Sean Williams is a prolific, award-winning author who writes for all age groups and in multiple speculative genres, as well as occasional forays into “the real world, or reasonable facsimiles of the same”.
Short stories, Williams tells us, were the medium that originally gave him an idea of what he could accomplish through writing. Although he eventually turned to novels, examples of abridged works continued to emerge in the spaces between his larger projects, “enigmatic windows through which a much larger world can be glimpsed; haunting, memorable and seductive”.
This collection of 14 stories serves as a reflective collection of short fiction published over the past 20 years, framed by introductions describing the origin or personal significance of each and an invitation to read either “cover to cover” or non-cover. sequential in a “choose your own adventure” that emphasizes the interlocking elements of otherwise disparate worlds and narrative styles.
There are plenty of classic concept-driven stories that explore the implications of one or another tech trope (Williams admits a particular obsession with that sci-fi staple – matter transport or “d-mat ”) and plant these reflections in plots ranging from action thriller, to existential and body horror, as well as a detective tale with satisfying and philosophical charm. “Team Sharon” – a suitably suburban portrait of mundane male perversion, set entirely within the confines of depressing reality – is another highlight.
This range of topics, styles and thematic concerns means that even readers who aren’t genre fans are likely to find something to capture their attention, though the corollary is that many may not find it all so appealing. Some of the twists or revelations that some stories were based on didn’t always resonate with me. Interestingly, it’s the stories that delve into more mundane and deeply familiar concerns – even if they’re explored from a fantasy world – that linger most movingly.
These include the novel play ‘The Spark’ and its companion ‘Ungentle Fire’ – both drawn from the world of Williams’ popular To change novels. They seek to wrap up a saga of two star-crossed young lovers who reunite later in life, in a way that deftly subverts the cliché by pondering what it means to see the ‘spark’ of love and connection not not as a static, predetermined destiny but as something that changes and must constantly be “brought into being” again.
Similarly, but in a completely realistic setting, “Impossible Music” is the story of a passionate heavy metal musician who loses his hearing and must find ways to reconnect with a fundamentally changed world. The story preceded Williams’ critically acclaimed novel of the same name, and weaves a lightly drawn romance amid the narrator’s efforts to redefine what music means when it can no longer be heard.
Williams has an impressive imaginative range, but – as with all good genre fiction – its greatest strength lies in focusing on the familiar truths of experience and intensifying them in new ways. Veteran fans and new readers alike will find plenty in this “collection of stories that shouldn’t exist.”
weird anglesby Sean Williams, is published by Wakefield Press.