NIGHTSCAPE by Eric Ian Steele, Parallel Universe Publications, Lancs, UK HC £20.00 (UK) 142 pages, Website
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
The first thing that catches the attention is the beautiful production of this book and the excellent choice of cover – Joseph de Ribera’s Hecate: Procession to a Witches Sabbath – which perfectly indicates the intended mood of the stories inside. There are eleven of these, the first eight of which were originally published elsewhere between 2003 and 2014. The final three are original to this collection.
The best story in the volume is the last one, ‘Indian Summer’. It is helped that it is the longest and has room to develop the characters. Joanne was crippled in an accident and is helped in recovery by Tom, the gardener. The symbolism is nicely developed but it is spoiled by her name changes and it is a pity that she is so unlikeable. The other stories all have good aspects but have flaws. For example, ‘Moths’ in which the narrator is haunted by the insects. It has good images but the content needs thinking through onto another level – there are holes in the structure.
A difficulty of many stories that were contemporary when written is that subject to changes in society and edges into the historical. The trick is to add things that locate it perfectly in time. ‘Charlie’ being set in an unmodernised mansion has an atmosphere of the 1920s when there was still a place for the amateur scientist, and although having an explanation for events is spoilt by a few tiny references that throw the reader out of the period. There is a more serious problem with smoking when a story is dated post 2009 when the ban on smoking in public places came it. In ‘Ars Armortia’ one character has lit up a cigar in the bar. If the story was set or written earlier than the 2017 copyright date more clues are needed.
There is a certain inevitability about train stories. You know that when someone gets off at the wrong stop, as Harrison does in ‘City Of The Damned’ that something nasty is going to happen to him. What saves the story is the description of the place he ends up. The strengths in all these stories is the descriptive writing. Some of the stories would have benefitted from being longer to enable more of the background and trials of the characters to be developed, in particular ‘After The Fall’ which is a warning about when technology is allowed to get the upper hand.
Each of the stories in this volume has something to recommend it but don’t look for perfection.