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Ian Watson

Stalin's Teardrops

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Another story collection from the prolific Watson (Salvage Rites, Evil Water, Slow Birds), this one comprising 12 tall tales published between 1985 and 1990. The longest piece here is brilliantly conceived: a company of Ushabti, tiny clay figurines placed in the sarcophagus of a pharaoh as his attendants, explore their sarcophagus-universe, then attempt to revive their dead master; what makes no stylistic or literary sense, and irredeemably flaws the story, is Watson’s introduction of some investigating Egyptologists in the form of a play and, worse, chanting blank verse. Also noteworthy: the impressively imagined title yarn, which probes the strange consequences arising from deliberately distorted maps but all too soon meanders off into unfathomable byways; and a persuasive yarn that features the surrealist architect Gaudi. Elsewhere, three clumsily obvious metaphors (time travel and race hatred; rich vs. poor; a human chicken becomes chancellor of Oxford University) irritate rather than uplift; a jailer physically and psychically absorbs his prisoners; an English village hides odd goings-on; Sherlock Holmes ponders Cinderella, to astonishing effect; and an ayatollah’s eyeball elicits only routine irony. Amazingly inventive — but too often inattentive or downright eccentric in the execution.
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