The writer and illustrator Alasdair Gray, best known for his work Lanark (1982), proves in this collection to be also an exceptional writer of short fiction. Each of these spare, fable-like stories contains more ideas than many writers manage to fit into a whole novel: a society whose single purpose is to build a tower that touches the ceiling of the sky; a bored art student digs below Glasgow School of Art and discovers the machines which control the Earth’s orbit around the Sun; a man, selected from childhood as the official poet for a puppet Emperor, meditates on the political role of the artist. Gray is unafraid of metaphor, yet these metaphors are not, typically, ones which collapse neatly into a single interpretation. Instead, the great satisfaction of this collection is the way in which each story manipulates its often simple elements in ways which leave the reader questioning what they might mean, or what their true relationship might be.
This is a superb, genre-spanning anthology, each story of which delights, and Gray provides an object lesson in both strength of vision and economy of prose. There is one minor issue, however: the cover renders the phrase ‘work as if you live in the early days of a better nation’ as ‘work as if you live in the early days of a better world’. Gray is a socialist and Scottish nationalist, and this leaves his motto perhaps a little toothless.