An eclectic debut story collection from Finlay (The Prodigal Troll, novel, June 2005), comprising 14 tales extending from mainstream fiction to heroic fantasy, with plenty of science fiction thrown in.
The fantasies include the title piece, an Arthurian tale about a young Sir Percival; the story of a proprietor of a lakeside guest house who bests a vampire; and a sort of condensed novel in which three adventurers steal into a forbidden city to kill a transubstantiated evil sorcerer. In the mainstream category, a cartoonist struggles to come to terms with his brilliant artist father’s incapacitating illness. The science fiction runs from dull (orthodox predatory UFOs; genetic engineering) through average (colonists battle to survive inside an asteroid out by Jupiter; an alternate history wherein Thomas Jefferson is a rebel and traitor) to the genuinely innovative: a substantial yarn—the only long story here—about an old Soviet-style officer aboard a starship in wartime whose actions show him to be both hero and villain. Others concern an Internet fact-finder rendered unemployed and irrelevant by artificial intelligence and a planet whose repressed populace consists, by order, entirely of homosexuals or hydrosexuals. There’s also a startling conceit that consists entirely of alarming, amusing or dramatic footnotes, obliging readers to concoct their own explanations.
Finlay displays an astonishing range, an active imagination and a developing assurance and control: a writer to watch.