(2016) Ian Watson, NewCon Press, £12.99, pbk, 248pp, ISBN 978-1-910-93506-4
By my reckoning, Ian Watson has published over 30 novels since his first, The Embedding way back in 1973, and now he has a baker’s dozen of short story collections with The 1000 Year Reich containing 18 stories (although one of them is co-written by Watson and Roberto Quaglia concerning a pregnant woman carrying a foetus that is also pregnant).
The 1000 Year Reich starts with an introduction by Justina Robson who recounts being a judge for the Clarke Award back in 2005 when she began reading Watson’s novel Mockymen and had to put it down and ask herself “what is this?”. Actually, it was a novel about Nazi occult practises, nude photography and alien invasion, which probably doesn’t do the novel justice. Likewise, The 1000 Year Reich is a cornucopia of delights ranging from stories about space marines (Watson has had some 'previous' with Warhammer and their own space marine titles back in the day) to weird science to alternative realities and even a story that was originally published in The Mammoth Book of Erotic Romance and Domination. Fifteen of the stories have appeared elsewhere in the last five years, but there are three new 2016 stories original to this collection including 'In Golden Armour' and 'The Wild Pig’s Collar'.
The collection kicks off with the eponymous 'The 1000 Year Reich', the inspiration for a “war is hell and chaotic especially in space” type cover illustration by Juan Miguel Aguilera, where control of space is decided by computer games, but the ultimate weapon harnessing sexual energy is waiting to be unleashed in a tale that is totally over the top, but a hoot. In 'Blair’s War', a tale inspired by Watson’s knowledge of Spanish history and the writings of George Orwell, Tony Blair decides Britain should intervene in the Spanish Civil War and change the course of alternative world history. If only, perhaps, when you look at what happened to Spain in the decades that followed.
Sometimes in this collection, Watson has fun with a famous book, or another genre, and in 'The Name of the Lavender' we have Umberto Eco meeting Dan Brown in a head-on collision involving spies and gardeners and strange plants in a story that appeared in a very limited edition chapbook from PS Publishing which accompanied a special Best of… collection they brought out a few years ago. Watson reckons few people will have read them because copies of the chapbook are so rare that book collectors haven’t even read it but sealed their copies away in non-biodegradable bags filled with inert gas. Lucky us, that they make an appearance here. Likewise, we are in Dan Brown territory again in 'The Arch de Triumph Code' but this time he is cunningly disguised as Don Broon from Dundee (crivens!) and about to encounter another American in Paris. Other tales involve robots, theories about how the galaxy was formed, alternative realities, solving crime, alien visitors, returning from Mars, and 'Faith Without Teeth'.
Is it unfair to call Ian Watson an 'old school' science fiction writer? Shooting from the lip, and now the keyboard and perhaps some of his stories could be called non-PC. Science fiction aside, I am reminded of his story 'The Eye of the Ayatollah' where a religious fanatic who snatched out Ayatollah Khomeini's eye at his funeral uses it to discover where Salman Rushdie is hiding from Khomeini's fatwa. It originally appeared in Interzone and the very first of Steve Jones’ Best New Horror series, and was reprinted in the 25th anniversary Best of.. edition, Jones pointing out that very few people would dare to write a story like this today, let alone publish it.
Each of the stories ends with a little postscript as Watson recounts the origin of the story or debunks some modern myth. Particularly telling is his damming of flying saucers and UFOs, but very entertaining it is too and so are the others, even down to a description of some of Paris’ less salubrious areas. Each postscript is accompanied by a picture of Watson head with him wearing a hat and the picture is slightly compressed, warped, distorted. It’s like looking into a glass bottle and seeing the imp or genie peering back at you, waiting to get out and cause some havoc, but too late, he’s here already.
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