Sleeps With Angels

Yes, it’s a new review.

I must have been more dismissive than usual when I turned down the chance to get a review copy of Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn. It seemed like some sort of metaphorical support for the failure of the EU and endorsement of Europe’s current civilizational suicide.

And who is this Hutchinson guy anyway?  Never heard of him. No doubt some literary author poaching the genre’s treasure, smugly thinking he has a patent on some new idea without checking on the prior art.

Well, the reviews of Europe in Autumn at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased and From Couch to Moon disabused me of the first notion. And a check on his entry in the would have disabused me of the second.

Still, when the folks at NewCon Press were handing out review copies of Hutchinson’s collection Sleeps With Angels, I did take it (in, ahem, May 28, 2015 – the review process can be sclerotic at Marzaat). I’m a lot more willing to try an author in short form, even if I don’t think I’ll like them, than a novel even if I find collections and anthologies a lot more time consuming to review.

And I liked the previous NewCon Press collection I reviewed, Dark Currents.

Review: Sleeps With Angels, ed. Dave Hutchinson, 2015.Sleeps With Angels

The first thing I noticed about this six story collection is how many stories feature protagonists who have somehow reaped the benefits of social or physical apocalypse.

The heroine of “Sugar Engines” can work seeming miracles in a severely depopulated world. But this is a self-consciously “cosy catastrophe” where the weeds are under control, the sewer and water lines still work, and there’s electricity (if no internet). The miracles of Rae may have something to do with her dead husband’s research into nanotechnology, and the last surviving member of His Majesty’s Secret Service would like to know what really happened – because he has some hints that things are most definitely not what they seem.

The apocalypse of “Dali’s Clocks” is social (if very mellow in result). Most everyone in the world feels the compulsion to create something. And they all want the narrator, who is one of the rare ones who doesn’t suffer this compulsion, to critique their work.

The narrator of “The Incredible Exploding Man” is one of the few who can navigate the dimensions sanely after a lab accident at a superconducting supercollider throws a group of humans out of our normal space. But he, and the rest of the world, about what will happen when the others figure out how to do the same. They are particularly concerned about what will happen when the world’s greatest physicist, and not very nice person, figures out how to control his destructive powers.

It’s an elven apocalypse in “All the News, All the Time, From Everywhere”. In the middle of what seems some sort of European civil war, the elves of England reassert their power, ban almost all technology, kill a bunch of people, and reintroduce the efficacy of prophecy via animal sacrifice. The latter is how newspapers (about the only communication form still permitted) like the one the narrator works for get some of their news. This protagonist is privileged by having a contact in the elvish version of MI-5 working at crushing rebellion. He may have done – and forgotten – some favor he did for the elves in the past.

The supernatural also shows up in “The Fortunate Isles”, a murder mystery, with a nice detailed opening, in Ireland’s West Country in a rundown, poorer future of retirees, like the detective protagonist’s detective father, existing on the scraps of broken pensions. (It’s one of two stories in the collection in which we get a nod to the last surviving member of U-2. Ah, the future is not all bleak.)

The second thing is that Hutchinson uses a variety of English and European settings which are refreshing. We’ve come away from the days when Peter F. Hamilton’s publishers chided him for including too much local detail for the Rutland, UK setting of his Greg Mandel series. The one exception to this rule is the “Sioux Crossing” mentioned in “The Incredible Exploding Man”. For some reason, Hutchinson put his supercollider in Iowa (it was once planned for Texas). I think he just wanted to have a Midwest tornado.

The third thing I noticed is that a couple of these could have been longer which Hutchinson acknowledges for “All the News, All the Time, From Everywhere”.

My favorite story, just because I favor mixtures of history, mystery, and science fiction (not to mention Roman history) was, “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi”. Its narrator, an archaeology student turned journalist, is dragged into helping an old professor examine the excavated villa of one Lucius Claudius Setibogius, a provincial of Roman Britain who did very well for himself by supplying some strange creatures for the Coliseum’s gladiatorial games. The story is original to this collection, and it rather put me in mind of Michael J. Flynn’s Eifelheim.

I can’t guarantee I’ll read any more Hutchinson. But I won’t dismiss him.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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