Malcolm Twigg, Neal Asher, David Murphy

Pipers’ Ash Limited / 62 pages / July 1999

If you been scanning my reviews for awhile, Malcolm Twigg is no stranger to you. His hilarious and acidic take on the end of the world, To Hell With The Harp!, is one of the highlights of the year. The other names above may be new to you, but after winning the quarter-finals in the Writer of the Future contest (no connection to L. Ron Hubbard, living or dead), you should prepare to hear their names bandied about.

Now, To Hell With The Harp! could well have you believing that humour is Twigg’s one track. Kismetvwill disabuse you of that notion pretty quickly. A heartbreaking tale of unconditional love and loss in a far-distant place opens up the volume. “Troubled Waters” spotlights the very emotions that most men (and not a few women) work desperately to hide; that alone makes the impact more direct. “Floater” takes us into life on the wrong side of the law, in a future where it’s a fine line between criminal and crime-stopper. Those longing for the sly wit of Twigg’s novel can get their fix with “Overdue” and “Smile Please.” You’ll appreciate a laugh after the tragic and horrifying “Pacificalia,” “For What We Are About To Receive,” and “Swamp Fever.”

New face Neil Asher’s collection centres on the Runcible, a futuristic mechanism for almost instantaneous transport to any other point in the universe, provided it already has a functioning Runcible to ‘catch’ travellers. A thread winds through all of the stories, bringing us from the tense mission to stop a ‘planet-breaker’ in “Always With You” to the strange relationship of “Walking John & Bird.” Stranger creatures occupy the space in between — bibrats, dragons, blue-hole dwellers — and often prove to be more than the equal of the humans. Asher’s stories maintain an emotional distance, never quite allowing the reader into his fictional worlds.

The biggest surprise of the trio of chapbooks awaits in Alienations. Pipers’ Ash has excellent judgment in selecting material for publication, so you can expect good things. David Murphy’s fiction is so much more than promised. Stories too complex and too delicate to be explained away with a quick sentence, these are for quiet, uninterrupted reading late at night when everyone else is lost in sleep. “Overload,” the first entry in the collection is the match of any short fiction that has been honoured with Hugos, or Nebulas, or Stokers. Every story carries its own, unique brand of sorrow and regret. These are characters with no place to call home, nowhere to truly belong — the effect is devastating and arresting. Long after you set the chapbook aside, the stories and people return to your thoughts time and again.

Three authors — all talented, all extremely different — and an array of short fiction to entice any palate. You may never find a better introduction, or a collection more impossible to forget.