I don’t read short stories very often, mostly because I feel like just as I’m getting to know the characters, the story ends. As a result, I tend to only read short stories in anthologies (a great way to try out new authors without committing to a whole book) or in collections written by authors I particularly enjoy. The Perseids and Other Stories by Robert Charles Wilson falls into the second category: I was first introduced to Wilson via his fantastic Hugo-nominated novel Darwinia, which won an Aurora Award from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association in 1999. As I had been feeling a certain “reading restlessness” recently (which meant I was having trouble concentrating long enough to commit to reading a full-length book), this seemed like the perfect time to try out this collection of nine short stories.
Although most of the stories in this book are set in Toronto (and the same bookshop is featured in several of them), they are not linked in a traditional sense. That is to say, they may all begin in a recognizable Toronto, but the deeper you venture into each story, the stranger things get—and each story is unique in its strangeness. Wilson slips easily from metaphor (such as mental illness as a separate city) to science fiction (in which it is literally possible to get lost in a parallel city) as well as from accepted scientific knowledge to plausible extrapolation. Many of his stories are grounded in science, but elements of mysticism and horror are also present in these stories.
It’s hard to pick favourites in this collection: all of these stories are dark, deliciously creepy and deeply satisfying. The only one I liked less, in fact, was the first one, “The Fields of Abraham,” the only story not set in contemporary Toronto (it takes place in 1911) and the only one to feature a plot that felt somewhat familiar (it is also the harshest story). I highly recommend this collection, which turned out to be the perfect cure for my reading restlessness!
For other takes on this book, check out these reviews:
From a Sci-Fi Standpoint • January Magazine • Steven Silver’s Reviews • The Groovy Age of Horror • The Horror!?