Friday 2 February 2024

Tales from the Spired Inn by Stephen Palmer (NewCon Press) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in Interzone #284 (November–December 2019).

It’s not the end of the world. The planet is doing just fine. But this might be the last year that there are any humans living on it, at least as we know them. As we learn in the first story in this collection, a clever murder mystery called “Dr Vanchovy’s Final Case”, this is an Earth where people are killed by bladder blade plants, falling cushions of fungus, and cats with silicon implants in their claws. Abandoned buildings, thousands of years old, reach up to the clouds, serving only as anchors for the webs of whooping hunting spiders. The air grows ever less breathable and anyone coming indoors has to leave their boots in antiseptic buckets.

What few humans survive around the city of Kray are bonded in tightly-knit, highly competitive tribes dead set upon mutual murder, and the Spired Inn of the title is the neutral ground on which they can meet. The cannibalistic Cemetery Revellers feature frequently in these stories. In “Funeral for a Pyuter”, original to this collection, they come together with the Temple of Youth to mark the passing of Majaq-Aqhaj, not knowing that Uqeq of the Red Brigade is there with her own plans, surprising the reader as well as those grieving. In “Granny” a mother fights a tense graveyard battle against their champion to earn her daughter a place among their ranks.

“First Temple”, another brand new story, concerns a brash but highly entertaining attempt to escape the oncoming doom, while “Memory Seed” (an extract from the novel of the same title, which these stories tie into) takes us on a tour of the post-human world. It sounds quite pleasant. The book ends with “The Green Realm Below”, where misfit Kytanquil is forced into communication with the Slow People and the Venus Heart they tend. It portrays effectively how this interaction changes her perception of time.

This is a book that thoroughly entertains while making serious points about the environment and our relationship with it. It’s literary, careful and densely atmospheric, but describes shoot-outs and adventure with a tremendous clarity of place and action. Packed with big ideas, this is pretty much the ideal small press science fiction title. Stephen Theaker ****

No comments:

Post a Comment