Moss Witch and Other Stories, by Sara Maitland, Comma Press, RRP£9.99, 232 pages
The tales in Maitland’s new collection were inspired by conversations with scientists. “Her Bonxie Boy” tells of an ornithologist’s love affair with a metamorphosing skua; “A Geological History of Feminism” weaves together progressive politics and the theory of plate tectonics. In the brilliant title piece, a forest-dwelling murderess locates a sort of creepy poetry in scientific terms for moss (“the elegance, the subtle beauty of seta, capsules and peristomes”).
Each story is appended with a response from a scientist on the topic in question; some of these seem redundant, but the best of them tease out the creative uses Maitland has made of cutting-edge research. Physicist Jim Al-Khalili remarks that when it comes to confronting the strangeness of nature, “we must make use of whatever tools are most convenient to us to make sense of it”. His contribution underlines this volume’s message that science and art are merely different ways of showing our curiosity about the world.
Review by David Evans
The Time Traveller’s Almanac, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Head of Zeus, RRP£25, 948 pages
The VanderMeers’ time travel anthology, a companion to their 2011 The Weird, is a tome so massive it could warp gravity and create a localised temporal distortion effect. Across nearly 1,000 pages it collects 65 tales of chrononautical adventure, thought experiment and mind-bending paradox.
Classics of the genre are present, among them Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder”, Isaac Asimov’s “What If” and Theodore Sturgeon’s “Yesterday Was Monday”, as well as entries from contemporary SF luminaries such as William Gibson, Tanith Lee and Robert Silverberg. Alongside a snippet from The Time Machine, (considered the first true time travel story), is Edward Page Mitchell’s “The Clock That Went Backward”, which preceded HG Wells’ novella by some 14 years. There are also offerings from authors not noted for their SF, including EF Benson and Max Beerbohm (misspelled “Beerbohn” throughout).
The text is interspersed with articles on the scientific underpinnings of time travel and the treatment of time travel in pop music. A compilation worth your time.
Review by James Lovegrove
The Rabbit Back Literature Society, by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, Pushkin Press, RRP£12.99, 345 pages
In this unnerving, enigmatic novel by Finnish author Jääskeläinen (his first work to be translated into English), a strangely altered copy of Crime and Punishment leads substitute teacher and aspiring author Ella Milana into a predicament that is as much Kafkaesque as Dostoyevskian.
She is invited to join a writers’ group founded by successful local children’s author Laura White. At Ella’s induction ceremony, however, Laura disappears, seemingly spirited away by a swirl of snow. Ella then discovers that the group members play something called The Game, a prurient, sadomasochistic form of interrogation that allows them to strip-mine one another’s life experiences for literary inspiration.
A deeper mystery beckons in the form of Ella’s long-lost predecessor in the group, a boy whose notebook has been a wellspring of story ideas for the remaining members.
Hints of Let the Right One In and Haruki Murakami’s elliptical early science fiction novels flavour a creepy tale about mutating books, buried secrets and ghostly encounters.
Review by JL