Sean Williams is a prolific and award-winning author who writes for all age groups and across multiple speculative genres, along with occasional forays into “the real world, or reasonable facsimiles of the same”.
Short stories, Williams tells us, were the medium which originally gave him a sense of what he could achieve through writing. Although his focus eventually shifted to novels, examples of short-form work continued to emerge in the spaces between his larger projects, “enigmatic windows through which a much larger world can be glimpsed; haunting, memorable and seductive”.
This collection of 14 stories serves as a reflective bringing together of short fiction published across the last 20 years, framed with introductions describing the origin or personal significance of each and an invitation to read either “cover to cover” or non-sequentially in a “choose-your-own-adventure” approach that emphasises the interlocking elements of otherwise disparate narrative worlds and styles.
There are many classically concept-driven stories that explore the implications of one or another technological trope (Williams admits to a particular obsession with that staple of sci-fi – matter transportation or “d-mat”) and plant those musings within plots ranging from action-thriller, to existential and body horror, along with one satisfyingly charming and philosophic detective tale. “Team Sharon” – a suitably suburban portrait of mundane masculine perversion, set entirely within the bounds of depressing reality – is another highlight.
That range of subject matter, style and thematic concerns means even readers who are not genre fans will likely find something to capture their attention, even if the corollary is that many may not find it all equally engaging. Some of the twists or revelations on which certain narratives hinged didn’t always hit home for me. Interestingly, it was the stories that delved into more commonplace, deeply familiar concerns – even if explored from within a fantastical world – which lingered most movingly.
These include novella-length piece “The Spark” and its companion “Ungentle Fire” – both drawn from the world of Williams’ popular Change novels. They seek to conclude a saga of two star-crossed young lovers who reunite later in life, in a way which skilfully subverts cliché by meditating on what it means to see the “spark” of love and connection not as a static, predetermined destiny but as something that changes and must be constantly “brought into being” anew.
Similarly, but in a completely realist setting, “Impossible Music” is the story of a passionate heavy-metal musician who loses his hearing and must navigate ways of reconnecting with a fundamentally changed world. The story preceded Williams’ critically lauded novel of the same name and weaves a lightly drawn love story amid the narrator’s efforts to redefine what music means when it can no longer be heard.
Williams has an impressive imaginative range, but – as with all good genre fiction – his greatest strength lies in focusing on familiar truths of experience and heightening them in new ways. Established fans and new readers will find plenty of that in this “collection of stories that shouldn’t exist”.
Uncanny Angles, by Sean Williams, is published by Wakefield Press.