Ian Whates is the owner and chief editor at NewCon Press - The Gift of Joy is the first book of his own writing he published. And, as much as this might smack of ‘vanity effort’ I can assure you that it is not - firstly he has published a good number of other writers and collections/anthologies (see also the reviews of some of those on this site), and secondly his own writing can very well stand on its own. Plus, most of the stories collected here have been published previously, by different publications, between 1986 and 2008.
There are 18 short stories here, 5 of which are new, ie first publications. Each story comes with a short postscript, explaining some of the history, inspiration, and other morsels of meta-information concerning the story. There also is an Author’s Biography at the rear, for those who are interested in learning more about the author of these stories, which cover a huge range of styles, topics, and approaches to storytelling. The variety is actually such that it made me wonder if this should be considered flexibility, or if this is a sign of an author still searching for his niche, his ‘thing’?
Either way, these stories are fun, entertaining, occasionally thought-provoking, and as a collection highly recommended.
Below is a run-through of the stories, and some capsule reviews (or at least thoughts) on them - if you’re considering buying the book (and I can recommend that you do so) and this kind of thing spoils your enjoyment then stop now.
Thanks for staying with me. Here we go:
The Gift of Joy
We jump in with both feet, and the eponymous title story. And boy does he have a way with titles… this one is a nice little trick/ piece of misdirection! This BSFA shortlisted story takes celebrity worship/obsession to a whole new level, and I cannot help the feeling that, if we could, then we would indeed!
A Hint of Mystery
Fusion cooking. With added parallel dimensions. Tasty - a classic foodie SF fantasy. Er.
A story about what people keep on their key rings. With an SFnal twist. It’s a cute idea, but not much more to it though. This was first published in Nature (they appear to publish fiction, with very precise requirements in regards to length!)
A story about writing (I wonder why these writers are so hung up on the topic?), and about magical locations which aid writing through inspiration - and more? Seems entirely plausible to me…
In Fear of Fog
This starts as a vanilla piece of Life confessional/love story centred on a geeky marine biologist with a pendant for solitude. And then takes a sharp turn leftwards into a galactic theatre and reversal of point of view - worthy of a Fredric Brown story. Masterful, a stand-out for me.
One Night in London
A secret agent/spy/political mini action thriller set in a future London. Which I found very enjoyable.
Ghosts in the Machine
A story of the hidden machine beneath oiur feet, which keeps everything running, and of what happened when somebody stumbled into it through one of the forgotten gaps. Classic-era SF, that.
Knowing How to Look
“Have you ever been to London? If so, which one?” - this could be a companion piece to Cornell’s London Falling. Cool.
The Sum of the Past
What makes us what we are? And what are we anyway? A successful (?) man looks back…
Flesh and Metal
Post Blade-Runner story according to Ian (although I would rather detect quite some Terminator in here, too). This is/was his 1st ever published story - re-written when he had to type it from a hardcopy…
Hanging on Her Every Word
A horror story, and one that left me decidedly cold, I’m afraid to say. Not badly written, it just didn’t engage me.
The Final Hour
Exiteable, breathless, out of time, and really rather fun!
Humanity has found remains of an Alien settlement in the inner Asteroid Belt. And a device which has absorbed/enslaved the mind of one of the researchers…
A fascinating story, and potentially a basis for more (come on Ian, write that Novel!)
A Piratical Sabbatical
A very one-sided story; just one side of an interrogation. And quite a story behind that… again, from the pages of Nature!
Glitch in the System
A rather heady mishmash of an unpublished story - SatNav errors, 18-wheelers getting lost in tiny villages at the back of beyond, Leylines, glitches in the system - it’s got it all. Entertaining!
The Battle for Paradise
Ah, a classic. Galactic war, battles, heroism, and maybe, just maybe, a war with a point to it?
It’s About Time
A time travel piece, written for NewCon3. Er…
The Laughter of Ghosts
The US has invaded/liberated the UK (well, England and Wales. Scotland sided with the invasion force.) But a Regiment of Ghurkhas in Brunei was forgotten, and they now set off on a mission of retribution…
Vivid, and all too believable. From the pages of Farah Mendleson’s “Glorifying Terrorism” anthology, nevertheless.
Still with me? Go get the book, the writing is better and more entertaining than mine!
More Ian Whates
Title: The Gift of Joy
Author: Ian Whates
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: NewCon Press
Publisher URL: http://www.newconpress.com
Publication Date: 2009
Review Date: 141011
Price: UKP 9.99
Format: Trade Paperback
Topic: Short Stories
Topic: SF, Horror