Needs Repairs

Aftershock and Other Stories by F. Paul Wilson (1990-2008; collected 2009): Wilson is the sort of literal-minded champion of plain-style prose whom some fans of fantasy and science fiction go completely gaga for. Stylistically, he makes Stephen King look like Thomas Ligotti and Thomas Ligotti look like James Joyce, thus pushing James Joyce into another prose universe altogether. At his best, he’s a competent writer with some interesting ideas. He’s also blazingly fast. If you don’t like the new F. Paul Wilson novel, wait six months and read the next one.

Wilson promises in the notes included with this collection of short pieces that this will be his last original collection of short stories and novellas, as he’s lost interest in the form. This claim may be a good thing if Wilson sticks to it, as the stories here range from the competent (the bafflingly award-winning title story) to the thuddingly bland (that would be at least half the collection). If the ideas aren’t strong and strongly developed, Wilson has nowhere to fall back — his is a plain and often cliche-ridden style with a tendency towards personal macro-phrases that pop up again and again in his work along with certain tropes and plot mechanisms.

For instance, a lot of women in Wilson’s universe have breasts that are not too small and not too big but just a perfect handful. Common criminals tend to be physically ugly. Horror stories often centre around the punishment of a lazy male, sometimes guilty of murder, sometimes guilty of, um, laziness enabled by inherited money or the occasional bout of physical incompetence that the universe inevitably punishes with death. Most people other than the heroes and their close acquaintances tend to be either scum or sheep, something one sees in Wilson’s Repairman Jack novels as well.

After all, Wilson has won about a million Prometheus Awards for fiction that champions the libertarian ideal. And Wilson’s introductions and notes here show us just how concerned he is with productivity and money. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and apparently a lot of people like relatively unornamented, occasionally sentimental prose. So it goes. Not recommended.

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