The Shape Of Strangers by Ian Creasey (book review).

December 28, 2019 | By | Reply More

It’s generally agreed in writing circles that the most important part of any story is the beginning, because if you don’t immediately hook the reader none of the rest of the story matters. Ian Creasey definitely has this aspect nailed, with most of the 14 short stories in this book opening with a question or situation intriguing enough to grab your attention. As examples, I could say that ‘The Language Of Flowers’ features racist plants and ‘After the Atrocity’ looks at the ethics of cloning a terrorist leader for interrogation. Those are hooks that immediately open up a lot of questions, right?

However, the second most important part of a story is its ending, particularly with short stories, which need to circle back to where they started and leave you with both a satisfying resolution and something that lingers in the mind. Unfortunately, it’s here that I feel that the author struggles because, for me, too many of these stories ended abruptly just as they were starting to get really interesting.

I’m not calling for stories to wrap everything up neatly with a bow. Indeed, for me, the most satisfying stories leave you with questions to ponder, but there’s a difference between ending with a cliff-hanger and simply stopping mid-situation. For example and, at the risk of mild spoilers, one story revolves around apparently friendly aliens visiting Earth and asking to buy the Moon, but ends just as humans set off to the alien’s world.

You don’t get any resolution on whether the aliens are friendly, whether the Moon sale goes through or why they want to purchase it and no clues to let you decide one way or the other. It almost reads like an excerpt from a novel with a teaser to get you invested in reading the rest of the story.

Having one story end like this is fine, but too many of them follow a similar pattern of introducing a great hook and establishing compelling characters, then ending just before they really dig into the meat of their premise. In a way, you can take this complaint as a compliment because the author repeatedly got me to invest in a situation and characters in just a few pages, which makes it all the more frustrating that his endings kept leaving me unsatisfied.

Still, ‘The Shapes Of Strangers’ offers a good spread of themes and SF concepts, ranging from parallel dimensions, the end of the world and, in perhaps the best story, what it’s like to be a detective in a world where ghosts exist and can be questioned. I also like that the stories focus on complex characters with interesting motivations as much as the unfolding events and that the author paints some evocative images such as holograms in a cliff-side storm.

So, it’s up to you whether some great story setups and compelling characters are enough to offset having to do a lot of the work yourself when most of the stories end. On reflection, I’m glad I read ‘The Shapes Of Strangers’ and will seek out more of Creasey’s work, even if I did find it frustrating when things just…

Stuart Maine

December 2019

(pub: NewConPress, 2019. 240 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-912950-14-0)

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Category: Books, Scifi

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