Thirty Years of Rain
Neil Williamson, Elaine Gallagher, Cameron Johnston (editors)
Lulu Press, 248 pages
Review: Chris Kelso
There’s an old saying that suggests us Scots have more words for rain than an Eskimo does for snow. Despite our majority’s staunchly socialist attitudes and trademark pragmatism, for some reason, Scotland has proved fertile ground for the science fiction community, and for writers in general.
Perhaps it has something to do with escapism? Maybe we’re all communal dreamers in a post-industrial reverie? Or, perhaps it has more to do with the dreichness that hangs over us in omnipresence, with all that brutalist architecture set in gunmetal grey? We’re living the exotic vicariously, you and I.
When it comes to the proliferation of great SF writing, Glasgow in particular remains curiously unparalleled; this is, in no small part, down to the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle – a writers’ group with a long and prestigious reputation, a refuge for escapists, forged in earnest, and one which has cemented itself as something of an institution since its inauguration thirty years ago. The writers group is also responsible, in part, for the meteoric rise of writers like Louise Welsh, Hal Duncan, Michael Cobley and Phil Raynes.
This brings us to Thirty Years of Rain – an anthology edited by Neil Williamson, Elaine Gallagher and Cameron Johnston showcasing some of the myriad talent from the GSFWC. The final product is a stunning achievement, a future artefact for later generations to cherish. This book is a gift.
Most of the GSFW’s yield are well-represented here. There are stories from newer writers, like Heather Valentine and Kenneth Kelly, to established luminaries of Scottish SF, like Hal Duncan and Gary Gibson (including an informative introduction by Duncan Lunan who was, of course, present during the embryonic stages of the Circle).Our maiden voyage is a story by TJ Berg, one of my personal favourites. “The Freedom of Above” offers a fascinating meditation on grief. We focus on a man, Alex, who has recently lost his wife, but thanks to a 3D scanner and other cutting edge facilities that are available, Alex obtains a realistic flesh model of her. The tone is dark, a real mood setter, and Berg ruminates about the complicated stages of losing someone you love.
Also worth special mention early on is Ruth Booth’s poem “Picture, of a Winter Afternoon” which only serves to further highlight her inevitable, imminent success. Thoughtful and masterfully written, everyone should sample Booth’s brand of melancholy.
There are gems hidden amongst the shorter works here too – TW Moses’s Purge-esque metaphor for keyboard warriors is brilliant, Ian Hunter’s witty list of things to know about staple-removers will have you chuckling, and Jim Campbell’s flash fiction piece which details one man’s quest through a suburban wilderness to find the illusive “Amanda”. These are just a few examples.
Another one of my favourites, Fergus Bannon’s “The Unusual Genitals Party” is about a group of university students who hold a twisted soiree and offer prize money to, yes, you’ve guessed it, the most unusual genitals on display. Bannon’s prose is exquisitely seedy and the story’s slow-build and concurrent climax (excuse the pun) is deliciously droll in its execution, more than you’d imagine might be present in a story so titled. Bannon is another writer teetering on the ergosphere of greatness. Definitely check him out.
Hal Duncan’s story is also an absolute cracker as well, but then this is a writer who has a long affiliation with the group. Hal is one of the group’s golden sons, profane and eloquent in equal measure, a self-dubbed enfant terrible. “Ascending” manages to evoke the experimental typography of Ginsberg, play around with Moorcock’s punk aesthetic and bask in Samuel Delaney’s deviancy, while still retaining Hal’s ‘Hal-ness’. A brilliant centrepiece to the book and a nice wee vignette from his Scruffian saga too.
One common theme is the sense of prevailing optimism. Take, Elaine Gallagher’s “5AM Saint” for instance. It follows a similar tack to Hal’s. Initially, we’re thrust into an inauspicious cityscape where fundamentalist hate mobs run the rule over anyone they deem to be different. Again, the writing is solid, poetic, employs experimental and linear narratives, and the core message is one of tolerance and forgiveness.
Levity is provided once again by “The Glaswegian Chalk Dust Circle (or my dinner with Alan Dean Foster)”, the penultimate story by Michael Mooney. It’s a fantastic exercise in cheeky, dark-caped patter while discussing the validity of the argument that Robert Heinlein wrote nothing but militaristic wank fantasies. Mooney serves up a poignant story of two boys, a closeted couple, who plan to write a science fiction story together and submit it to a competition run by the Herald – which is a lovely little nod to the GSFWC’s real-life genesis. Enjoy a pint of Virus with these two acid-tongued Weegies, you won’t regret it. Again, you can’t miss that tone of optimism, that things usually do improve no matter how dire the circumstances appear.
Jim Steels’s “The Crock of Shet” reminds us that his talents cast a wider net than his able manning of the Interzone reviews pile alone.
The GSFWC has provided workshops, critiques and even given young writers the opportunity to meet and mingle with their professional counterparts. It deserves to be noticed, to be loved. When you consider the calibre of writer it hones and produces, its significance cannot be denied.
In my mind, the group embodies an archetypal Scottish small-town society, one of the more successful ones at least – full of characters, united in its goals, tough as a stick of Edinburgh rock and loyal to its roots. Maybe, when we band together and formulate these utopias, there’s nothing we can’t achieve. Maybe we’re pretty good at looking on the bright side after all.
Thirty Years of Rain is a fitting tribute to a writer’s circle which has transcended its limitations and continues to exceed expectations to this day. It’s rare for an anthology to offer no misfires, but after reading this book, you’ll find it impossible to be a cynic.
This review was first published in Shoreline of Infinity Issue 6.