Nova Scotia is a beautifully produced original anthology from Mercat Press, an independent Scottish publisher. David Pringle, long-time editor of Interzone and Scot-in-exile, provides the introduction and just as much as the packaging, his words make clear that this collection is aimed at the general reader, rather than just the genre reader. This is reflected in the pluralistic table of contents, which starts with a poem by the Scottish Poet Laureate (or “Scots Makar”) Edwin Morgan.
Perhaps the biggest name in the anthology is Ken MacLeod, a writer whose work has almost exclusively been at novel length. ‘A Case of Consilence’ doesn’t provide much evidence for a hidden talent for short fiction. As the title suggests (and the story makes explicit) he is riffing off James Blish’s famous theological first contact novella. MacLeod’s own relationship with Presbyterianism gives some life to the story but otherwise it’s just too familiar. Charles Stross, whose profile is soaring now he is knocking out a novel every couple of weeks in addition to his short fiction, also provides another look at a well worn theme: the deal with the devil. (It is left to up-and-coming Stross disciple Hannu Rajaniemi to provide the post-singularity overload story this time round.) ‘Snowball’s Chance’ is an enjoyable story where, as with The Atrocity Archives, Stross makes good use of the clash between technology, the supernatural, and modern bureaucracy. Still, Satan is one of those things, like vampires and elves, that it is very easy for the reader to get tired of.
In his introduction Pringle puts forward the rather forced theory that the absence of Scottish SF writers pre-Iain M. Banks—an author the editors were unable to secure for this collection—can be put down to an exodus of Scots to the New World, with the corollary that the resurgence in Scottish SF can be put down to the fact “the age of emigration is over.” That may be so, but the age of immigration certainly isn’t: the last two contributers I mentioned come from England and Finland respectively, and a glance at the other author bios reveals a fair smattering of Americans. Their presence is not out of place though. More than being stories by Scots these are all stories about Scotland; its landscape (rural and urban), its language and its legends. Jack Deighton is the only contributor to make no concession to this.
The best story in the anthology is A.J. McIntosh’s ‘Not Wisely But Too Well’, a tribute to, and affectionate roasting of, Boswell and Johnson. What at first seems merely a clever exercise in wordplay develops into a wonderful first contact story and an equally good character study that ends with Boswell reflecting upon his relationship with “a knowing English oaf ... whom I love, honour and abhor.” Other highlights are Gavin Inglis’s hilarious ‘Pisces, Ya Bas,’ about a Glasgow hardman who happens to be a fish, and John Grant’s ‘The Hard Stuff’, which for all the impressiveness of his prose is partially spoiled by a lack of subtly in its political intent.
As I said at the beginning this is a handsome book, but I have two complaints with its production. A very minor quibble is that each story is accorded a worthless paragraph-long preamble; a much more important issue is that editors Williamson and Wilson have both included stories by themselves. There are differing opinions on this practice but I tend to the view that it's pretty cheeky. To make matters worse, Wilson’s story is a complete waste of space (though Williamson provides something more substantial.) Otherwise this is a very good anthology with little filler, a high hit rate, and a couple of excellent stories.
Martin Lewis lives in East London. His reviews have appeared in Vector, The SF Site, The Alien Online and Interzone. In this bio he tried to strike a balance between being too cute and being too boring. He failed.