Saving For A Sunny Day by Ian Watson (book review).

January 15, 2019 | By | Reply More

‘Saving For A Sunny Day’ is a single author short story collection and the author is Ian Watson. There’s a long introduction by Adam Roberts telling us what a brilliant writer Mr. Watson is. Oddly, it put me off him. On the other hand, when I read the first couple of stories, I quickly realised that he is very good.

The fiction starts with ‘The Walker In The Cemetery’ which was done for a Chthulhu anthology. What more can be done with Lovecraft’s old god? Watson came up with something new, multiple Chthulhus in different sizes all over the world. The CERN project might be to blame with their attempts to recreate the conditions at the beginning of time. Aptly, the protagonist is a CERN bureaucrat, one Sally Hughes, and she’s touring the Necropolis of Staglieno in Genoa with a large, international tourist group when the excrement hits the air-conditioning. They wonder why the television in the office is showing an old horror movie of a monster attacking ships in New York harbour then realise its CNN! A very enjoyable horror yarn as long as you’re not in it.

‘Cages’ is weird SF. Hoops come to Earth from somewhere. They’re about a metre in diameter and may be doorways to another world but are impenetrable and there’s only a mess of swirling colours to be seen in them. When a hoop swoops over a person, it leaves them with a cage around some part of their body, knee, hip, groin, shoulder, head, etc. The cage is well tied in and doesn’t hurt though it does impede daily life. Various agencies are trying to find some solution and the latest desperate gig is to blast the hoops with techno-music. It takes talent to pull off something this crazy and make it good. Sympathetic characters help.

‘Weredog Of Bucharest’ is set in the capital of Romania. Crime writer Paul is visiting fellow writer Max as the city may be a good setting for his next novel. There are, it says, a million stray dogs in Bucharest. Max is pals with the local police so when a grisly ripper murder happens in a lift, they get to see the scene. This had a hint of black humour and the characters were thoroughly unlovable but realistic. I liked it.

‘Palm Sunday’ is set in some unknown city where palm reading is all the rage and treated as a religion. Rootha’s husband John goes off to the capital on business every month and she promptly leaps into bed with Pool, her true love. She is keen that her palm will predict a change of life soon, one that will enable her to be with Pool. The palm reader, unaware of her situation, advises her to visit a temple and complications ensue. This wasn’t my cup of tea because my loathing for all forms of charlatanism extends even to fantasy that just pretends it’s real.

What do you do when a town dies? In Clark’s County, North Carolina, all the textile jobs have gone to Mexico. The factories are closed and the lack of tax income means the local government has to cut back. It’s that bad cycle of recession. As with the films ‘Brassed Off’ and ‘The Full Monty’, salvation may lay in art. Dee-Dee and her friends plan to emulate a dance troupe they saw on television, performing aerial ballet on the wall of a skyscraper. A local tycoon funds it and they begin to draw attention though most people are still focused on the aliens. Recently landed, they look like turkeys but fly though the air with the greatest of ease. Some kind of anti-gravity is the best theory. The aliens are harmless but aloof. A marvellous mix of gritty realism and daft Science Fiction.

Gritty realism and fantasy come together in ‘A Nose For Such Things’. Nigel is an English reporter who has the nose of Lord Elgin. He’s seen it in paintings and Gran assures him they are descended from the famous marble thief. There are riots in Athens and Nigel is sent to cover the story, photographer in tow. Its police versus young protesters on the Parthenon and then weird things start to happen. Is Nigel losing his marbles? Like many of the stories from this well-travelled author it was notable for the local atmosphere and colour.

‘Long Stay’ is set in a near future England where airport car parks have grown so much that they now take up most of the space between cities, especially in the south-east. Robert Taverner comes back from a trip and is looking for his vehicle in the Luton-Stansted car park. He can’t find it and tries to get back to the terminal for help. This isn’t easy. In the afterword, Watson refers to this as his ‘Ballardian’ take on the horrid business of using British airports.’ The story seems far-out at first glance but then you begin to realise it could happen.

‘Tales From The Zombible’ is a brilliant riff on the New Testament. ‘A Walk Of Solace With My Dead Baby’ was a gloomier look at death in a Britain effectively ruled by China where the government is trying to reduce the population. It’s set in Northampton and a famous hairy comicbook writer has a walk on part.

I liked the opening of ‘A Waterfall Of Nights’ for, like many an Oxford tourist, I too have had a pint in The Eagle And Child Pub and enjoyed the illogical thrill of sharing space, if not time, with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The characters in the pub are discussing the possibility of life on other planets but one thinks the only aliens to visit Earth will be old AIs, perhaps from previous universes. This idea develops into an art installation and a startling revelation. Original and fascinating.

The book concludes with the title story ‘Saving For A Sunny Day’ in which souls are bar-coded and reincarnation is a fact of life, thanks to a benign AI. that rules the world. Unfortunately, responsibility for past lives means you inherit the debts or assets of your former self. Little Jimmy Robertson has inherited a debt of nine million dollars and he’s ugly to boot. However, he’s also smart. Another great story.

I approached ‘Saving For A Sunny Day’ warily because English ‘literary’ authors of speculative fiction sometimes tend towards gloom, futility and stories with no conclusion. This is known as sophistication. While sophisticated and intelligent, Ian Watson is also witty, entertaining, original and easy to read. He doesn’t do long boring descriptions or strained similes to show he can write. Best of all, he doesn’t overwrite to cover a thin plot. There’s plenty happening in all these stories. Here be multiple Cthulhus, aliens who disable you, turkey-shaped flying aliens, weredogs, noble phantoms, giant car parks and sneaky AIs in Oxfordshire. Watson may be a bit mad but he’s worth reading.

Eamonn Murphy

January 2019

(pub: Newcon Press, 2017. 302 page signed limited edition small hardback. Price: £19.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-90069-38-3. Also available as a paperback: £ 9.99 (UK))

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Category: Books, Fantasy, Scifi

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