today as it would be in the future with images of skeletons, pumpkins and sugar skulls, many see it as a Mexican version of Halloween, but as Matt tries to tell us, there is more to the story than that. It is a time to honour the dead, the ones who died of natural causes, the murdered, ones who died in terrible accidents or illnesses. They all had to be honoured, but more than that, appeased and when one man fails to appease the dead, anything can happen.
‘The Beast at the Heart’
How long before we realise the land and its animals are not ours for the killing or taking? One man seeks to hunt the hart, a powerful deer in his local forest and it is only when he is confronted by another equally powerful presence that he has a decision to make. As one of the shortest stories in here by far, it is also the one with the happy ending desired as it lures the reader into a sense of peace and wellbeing.