By Tim Lees

Reviewed by Terry Gates-Grimwood

Good title that, because although The Life To Come is a collection of science fiction stories (mostly) that tackle some big themes, it focuses on the ordinary folk and how it affects their lives. This focus gives many of the stories a surreal element. The image of people getting on with some semblance of normal life while an alien spacecraft rests in a nearby field, or detritus from the future (or some other dimension) starts to litter the world, or while the Gods are contained in an immense building and used to provide electricity for the city, serves to heighten the contrast between the everyday and the strange, and makes the strange even stranger.

Homeground, the spaceship story, is a prime example. The arguments and conflicts stirred up by the arrival of the craft, that Lees concentrates on, are not the great debates between scientists, the military and the politicians, but those that take place in the local village hall about how best this phenomenon can be exploited, or if it should be exploited at all. The alien detritus tale, The Life To Come, may be set amongst the bizarre littering of our world by another, but it is the relationship between the two main characters that draws you in. Okay, so most good stories use that device, but the focus here is even stronger and therefore, more effective.

There is a warmth to Lees' writing, and this is most evident in the “Uncle Edward” stories scattered through the collection. These imaginative pieces are told from the viewpoint of his young nephew and take the eccentric uncle idea to a new height. Everything is in place, the long-suffering wife, the wide-eyed protégée and Edward himself, who is revealed as a much deeper and darker character than at first perceived. The first of these stories, Starlight, is the best but they are all enjoyable and ironically, since they use a well-worn device, quite refreshing.

The crime stories are smoothly written and convincing. Head Crimes is my own personal favourite. It is a clever, subtle tale filled with hints at why the narrator's father doesn't want to talk about his war service. And all this, tightly wrapped in an atmosphere of paranoia.

For me, the most moving story here was Relics in which a futuristic aviator finds himself temporarily marooned on an island. He is looking for relics from a ditched spacecraft, but could those relics be closer than he at first thought? Hints and possibilities edge the story and it is filled with the warmth and gracefulness that marks this book.

The collection ends with a very funny Hemingway pastiche called A Specialist In Souls proving that Tim Lees definitely has a sense of humour.

It took me a while to get used to Tim Lees' sudden endings. At first it felt as if he had suddenly tired of each story, but a second read revealed the appropriateness of finishing at the points he did. Sometimes more questions asked than answered, yet just the right moment to end. Still, it left me a little unsatisfied in some cases, but I could see his point

One irritation was the dialogue uttered by some of his workmen-type characters. It seemed outdated, a sort of Hollywood version of what working folk sound like. It did jar but in the end the quality and originality of these stories far outweighed any minor irritations such as these.

I, therefore, recommend The Life To Come as a refreshing look at science fiction and an example of excellent writing and fresh ideas.

The Life To Come by Tim Lees. Tpb, 200pp, £5.00. Published by Elastic Press, 85 Gertrude Road, Norwich, Norfolk NR3 4SG, UK

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