Ian Watson is one of the most prolific short story writers in contemporary science fiction, with a range and invention that others might envy. In this collection we move from a ghostly occurrence in Catalonia to a memorably hallucinatory and atmospheric tale of eggs and ectoplasm in pre-glasnost Russia. The Times said of Watson that his 'stories are springloaded with effect, compressed with a drama that, in others, might take a novel to eke out', a judgement confirmed by he dozen stories collected here.
Watson's ( The Flies of Memory ) new collection displays the wide range and subtlety of his short fiction. Although the first two stories are unfocused and somewhat heavy-handed, despite some wonderfully bizarre imagery, the remaining 10 tales are provocative and surprising. Many explore the blurred boundary between objective and subjective reality--in ``Stalin's Teardrops'' the efforts of Soviet mapmakers to obscure the geographical truth actually create alternative landscapes. Others are flavored with the surreal: in ``The Human Chicken'' an eight-pound fowl is born to a bemused young couple. The best selections transform traditional story types into new tales. ``The Beggars in Our Backyard'' is a thinly disguised allegory that avoids tendentiousness, managing to provide both entertainment and social commentary. ``The Pharaoh and the Mademoiselle'' might have been a typical tale of an Egyptian curse, but Watson's idiosyncratic approach makes it truly unusual; half the story is related from the point of view of a set of tiny figurines and the other half takes the form of a play. From the regional flavor of ``Tales from Weston Willow'' to the quirkiness of ``From the Annals of the Onomastic Society,'' these stories offer a wealth of diverse, intelligent reading.