Books by Ian Watson

Released: May 1, 2001

"Watson's ability to conjure up weird and terrifying situations blazes forth; more troublesome are the stories that collapse into pointless overelaboration, and characters that too often remain improbably passive."
A new collection from Watson (his first since The Coming of Vertumnus, 1994), comprising 19 typically eclectic pieces, 1995-99. In the title story, demons plan an assault on the deity by physically propelling hell toward Him! Equally striking, Hercule Poirot investigates a series of bizarre murders aboard a starship—but only for as long as the ship remains in hyperspace. A psychologist, part-nanomachine, part-software, delves into a troubled mathematician's brain. In a recasting of E.M. Forster's famous `The Machine Stops," a worldwide VR/e-mail system, rather than physical hardware, breaks down. And fantasy convention-goers battle an invasion of weasel-like beings. Elsewhere, the ideas continue to flow but the drama falters. Self-aware quantum computers figure in a sort of prototype of the novel Hard Questions (1997). An obsessed hang-glider pilot searches for the lost "Amber Room" of the Russian tsars. Likewise fixated, a couple blindly collects worthless china knickknacks. Jesus' twin brother heads for contact with aliens. Coffins, complete with mummified alien occupants, bombard the solar system. A murdered wife returns to haunt her computer games-designer husband. Old folks, rather than dying, have their personalities loaded into a relative's brain. Time itself regresses in cycles back toward the primordial slime. A cryogenically preserved head wakes in a surreal far future. Also, less satisfyingly: urban myths, autism, vampires, pre-Homeric gods, and magic boxes. Read full book review >
ORACLE by Ian Watson
Released: Dec. 15, 1997

Another contemporary sf thriller from Watson (Hard Questions, p. 1485, etc.). The British secret services are exploiting the ``surreal numbers'' theories of physics genius Robin Garland (he's so unstable that he even has a personal shrink) to build Oracle, a machine that can view the future and so anticipate terrorist attacks and other threats to the state. But in its first test Oracle somehow snatches up a Roman centurion, Marcus Appius Silvanus, from a.d. 70. Tom Ryan, a former aspirant to the priesthood who speaks Latin, and his sister Mary shelter Marcus and slowly become convinced he's genuine. Then complications ensue: An old IRA boyfriend tries to manipulate Mary; muckraking journalist Barney Barber discovers Marcus's existence and sells the story to the tabloid press; and a feud between M15 and M16 reaches the boiling point. Eventually, Oracle previews the Queen's assassination in Belgium by the IRA one week in the future. Tom, Mary, and Marcus are captured by the IRA; British Intelligence pursues; and a storm-induced power discharge hurls somebody back to a.d. 70. Unbalanced—with a promising scenario and intriguing developments that degenerate into a long, stultifying chase—and populated by a largely anonymous and uninvolving cast. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

Contemporary science fiction/thriller involving computers and multiple realities, from the prolific Britisher (The Coming of Vertumnus, 1994, etc.). Cambridge University computer expert Clare Conway and psychologist Jack Fox will attend the Hard Questions symposium on artificial intelligence in Tucson—but a lurid article about Clare in a sleazy tabloid has alerted charismatic anti- computer cult leader Gabriel Soul and his promises of immortality through sexual ecstasy. The QX corporation of California is developing a quantum computer—it will operate in parallel universes—comparable, Clare thinks, to the human brain. Then Soul's murderous cultists snatch Clare; interrogated and threatened by Soul, she realizes that the first quantum computer must become self-aware. More, the personalities of the dead can be stored in the empty parallel universes where the computer operates! The US government assaults Soul's hideout and rescues Clare, though Soul himself escapes. But then a QX employee steals a prototype quantum computer, hijacking Clare and Jack in the process. And when Soul shows up, Clare powers up the computer, which becomes aware—and reality switches tracks. A hardworking tale, packed with incident, but undermined by Watson's usual anonymous characters, and computer logic that's more mushy than fuzzy. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 15, 1994

Another agreeably eclectic collection of 11 stories from Watson (Stalin's Teardrops, 1991, etc.). The two longest entries are among the best: the title piece, a whimsical commentary on sex, art, and eco-terrorism that twists darkly into frightening speculation on brainwashing via designer drugs; and ``Nanoware Time,'' in which familiar Watson concerns—life after death, psi powers, aliens, governmental paranoia—meld into an intriguing jaunt through hyperreality. Also outstanding: a virtuoso surrealist nightmare involving lucid dreaming, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and aliens to the rescue (``Virtually Lucid Lucy''); a what-is-reality puzzle set by a composite alien, with advanced technology as the prize (``The Odour of Cocktail Cigarettes''); a protracted seduction leading to eyebrow-raising thoughts on fish farming and interspecies hybrids (``Swimming with the Salmon''); and another of Watson's unsettling English villages where nothing is quite what it seems (``The Tale of Peg and the Brain''). In a more eccentric and less convincing vein, Watson imagines a lamia and a people-eating extractor fan (``Happy Hour''); an invisible being in search of...something (``Looking Down on You''); and the universe as a jukebox (``Life in the Groove''). A stimulating array of fervid imaginings and weird perspectives from one of England's leading purveyors of the art. Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 16, 1991

Episodic alien-visitation yarn, the expansion of a 1988 short story, from the talented, erratic British author of God's World, Chekhov's Journey, Whores of Babylon, etc. When insect-like alien ``Flies'' descend upon Earth, claiming to have come in order to ``remember'' the planet, body-language expert Charles Spark is brought in to decipher the alien's purposes. The Flies study Rome intently and in turn are studied by nuns, secret agents, psychics, and Charles. Turns out that the Flies discharge their memories into hormone-jelly-filled tanks, where the memories are impressed upon the universal information- field and thus are preserved forever. But then, as the Flies depart, the city of Munich vanishes, only to turn up on Mars, where some survivors take refuge inside a submarine in a museum. A huge international expedition brings the protagonists to Mars; during the voyage, experiments with the hormone jelly evokes a godlike entity that snatches up the experimenters, all women, and conveys them to the Flies' home planet; here, they must come to terms with being immortal though trapped inside the Flies' memory store. A triumph of style, what with the novel's five parts each told from a different point of view, and plenty of stimulating and intriguing ideas; but also dense, hard to follow in places, and fragmented. Impressive, then, but far from easy and not entirely rewarding. Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1991

Another story collection from the prolific Watson (Salvage Rites, Evil Water, Slow Birds), this one comprising 12 tall tales published between 1985 and 1990. The longest piece here is brilliantly conceived: a company of Ushabti, tiny clay figurines placed in the sarcophagus of a pharaoh as his attendants, explore their sarcophagus-universe, then attempt to revive their dead master; what makes no stylistic or literary sense, and irredeemably flaws the story, is Watson's introduction of some investigating Egyptologists in the form of a play and, worse, chanting blank verse. Also noteworthy: the impressively imagined title yarn, which probes the strange consequences arising from deliberately distorted maps but all too soon meanders off into unfathomable byways; and a persuasive yarn that features the surrealist architect Gaudi. Elsewhere, three clumsily obvious metaphors (time travel and race hatred; rich vs. poor; a human chicken becomes chancellor of Oxford University) irritate rather than uplift; a jailer physically and psychically absorbs his prisoners; an English village hides odd goings-on; Sherlock Holmes ponders Cinderella, to astonishing effect; and an ayatollah's eyeball elicits only routine irony. Amazingly inventive—but too often inattentive or downright eccentric in the execution. Read full book review >