All the Galaxies by Philip Miller

All the Galaxies
Philip Miller
Freight Books, 308 pages
Review by Henry Northmore

Fans already know that many of the strongest works in the genre use sci-fi as a prism to examine our own world. Taking existing concepts and extrapolating into the future, exaggerating for effect or repositioning them on strange new worlds. We live in volatile political times offering plenty of meat for writers to chew over. However Philip Miller can’t have known how timely All the Galaxies would be when published. Set after a second failed Scottish Independence Referendum (which could be as soon as 2018 if the SNP get their wish), in the following years the country descended into violence, known as ‘The Horrors’, then split into antonymous city states.

John Fallon is a disillusioned journalist at a Glasgow newspaper looking on aghast as the city he loves and the print media industry he has devoted his life too crumbles around him. Fallon’s past is a tangle of messy relationships, his teenage son has gone missing and there are strange reports of a man with stigmata prowling a derelict tower block. These ‘real world’ stories form the core of All the Galaxies but are tinged with fantasy and intercut with the cosmic adventures of a boy and his dog as they travel across the universe.

This is Miller’s second novel after 2015’s The Blue Horse. He’s a wonderful wordsmith. Some of his descriptions are beautifully evocative, filling the senses with detail. There’s an early paragraph that sums up Miller’s skill, succinctly capturing Fallon’s work environment: “The smells of the newsroom. Old paper and the coughings of dust mites. Cold coffee and perfume. Polystyrene trays of abandoned food. Lank settled farts. Unpressed three-day-old shirts and earwax. A grey cloud of desperate gloom. The clinical smell of the broken photocopier.”

The Mercury might be a fictional paper but Miller is a journalist, and works as an arts correspondent at Glasgow’s daily broadsheet The Herald. He understands this world from the inside out, making several pertinent points about the future of journalism, the rise of the internet and its effect on writers and consumers of news content.

The Glasgow sections are riveting, his cast authentic and fully fleshed out, even as they sometimes drift into the realm of the supernatural. The young boy’s interstellar journey fills far fewer pages, it’s intriguing but less gripping. The identity of the mysterious astral traveller is fairly obvious from early on and while it links directly, it doesn’t quite mesh with the more grounded central narrative. It’s an interesting aside that adds a dash of colour and pure sci-fi but can interrupt the flow of the main story.

There are several mysteries to keep you involved and Miller’s rich characters, especially Fallon, are captivating. Scottish readers will find the setting and subject matter particularly pertinent but All the Galaxies is a universal story of missed opportunities, mistakes and human relationships with added space whales and too much whisky. The focus drifts from time to time, however Miller’s mix of politics, social commentary and sci-fi is always beautifully written and engaging.

First published in Shoreline of Infinity issue 8.