Garry Kilworth''s first collection shows him to be one of the most original and enjoyable writers in the field. The thirteen stories in The Songbirds of Pain mix science fiction and fantasy, with a dash of unclassifiable strangeness. Kilworth is particularly adept at evoking colourful and exotic locales in distant parts of the world, as in ''The Dissemblers'', a story set in the Arabian deserts, about a man resorting to bizarre self-torture in his attempts to see beyond the veil of death. ''Blind Windows'' is an adventure set in the Far East, reminiscent of an updated Rider Haggard: a group of Westerners searching for some fabled crystals find their way into a hidden underground world. ''Scarlet Fever'' is about an artist in a sterile future society who gives himself the disease in an attempt to stimulate creativity. And the titled story tells of a woman who undergoes a strange and painful series of treatments in order to achieve perfect beauty.