SFRA Review

A publication of the Science Fiction Research Association

Watson, Ian. The Great Escape. Urbana, Illinois: Golden Gryphon Press, 2002. 283 pages, cloth, $23.95. ISBN 1-930846-09-6.

This is a hard review to write. Yes, The Great Escape is the latest short story collection of a star of British science fiction and fantasy, Ian Watson; that's clear enough. But to echo the book jacket blurb's description of Watson's stories as a combination of "science fiction and fantasy" that is an "eclectic mix" is something of an understatement, to say the least. A casual sampling of the stories makes that quite clear. The tide story, "The Great Escape," is one of fallen angels in Hell, mounting an escape. "A Day Without Dad" offers an odd twist on the issue of how to live with aging parents: let them become guests in the adult child's brain. Hosting them, as it were. And being sure the parent has a "good six hours' experience a day," otherwise they would become "stir-crazy." The privacy issues that arise are mind-boggling. "The Boy Who Lost an Hour, the Girl Who Lost Her Life" combines autism and the switch to daylight savings time and the question of just where does the lost hour go? If a little boy gets caught in it, is he left behind? Is an autistic child forever left behind? And there is a vampire story, a tale of mental reprogramming on a planetary scale, the return of the gods, de-evolution — just how does one describe such a story collection? Is eclectic the only word that works? Perhaps so.

Clearly this collection demonstrates the range of Watson's imagination and the strength of his often lyrical and fluid language. It is no wonder he has been a finalist for both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards "and widely anthologized," or that he worked with Kubrick on "story development for the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence." I wish I had read more of his work, so I could place it in that context. So, instead let me describe his fiction as one that blurs science fiction and fantasy in ways that are both pleasing and that are of "the strange, the eerie, the weird." Both genres become malleable in the hands of this experienced writer, as he both echoes the style of 19th century-storytellers and explores the cutting edge themes of nanotechnology, computer games (one haunted by the ghost of the murdered wife of the game's creator — the murderer), and artificial intelligence and the radical right.

In this context, it is clear that Watson is a writer who is exploring both the contemporary human condition and the human condition itself. Indeed, he is exploring the idea of Homo narrans, humans as the storytelling animals, as creatures whose consciousness "is the product of tales." As Watson puts it, storytelling "is no more entertainment compared with the serious business of real life. It is fundamental to our whole existence and to our knowledge of the world" (ix). Given that, how could one pass up this collection? Or, at the very least, make use of it in a class that covered both contemporary British and American science fiction and fantasy. Recommended.

— Warren G. Rochelle, SFRA Review, November-December 2002


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