Dave Hutchinson: Sleeps With Angels

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Dave Hutchinson Sleeps With Angels
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    Sleeps With Angels
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Sleeps With Angels: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Dave Hutchinson is one of today’s finest science fiction writers. His latest novel, Europe in Autumn (2014), has garnered praise from critics and readers alike and is currently shortlisted for the BSFA Award. Sleeps With Angels is his first collection in more than a decade, featuring the author’s choice of his short fiction during that time, including "The Incredible Exploding Man", selected by Gardner Dozois for his Year’s Best Science Fiction in 2012, and a brand new story "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi", original to this collection.

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Dave Hutchinson

Sleeps With Angels

An Introduction

I just checked, and I discovered that it’s a little over ten years since my last collection, As The Crow Flies, which came as a bit of a surprise. Where does the time go?

There was a time when I wrote nothing but short stories. A friend of mine, faced with my first novel, The Villages, said, “You know, you’re really a short story writer.” I’m still not certain what he meant by that. Anyway, the stories got longer and longer and fewer and fewer. Where I would once have been happy to wind up a story in two thousand words, I started to find there wasn’t enough room unless I had at least ten thousand to play with.

Sleeps With Angels is a collection of the previously uncollected. Some of the stories were published by the late and very much lamented SciFiction, others as part of anthologies and collections with other writers, one was self-published as an ebook, and one, “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi”, has never seen the light of day until now, apart from as a word file being sent to anyone who wanted to read it. It’s interesting that once upon a time all of these stories would have been in print at some point, but at least two of them have only ever existed in electronic form before this.

Publishing is changing, of course. Self-publishing, notably with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing programme, seems to me to have finally democratised the process. It’s now possible for anyone to publish a novel — or even a standalone short story — for free, and make some money out of it. This of course has led to a tidal wave of spam on social media from Indie Authors, many of whom have read Internet Marketing 101 books and not realised that spam is intensely annoying.

One of the interesting things this change in publishing has done is remove, for a large number of authors, the traditional checks and balances which once stood between the writer and the reader. Editors, for example. I have a suspicion — and I’m not going to do the research to back this up because it would only make me angry — that there is an awful lot of very badly-edited self-published stuff out there. Self-edited, which is often not the best of ideas. First-drafty, which is even worse.

On the bright side, nobody needs to read the stuff. It doesn’t take up any room anywhere, doesn’t consume any resources, there’s often a chance to preview it before you buy. It’s possible that as time goes by a kind of natural selection will come into play; the really crap stuff will sink without trace while the good stuff rises. Just like in ‘normal’ publishing, right?

I’m fond of telling people that the internet is still, really, in its infancy, still shaking itself down and finding its feet. Which is largely meaningless, but sounds sort of wise if you don’t think about it too hard. I think this new age in publishing is much the same; still young, still finding its feet. I’m still not convinced that it won’t go the way of Betamax and MiniDisc. I’m told that sales of the Kindle have been falling, although that’s probably because more people are reading books on their tablets now. Probably.

I have a Kindle and I’ve been surprised by how easily I’ve taken to it. I expected the experience to be weird and alienating, but it wasn’t at all. I find that I read more quickly, and retain more, using the Kindle than when reading a conventional book. While I’m not about to give up reading paper books entirely — the few books I did actually manage to read last year were all printed versions — the Kindle is a handy alternative, and we have to remember that an increasing number of books never see existence in print and that e-readers, whether in the form of an app or a discrete physical device, are the only way to access them. Personally, I don’t enjoy using a Kindle any less than I enjoy using a paper book.

I’ll end this ramble with a small observation. While I was writing this, I looked up Ben Bova’s 1989 novel Cyberbooks, which some say predicted ebooks. As far as I can tell, there is no Kindle version of it…

Dave Hutchinson


January 2015

The Fortunate Isles

A television is playing in the corner of the room, a big LCD flatscreen model, maybe thirty years old, its picture speckled with malfunctioning pixels. The sound is turned down, but the screen is showing a reality programme, this one involving fifteen celebrities — including, improbably, the last surviving and very aged member of U2 — locked in a decommissioned Russian nuclear submarine on the floor of the Arctic Ocean off Novaya Zemlya. The show’s been airing for a couple of weeks now, and the participants are starting to look bored and listless.

The two men ignore the television and continue walking around the room.

They’re walking in opposite directions, facing outward along the wall, unhurriedly, looking at everything, taking photographs with their phones. The wall is covered with lining paper and painted what was probably once quite a sunny lemon yellow that the years have rendered a sort of shabby nicotine colour. The light switch has been plumbed in by running a cable down from the ceiling and stapling it to the wall. Neither of the men touches the light switch.

When they cross over by the door they go round again, covering each other’s ground, taking more photographs, bending down to examine marks on the skirting, looking up at where the wall meets the high ceiling, checking under the furniture.

“I think I’m coming down with a cold,” says Paweł.

“You should be so lucky,” says Daniel, who is beginning to be annoyed by the smell in the room.

“There’s a lot of it about,” says Paweł, a tall, sandy-haired young man who looks as though he could manage a walk-on part in one of those new World War Two epics — Third Nazi From The Left (the one who gets his throat slit by a British commando during the daring raid on the German radar station in Occupied France.)

Daniel takes some more photographs of the mess on the wall behind the armchair. “Ready?”

“Just a moment.” Paweł leans forward until his nose is almost touching the wallpaper. Leans back. “Okay.”

The two men turn and face the room.

It’s not a big room and there’s not a lot in it. Shabby armchair and sofa upholstered in green velour, to which a grey long-haired cat has added its own touches. Low coffee table in some cheap wood, with a scratched glass top. Television attached to a number of add-on boxes by a cat’s cradle of mismatched cabling. Paweł and Daniel go around the room again, clockwise and counterclockwise, looking under the furniture, looking at the bottle of whiskey and two glasses and the scatter of magazine printouts on the coffee table. They ignore the dead man in the armchair. They go around again, taking photographs.

Daniel’s phone hums. He looks at the screen and touches the answer icon. “It’s yourself, Gard Lockhart,” he says with all the Biblical opprobrium he can load into his voice.

As responding officer, it was Gard Lockhart’s job to secure the scene until Daniel and Paweł arrived, but in a fit of compassion Gard Lockhart felt it necessary to accompany the hysterical widow to the local hospital, and now Daniel and Paweł have to assume the scene is contaminated even if it’s not, which means they’ll have to regard any evidence they find as suspect, because any future defence counsel will certainly tell the jury about it.

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