on Dec. 29, 2018 :
This collection succeeds as a sampler of Meikle’s work. There is science fiction-horror, a post-mortem fantasy, humor, magic, and a gothic tale.
My favorite story, partly because of its background of Scottish music, was the title story. It has a burned out folk singer from Scotland, his audience and his voice fading and his wife dead and too much liquor poured down his throat, seeing a shadowy figure in the crowd one night. Somehow, after singing it thousands of time, he finds new life in the Bobbie Burns’ song. A nice tale of rebirth, rededication, and optimism that uses well the lyrics of Burns’ “Green Grow the Rashes”.
Also gentle, if not so hopeful, is “In the Spring”. Its 78 year old heroine is a widow tired by her family fussing over her and complaining about, compared to her earlier life, rather paltry “hardships”. To be honest, this story was a bit too subtle for me. I’m not completely sure what happens at the end to the widow.
“Too Many” is a straight up “so now you’re in Hell” story. As an Assistant Deputy Demon goes through Sheila Davidson’s sins with her, he thinks there may be a mistake. Then again, maybe not. Humorous and short enough not to wear the joke out.
Also humorous, in a dark sort of way, is the bad-day-at-work story “The Sweller in the Dress Hold”. Robin Fraser, a young dock worker, learns from his older foreman just how unglamorous unloading ships can be. Especially, if it’s a decrepit ship from Haiti with a fungus problem. This one works as horror too.
“The Dark Island” is a nice gothic tale. There isn’t a trouble house, per se, but there is a troubled island in a nearby loch and a family curse. And is a notorious medieval necromancer buried on that island? Its narrator isn’t going to wrap this all up in a comforting Ann Radcliffe-kind of way.
Horror in cloistered settings and buried secrets also play a role in “Out of the Black”, a straightforward science fiction horror story. Three hundred and fifty years in the future, Earth is iced over after the sun dimmed. Humans barely survive underground, and the fuel for warmth is running out. So is the food. Our narrator is sent above ground to find some more fuel. Probes point to an island in the South Pacific as a possibility. There he finds what’s left of another human settlement. There’s nothing overtly Lovecraftian, but it may remind you of some of his tales of human degeneracy.
“The Just One” is part of a sort of Meikle mythology since we’ve seen the titular “deity” mentioned in Meikle’s The Job, and we get some background behind that name here. This is a nice bit of lighthouse terror. When the supervisor keeper is away, his assistant begins to hear chants over the storm winds and seal-like creatures gathering below.
With the exception of “In the Spring” which was a bit too obscure for me, this is a good (and cheap) sampler of Meikle’s work.
(review of free book)