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Faber & Faber paperback £8.99
review by Debbie Moon
Booker Prize winner Peter Carey is not a name immediately associated with genre writing. But, judging from this collection, he's actually one of the finest genre writers at work today.
The 27 stories in this volume cover a wide range of styles and settings, from classic magic realism through noir, slipstream and pure SF, to the final heartbreaking piece of near autobiography. The majority are set in the forgotten corners of a twisted version of our world - frontier guard posts, isolated factories, nature reserves or squats in dystopian cities - where ordinary, emotionally damaged people find themselves manipulated by forces beyond their control.
The volume opens in fine style with Do You Love Me? A cartographer's adult son is among the first to realise that uninhabited areas of the country are disappearing into thin air. When the problem spreads to unloved possessions, and then to people, he begins a desperate struggle to prevent his gruff, unemotional father going the same way. But is their damaged relationship strong enough to prevail? A typical Carey genre piece, suffused with disorientation and loss, it uses a subtle, breathtaking twist on reality to expose real human failings.
Elsewhere, we have new takes on old staples. The collapse of civilisation is prefigured in a drive-in movie theatre in Crabs; in Conversations With Unicorns, alien culture clash informs a man's doomed attempts to save intelligent beings from hunters. The Chance explores the very human determination to be someone else - anyone else - whatever the cost. Exotic Pleasures, in which a woman innocently buys a pet bird from a stranger and thus unleashes the end of humanity, is one of the finest pieces of SF I've ever read.
In a genre that can seem to be retreading the same old ground, this collection stands out; bursting with strange and beautifully expressed ideas, it should find a home on the bookshelf of every SF fan.
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