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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Late, Late Review: The Ephemera

7th Feb, 2024

Author: Peter Tennant

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I'm not sure about the provenance of The Ephemera - I might have bought a copy of the book, rather than received one specifically for review, but we'll give it the benefit of the doubt and patch together a review from notes I made many years ago. Published by Elastic Press in 2006 and read by me in the same year, The Ephemera was Neil Williamson's first story collection and it was ten years before he produced another (Secret Language which I reviewed on this website on 31 May last year). The Elastic Press paperback is available used on Amazon at three or four times the original asking price, but there's an inexpensive Kindle edition from infinity plus that includes four bonus stories.

The Ephemera brings together sixteen of Williamson's fantasy, horror and science fiction stories. "Shine, Alone after the Setting of the Sun" is the story of an artist who disappears into her own creation, beautifully written and with a marvellous feel for emotional resonance. In "The Euonymist" we are taken into the future and meet a man whose job is to name things, but as with primitive cultures names are things of power and his role is more that of diplomat doing damage limitation as various alien races try to seize cultural hegemony, the idea as fascinating as its execution is compelling. "The Bone Farmer" is more sombre, set in a world where a fatal disease holds sway and a desperate father roams a surreal landscape in search of the man who can cure his daughter.

Set against the backdrop of trench warfare in WW1, "The Happy Gang" is about fear and the lengths men will go to circumvent it. One of the weaker stories, "Cages" sees the neglect of a captive bird mirrored in the lives of the people around him, while "Amber Rain" is set in a world where the existence of aliens among us is taken for granted, but focuses on the personal relationships of the characters and how this knowledge shapes them. In "Postcards" a man seeks a friend who disappeared while abroad, his only clue to her whereabouts a trail of postcards she sent him.

"Softly Under Glass" sees an unscrupulous art dealer himself transformed into a work of art, while in "Well Tempered" we get to witness an unusual piano lesson. "Harrowfield" is the undoubted star of the collection, an almost Jamesian tale in which an antiquary of sorts unravels the mystery surrounding the lake in the grounds of a dead man's estate, with a marvellous sense of atmosphere and each step following surely on from the previous. "The Apparatus" puts a novel spin on séances, with a wealth of incidental detail and an eerie subtext running through the tale, while "The Bennie and The Bonobo" is a deftly told tale of parallel worlds and their implications, that we can live in whatever reality best suits us.

A chance encounter lies at the heart of "A Horse in Drifting Light" and comes to symbolise for its protagonist all that is wrong with the world of the future. "Sins of the Father", co-written with Mark Roberts, is part Lara Croft pastiche as a father races to catch up with his son, intent on bringing about the end of the world through occult means in the Amazon rain forests. "Hard to Do" offers an unusual slant on the breakdown of a relationship, while the last story in the book, "The Codsman and His Willing Shag" has secrets hidden in the words of a sea shanty and celebrates eternal values. It's a fitting end to a very strong collection from a writer who knows how to use words with both clinical precision and a poet's ear for their music.





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