– Reviewed by Cherry Potts –
This is an odd little book, full of catastrophes accepted without question, and characters without names, told in a quiet, elegant, slightly old-fashioned language.
It reminded me a little of Zenna Henderson’s The People series, though without going back to reread those books, I couldn’t say exactly why, beyond the quietness of tone and the fact that the world(s) impacted by these happenings seem to be in the American Midwest of the 1950s, if they had been published in Weird Tales or Astounding Science Fiction I wouldn’t have been surprised.
The scope of disaster is vast and wide ranging – sudden nothingness, aliens with voracious appetites (giving a new meaning to the word insatiable), starvation, mutation, a child with no corporeal reality, rips in the fabric of the universe… all treated in a matter-of-fact, dreamlike way, as though none of it matters very much.
With a couple of exceptions there is a voice of the community busy justifying the action or, more often, lack of action, in the face of extraordinary events that mutes and deadens the awfulness. A voice busy saying ‘we’ when you wonder whether there can possibly be such agreement, or whether this is a self-appointed spokesperson, against whom no one has the energy or impetus to argue.
There should have been something different about the rock.
Too round, some said.
Too yellow, some mused.
Repeatedly people are made other, ostracised and snubbed, and then regretted, whilst the community (whoever they are) congratulate themselves on their perceived virtue, and there is rarely a protest. There is a feeling of isolation and loneliness that persists through most of the stories.
Whilst there is plenty of deadpan humour, it is a mildly horrifying collection – everything about it is mild, and that is what horrifies – time after time there is a collective shrug at the loss (often sudden and distressing) of friends, family, neighbours and (especially) children, who rarely seem to be someone in particular’s child. I found this frustrating and alien, and almost cheered for the woman who set off to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT in the face of neighbours’ puzzlement and subsequent indignation, but of course she didn’t come back, so…
Why stir things up, we thought, when things were already stirred up enough?
Individually I enjoyed all the stories, even the ones that made me queasy, like ‘A Festival of Fish’, in which an unexpected shoal of fish are harvested by a group of starving children, pulling and eating scales from the living fish, until someone goes too far.
I loved the style, but en masse, it’s all a bit similar, so resist the temptation to read them in one sitting, spread them out across a month of reading other things.