Retellings of familiar stories and bizarre dystopian visions, in 15 stories by the popular author better known for such SF and fantasy novels as Aegypt (1987) and Little, Big (1981).
Crowley’s lucid style and mastery of linear narrative function most effectively in a lovely adaptation of a medieval folktale about fairy siblings who cannot both survive in the human world (“The Green Child”) and in his unsparing version of the story of the seal-man (“silkie”) who takes a mortal wife (“An Earthly Woman Sits and Sings”). Other classic figures appear, intriguingly transposed, in a reimagining of Adam and Eve’s “fall” into knowledge (“The Nightingale Sings at Night”), Lord Byron’s report of an encounter between humans and a beleaguered satyr (“Missolonghi 1824”), and an anecdote about an urban writer’s unexpected meeting with Virginia Woolf, whose “immortality” ironically makes her an avatar of an increasingly rapidly disappearing past (“The Reason for the Visit”). Of the more purely speculative stories, “Novelty” wrestles with a blocked writer’s vacillations between retaining “secure” memories of his usable past and daring to stretch it imaginatively; “Gone” wryly depicts a suburban mom’s uneasy accommodation to a brave new world staffed—and alarmingly altered—by industrious extraterrestrials; and “In Blue” introduces a depressed protagonist stuck in a ruthlessly streamlined post-revolutionary future that has consigned history to oblivion. The latter story’s core idea is treated more interestingly in the superb novella “Great Work of Time,” which blends the tale of a mad inventor’s quest to enrich himself via time travel with a fantasy about African explorer Cecil Rhodes’s creation of a secret society (“The Otherhood”) dedicated to “preserve and extend the British Empire.” Even better is “Antiquities,” in which Britain’s conquest of Egypt stirs up malignant shape-shifting avengers.
A pleasing introduction to a very interesting writer’s several “worlds.”