The Divided House by John Rackham - 3.25
"Divided we both fall."
Interesting dystopian novelette touching on slavery, class divide, intellectual discrimination, "thinkers" vs. "dreamers". The prose is dry and competent, without flair. The characters are fairly flat; some plot points are a bit convenient and the dialogue can lean on the side of expository. But it's generally solid and engaging, if unremarkable.
Public Service by Sydney J. Bounds - 2.75
"Isolation our salvation."
Another dystopian nightmare and more commentary on class divide, as well as overpopulation and historical negationism. A city regularly under attack from spontaneous fires contains the ever increasing danger by flooding the flames and rebuilding on top of the remains (and the corpses of any who happen to fall victim). Buildings are made tall, with the privileged living in high-up inflammable flats and the unfortunate lower dwellers regularly at a dangerous disadvantage.
Elements of the story seem far-fetched and hard to imagine; but it's readable and the premise is interesting, if clunkily told. Sydney J. Bounds is also (and perhaps better) known for his pulp westerns.
The Ferryman On The River by David Kyle - 2.5
"Hector, the salvager, stood patiently in two places at once, waiting for the almost corpse to fall from the sky."
A decent enough premise weakly delivered. It's mysterious enough to hold your attention, but doesn't really deliver the final blow convincingly enough. The opening line certainly hooks you in though (above).
Testament by Vincent King - 4.5
"The Rule! The Rule!"
It was this story that made me pick up the collection in the first place. I hadn't read it, but I had read two novels of Vincent King's which I found to be highly enjoyable in spite of flaws. His style is unique, and I felt it would be better suited to short fiction. His output is minimal and obscure, so I've been keeping an eye out for where I might find his shorter works.
Right away this stuck out amongst the rest. Quirky, poetic prose describing desolation, isolation, galactic mystery... juxtaposed by the witty interjections of an impatient listener. It takes the form of a court hearing, with interrogation in italics and the rest of the text from our witness' perspective. It immediately draws you in with its lack of context and bizarre style, and culminates with an excellent twist.
The Macbeth Expiation by M. John Harrison - 3.5
"Guilt. That's what you said, isn't it, Poet? Guilt."
MJ Harrison is apparently one of the better known names in this collection, although I've been unfamiliar with him beyond having heard of his novel, "The Centauri Device". He is still active and writing today.
After a mysterious shootout on an alien planet, a guilt-ridden and trigger-happy soldier is seemingly haunted by a spectre. This was nicely written and mostly well told, though a significant part of the climax could have been set up better. Characters are fairly well drawn for a sci-fi short, some more than others; the tension of a small crew in an abnormal situation is well composed.
Representative by David Rome - 4
"We have already dealt with one persistent salesman."
David Rome: seemingly the most obscure of the lot, I can barely find anything on him. He's not on goodreads and he doesn't have a wiki page. I found one SF bibliography page with him on and it listed one novel and nothing else; I found some random blog post that claims he wrote several novels and short stories as well as having worked as a screenwriter for Australian TV.
Representative is a solid, tightly paced thriller in the form of a (now) familiar suburban nightmare; young couples all too perfect to be real popping up everywhere. Reminiscent of something like The Stepford Wives (although this does predate that).
It's quaint and perhaps not wholly original (I'm not 100% where this trend originated), but it's well told and I liked it enough to want to explore more from the author. Question is, who is he and where can I find his work?
The Beach by John Baxter - 3.75
"Ashes to Ashes. Sand to sand."
John Baxter is much more prolific as a non-fiction writer, having written several film books and biographies.
The prose in this is tasty, evoking a nightmarish atmosphere as a character awakes from some kind of blissful illusion. Engrossing merely by the way it is written, it conveys feelings of dread and curiosity in the reader, but leaves them mystified.
The City, Dying by Eddy C. Bertin - 2.75
"They are evil incarnations... given a horrid form of semi-life, to act from the Day on till the End of Time as disciples of the Evil Deity."
Bertin is a belgian author. He has written several novels and short stories, both for children and adults, though not many of his works have been translated into English.
The first part of this is fairly expository world building, which then moves into a rushed and clunky identity narrative. The prose is decent, but heavily derivative of Bester's fancy formatting. Bertin's writing came much too late for this to be given any more credit than being a homage; and while Bester often used such quirks to great effect, here it just feels like a distracting gimmick.
Overall, I enjoyed the collection quite a bit and breezed through it in two days. Even if all weren't corkers, all the stories were very readable and there were aspects that I enjoyed in each one. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like many of the authors I'm interested in reading more of have had much of a science fiction output beyond collections such as this.