The Ravine

Usually, I know exactly what I’m going to read after I finish a book. However, back last New Year’s Eve, I thought I needed a break.

A weird western was just the thing.

Review: The Ravine, William Meikle, 2013.

Cover by M. Wayne Miller

While this isn’t my favorite kind of weird western, I think the most inventive ones are science fiction stories that don’t use time travel or aliens, I still found this story gripping and fast moving. 

Meikle starts the action right away with a cavalry squad swept to another dimension where they are recruited in a fight to keep Satan imprisoned. Only one survives, Stevens, who is imbued with the weaponry and power of an angel and returns to our world. 

The second viewpoint character is Joe Clancy. He’s a rancher with his wife Jessie, son Tommy, and hired hand and family friend Paddy Doyle. His ranch is on the brink of being foreclosed on; there is a drought, and he needs the cattle in good shape to make his mortgage payment. Meikle really makes you feel the plight of the Clancys all through this story.

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In Darkness, Delight: Masters of Midnight

Review: In Darkness, Delight: Masters of Midnight, eds. Andrew Lennon and Evans Light, 2019.

Cover by Mikio Murakami

I don’t know if it was accidental or deliberate, but the predominant theme of this anthology is grief.

Grief is a peculiar thing, not really horror but painful. But, in some sense, it’s often a sign you were lucky – lucky enough to know something or someone enough to grieve their passing. But, of course, grief can be the start of a more interesting story.

I bought this story for William Meikle’s “Refuge”, one of his Sigil and Totem stories, a series entirely built on grief and loss. Here, Meikle works another variation on that series’ central idea. The narrator is an Arab refuge living in London. He works at a pub where he catches the bad attentions of Wilkins whom he insults. Yes, this is yet another story centered on the modern obsession about racism and discrimination. Meikle conveniently does not make our protagonist a devout Moslem, so he retains our sympathy. There is a bit of invade-the-world, invite-the-world theme here when the narrator replies, to Wilkins’ insult, that he’s in London “Because ignorant fascists just like you blew my family out of their shoes.” The story will take both Wilkins and the protagonist to a Sigils and Totems house where the dead can, in some form, live again. I suppose Meikle is saying we are all bound together by grief, but, frankly, I’m always going to sympathize with the Crusader over the Saracen.

Angel Wings” from Paul Michaels, is another story dealing with grief. The horror is nothing supernatural just loneliness and isolation. Our 11-year old protagonist, Bobby Granger, has lost his mother. His father is distant and contemptuous of the notion, which his wife held, that people have souls. Bobby is a “soft atheist” warring with the need for belief. He comes across what is purported to be angel wings on a school trip to a museum of religious artifacts. He becomes rather obsessed with them with, of course, bad consequences.

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Halfway to Anywhere — Volume 1

I picked up this slender anthology solely because it had a William Meikle story in it.

Review: Halfway to Anywhere – Volume 1, 2017.

Cover by Zach McCain

William Meikle’s “Stars and Sigils” wrings a couple of variation on his Sigils and Totems formula. First, the sigils and totems “house” in this futuristic story is on a space station. Second, the narrator doesn’t use it an expected way to reconnect with his dead friend Johnny. It’s an unusual entry in Meikle’s series.

J. G. Faherty’s “Heroes Are Made” reminded me of Frederik Pohl’s “What Dreams Remain”. Both feature protagonists who are willing to sell out the future (the future of space exploration in the Pohl story, the future of humanity here) for comfort and safety. Barry goes to his summer cabin with his annoying wife and kids, and they are attacked by aliens which appear as duplicates of the family. The aliens are interested in taking over Earth and are impersonating humans to do it. They need help in perfecting their methods, so they make a proposition to Barry: teach them how to impersonate humans and he can have a better life – albeit under alien guard – than he does now.

Daedalus” from Jeremy Henderson takes too long to get to an obvious conclusion. The whole story is basically the officers of a starship discussing what to do after it’s been learned that their terraforming efforts to make a planet habitable have killed off a large portion of an unknown group of sentient aliens. The officers have to decide whether to turn around and surrender to the UN and be tried for genocide, kill the crew still in suspended animation, or carry on with the expedition and try to help the surviving native sentients.

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Flower of Scotland Volume 4

Review: Flower of Scotland Volume 4, William Meikle, 2020.

Cover by William Meikle

This is the final volume in Meikle’s Flower of Scotland chapbook series.

The Silent Dead” is one of Meikle’s Augustus Seton stories, a series I particularly like. Seton is often a troubleshooter for King James I, and this time he’s sent to investigate some unholiness around Loch Leven – which happens to be where the king’s mother, Mary Queen of Scots, was imprisoned.

Sandy, of “Sandy Says So”, is the imaginary playmate of Sheena, young girl stuck with an obnoxious stepmother. Said stepmother is obnoxious to not only Sheena but her husband and father-in-law. She’s adulterous too. Naturally she gets a comeuppance.

Captain’s Log” is a jokey environmental story with “spaceshit” coming out a “sub-space anomaly”.

Leisure” is another jokey story about a man turning into a book. It all shares some imagery with Meikle’s Sigils and Totems series.

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Flower of Scotland Volume 3

Low Res Scan: Flower of Scotland Volume 3, William Meikle, 2020.

Cover by William Meikle

It’s a Low Res Scan because I’ve already reviewed the following stories: “The Just One” and “The Inuit Bone”.

The Flower of Scotland chapbooks show Meikle at his most varied and into areas you wouldn’t expect if you just read his novels..

For instance, “Out with the Old” is a post-apocalypse story set in 2062. It’s a rather feudal world. No surprise there. That’s not uncommon in such stories. But what if your feudal lord is a vampire? Should you really honor your obligations to him? This one ends on a memorably grim note.

Meikle’s work generally does not have a lot of explicit sex in it. (I’m not applauding that or objecting to it. I’m just noting it.) “A Siren’s Song”, set on the island of Skye, is a definite exception. A man meets a mermaid on the beach and has sex with her. The consequences are not good though the story was not clear enough for me.

Paved with Good Intentions” is a thematic companion to “Too Many” I reviewed in the previous post. This time it’s a writer, author of Best Tales of the Apocalypse 2 no less, who goes to Hell and ends up reliving his life’s unpleasant events. There’s a nice bit about bureaucrats and accountants in Hell.

Smarter” is Meikle’s takeoff on alien abductions. The aliens in this one aren’t particularly bright.

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Flower of Scotland Volume 2

Review: Flower of Scotland Volume 2, William Meikle, 2020.

Too Many” is an amusing story about a woman receiving a unique punishment in Hell. The relevant sin is hinted by the title.

Unlike a lot of the stories in the Flower of Scotland series of chapbooks, “The Worst Sound” really is short enough to be called flash fiction. A priest gives last rites to a dying and despicable man.

Phantom Payment” is a clever ghost story whose verisimilitude springs, I suspect, from Meikle’s days working in IT. A network administrator has to figure why a business’s computers are having memory problems. One of the best stories in the collection.

The First Silkie” seems to be mostly an excerpt from the Derek Adams novel The Skin Game.

Lucidity” was one story I didn’t much like. As the title hints, it’s about lucid dreaming and is sort of a man-who-dreams-he’s-a-butterfly-or-butterfly-dreaming-it’s-a-man story.

The World of Illusion” is essentially one of the pivotal chapters in Meikle’s vampire novel Eldren: The Book of the Dark.

There’s no reason you can’t have a story of possession and with a ghost on a golf course, and that’s what you get with the interesting “Just a Par to Win”.

Bait and Switch” is an alright story of generational conflict and bonding. Hoping to get his young son’s eyes off his phone, a father takes him fishing. There’s more than one way to fish, though, and fish aren’t the only game. This monster story seems set either in Canada or Maine.

Fairy tales aren’t really an interest of mine and that’s what “Jack and the Cat’s Paw” is, but I still enjoyed it and thought it well done. It’s a tale of a drifter taking a job at a town’s mill.

I’m fond of Meikle’s stories centering on music, and that’s kind of what “Total Mental Quality” is. An obsessive hi-fi enthusiast gets a hold of an experimental bit of technology, a computer chip using both microcircuity and protein chains, from the local university. It turns out it does a lot more than just record music. It creates its own media and not just music. An amusing story of artificial intelligence and the media mashups it creates.

Flower of Scotland Volume 1

The book I actually read last September on the plane to Glasgow was Flower of Scotland; Forty Flash Fictions, but Miekle seems to have withdrawn that from the market and chopped the contents up into four of his 99 cent chapbooks, so it’s the latter I’ll be reviewing. They collect work of his from the 1990s to 2014.

Flower of Scotland Volume 1

Review: Flower of Scotland Volume 1, William Meikle, 2020.

As Meikle’s followers on Twitter know, he likes his Twitter and knows how to use it. In “Twitterspace”, we follow Dave as he learns the truth behind the Twitter handles @weegreenmen and @saucerzus. We see, via Twitter, the world descending into chaos meteorological and economic. Given the green snow, it’s possible this story is linked to Meikle’s The Invasion which I haven’t read yet. On the other hand, Meikle does like to do variations on an image or idea.

In “Supply and Demand”, a psychiatrist talks to a patient who has the notion that, starting about thirty years, staring, blank-eyed children starting being born. And now their in charge of things. This is a nice, disturbing story about generational change and moral decay.

The vacation reading of a schoolteacher “At the Beach” is disturbed by an old man who wants to talk about his life and deliver some unsolicited advice: “save up your memories … because ye never ken when ye might need them”. You might see the ending coming, but you probably won’t see all of the ending coming. This is a moving story with a new twist on an old idea.

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Review: Generations: A Creature Feature, William Meikle, 2019.51l36C3PY5L
After finishing this book in September of last year (yes, that’s how far I am behind in reviews), I enthusiastically tweeted:

So you’ve read all the @williemeikle S-Squad books and need more giant critters? Check out Generations. Bug count and size upped by 10X. Mad scientist. Dragon. Heroic horse. Plucky but not obnoxious kids. And, yeah, tanks, helicopters, and artillery. Funny too.

I could leave it at that for the review of this unjustly neglected Meikle work.

Normally, I wouldn’t read a young adult book, but Meikle is one of those authors that I’ll read whatever type of story he’s spinning.

Our protagonists are eleven-year old Kate who lives on a farm in Scotland with her parents. Fellow classmate Tom lives nearby. And so does Tom’s Granddad. (I’m not sure we ever get his name.)

Granddad is a brilliant, eccentric scientist – mad in his carelessness but not bad in his intent. A former university professor, he practices alchemy and is a believer in vitalism.

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Operation Mongolia; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: Operation Mongolia, William Meikle, 2019.operationmongolia

When Meikle announced the title of his newest S Squad book, I hoped we would have Mongolian death worms, that fabled creature of Forteana and legend. And that’s what we get. The S Squad has to fight them on a mission to rescue some Scottish paleontologists working in an area about to be occupied by Chinese troops doing a sweep for local rebels.

Not only are the death worms the most original monster the squad has faced since the series opener Infestation, Meikle provides them with a believable place in the ecology of the Mongolian desert. We even have a nice bit with how some of the locals have come up with their own defenses against the worms.

Wilkins is still recovering from the squad’s last outing in Operation Norway, and Meikle opens up the series a bit by providing some back stories for the squad members and the reason why Wiggins and Sergeant Hynd are always insulting each other. Because of that, this book would be a good introduction to the series. Continue reading

Operation Norway; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: Operation Norway, William Meikle, 2019.operationnorway

I approached this one with some trepidation when I heard mountain trolls were the monster the S Squad faces this time. Was Meikle simply going to give us a version of the movie Trollhunter with Scottish commandoes?

I needn’t have worried. It was another of Meikle’s suspenseful S-Squad stories.

The squad is sent to Norway to sterilize traces of a joint Norwegian-British scientific project done after WWII lest it now prove politically embarrassing.

But, on the shores of a fjord, they find the project to create supersoldiers for the Cold War has left a living legacy. Meikle has an interesting science fictional explanation for the monster in this adventure. As with the previous S Squad installment, Operation: Loch Ness, we also get a sympathetic monster.

There’s a quite surprising change of location about two-thirds of the novel showing Meikle continues to inject a lot of novelty into the formula for this series. Continue reading