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Different Kinds of Darkness

by David Langford

(Cosmos Books, $17.95, 286 pages, paperback, also available in hardback priced $29.95, January 2004.)

Review by John Toon

cover scanIt would be wrong for me to suggest that Different Kinds of Darkness represents David Langford's "serious" short fiction. Rather, it collects those stories that aren't intended as homage or parody of other authors' styles -- said homages and parodies already being available in a companion volume from Cosmos Books. There is humour to be found in Darkness, notably in Langford's shared-world contributions 'Leaks', whose hero has a paranormal talent for emptying other people's beer glasses, and 'The Arts of the Enemy', which features an urbane, benevolent villain. There is also (appropriately) darker humour in such barbed pieces as 'Answering Machine', 'Hearing Aid' and 'Encounter of Another Kind'.

However, the more serious stories are the more noteworthy, because ... well, because they're just damn fine. The title piece, a Hugo winner, is one of four built around the idea of cognitively lethal images, which get their own section in 'Darkness'. It's interesting to chart the development of a remarkable idea through this quartet of stories. The rest of the collection is divided generically into science fiction, fantasy and horror, and each section has its highlights. In the SF section, we have the two stories which, taken together, would form the basis for Langford's novel The Space Eater; a strangely prophetic piece about fanatical politicians flattering themselves with the attentions of "posterity"; and a witty short-short cataloguing, for a recent medically themed anthology, the literary disease that infected Lear and Carroll. The horror section offers the tale of a voodoo alarm clock; and the true definition of horror -- being made to Morris-dance. Meanwhile in fantasy, there is a colourful tale of sorcery "in the old days"; and 'As Strange a Maze as E'er Men Trod', a fantastic detective story born out of Shakespeare's Tempest.

There's thirty-six stories here spanning nearly thirty years of writing, and everyone should find something -- several somethings, in fact -- to please them. Well worth the cover price.

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