01/07/2009. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: New Con Press. 252 page small limited edition hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-907069-00-0.
check out website: www.NewConPress.com
Before opening 'The Gift Of Joy' it already comes across as a quality volume. The cover art as another impressive and stylish creation by Vincent Chong and it even feels superior. Inside is a solid collection of stories that Ian Whates has produced in a relatively short space of time. There isn't a single let-down in the book and several of the stories have already received accolades in their own right from anthologists, the British Science Fiction Association and the British Fantasy Society. I'll limit myself to telling you about a few of my favourites.
'In Fear Of Fog' is one of five stories new to this collection and exemplifies the knack Ian Whates has of making the extraordinary seem ordinary. He introduces a character in an everyday situation and only later in the story do you suddenly realise you're far in the future or on another planet. There's no clumsy technobabble to make it sound futuristic - you just see everything through the viewpoint character's eyes as normal. Additionally, in this particular story, the fog proves fearful for completely unexpected reasons, whipping you away from the predictable course you thought you were on. It's expertly done.
A similar feat is accomplished in 'Ghosts In The Machine'. A night out on the town soon turns out to be more than you're expecting as a mysterious underworld is revealed. The style reminded me of many of the 1950s stories where a man in a bar recounts an outlandish story that nobody is sure whether to believe. I always found the technique dissatisfying because the drunken narrator always seemed extraneous. Of course, Ian Whates doesn't leave us hanging but provides a sucker-punch ending that left me in awe.
In 'Gossamer', we're treated to two layers of storytelling, one about a quaint country cottage and the three authors whose lives it has touched and the other a fanciful child's story that may have more of a basis in reality than anyone realises. It's a pleasant and gentle story where friendships and conversations are warmly realistic and a sense of magic fills the air.
A roguish space pilot ponders whether we are more than 'The Sum Of The Past' and in doing so recounts the events of a turbulent and adventure-filled life. Even though the story is told as a series of anecdotes, the colourful vibrancy over the larger-than-life pilot makes it an engaging story. As with many of the other tales in this volume there is more to the story than just the story. As the account comes to an end, we discover a whole new meaning as the narrator reveals the reason for his introspection. Another excellent conclusion.
Artificial pocket universes from the setting of 'The Final Hour' which entails a mad dash through the final hour of a hedonistic resort whose program is due to terminate. The whirlwind of exotic locations and the mounting sense of doom as the consequences of the termination become apparent make it a fun and gripping tale.
I was taken back to Asimov's 'The End Of Eternity' and Poul Anderson's 'Time Patrol' series for 'It's About Time'. Ian Whates acknowledges both as inspiration for this thoughtful time travel story that limits our viewpoint to one of the operatives who has no idea what the purpose of his missions are. The brisk style of the story keeps you intrigues to the end.
This anthology has a feature that I always enjoy: author notes at the end of each story about their inspiration and history. There was a huge range of subjects, veering into fantasy and horror on occasion, telling tales of the present and the far future, of every day life and of astounding concepts. What I most enjoyed about the book as a whole was the approachability of the characters, their ordinariness in the face of the extraordinary that made each journey into the unknown seem like a comfortable trip with an old friend. As a collection, 'The Gift Of Joy' is certainly worth taking the time to enjoy.
Gareth D. Jones
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