Isolation stories

I’ve posted 20 stories here, loosely linked (in some cases very loosely) to the theme of isolation: isolation of many kinds, good, bad, literal, metaphorical etc.

Scroll down for the stories. Because of the way I posted them, they appear below in reverse order, but if you want to read them as a collection you may like to go back to story (1) and work back through them in numerical order. I arranged them in what I thought was a pleasing order and although all of these stories work as stand-alones, in a couple of cases a story is a sequel to another which I posted earlier in the sequence. Story (20), ‘Sky’, for instance, is a sequel to story (1), ‘Cellar’.

Personal favourites of mine: ‘The Kite’, ‘Atomic Truth’, ‘The Perimeter’, ‘Aphrodite’, ‘We Could Be Sisters’.

Isolation story: (20) Sky

This story could be read on its own but it’s a sequel to ‘Cellar’ which opens this collection of ‘isolation stories’, and works better if you’ve read that too. This is the last story I’m going to post here, and it seemed an appropriate note to end on (The two stories bookend my Spring Tide collection also.)

I’ll leave these stories up there at least until the lockdown is over. Hope you enjoyed them.

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Isolation story: (19) Piccadilly Circus

This story can be read on its own but is actually a sequel to ‘The Perimeter’ which I also included here as number 9 in this series of ‘isolation stories’.

It first appeared in Interzone in 2005 and is collected in The Turing Test.

I’ve almost finished posting these stories. Just one more to go tomorrow.

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Isolation story: (18) The Caramel Forest

It can be pretty isolating to be the child of parents who aren’t getting on. I feel sorry for families right now who are in that position.

This was the cover story in Asimov’s SF in 2012 (the artist was Laura Diehl). It was subsequently collected in The Peacock Cloak, along with another story, ‘Day 29’, which was also set on the imaginary planet Lutania.

Lutania is the prototype for the setting of my most recent novel, Beneath the World, a Sea. In the novel, however, I moved it from an alien planet, to a remote place in South America, the Submundo Delta where life is entirely different to, and completely unrelated, to life anywhere else on Earth.

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Isolation story: (17) Monsters

Clancy the traveller (see story 12) visits a poet in an obscure provincial outpost. The one who is most isolated in this story is an animal, a kind of carnivorous horse, which has been shut away in solitary confinement all its life.

This story was first published in Interzone in 2003 and was collected in the Turing Test.

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Isolation story: (16) Johnny’s New Job

Not the most subtle story I’ve ever written.

I used to be a social worker and then a manager of a team of social workers. This story poured out of me more or less in a single burst of rage, when the ‘Baby P’ tragedy was in in the news (the murder of Peter Connolly by his mothers boyfriend), and the media and the government were conducting one of their periodic carnivals of shame. During a previous such event, a fellow team manager had told me, ‘I managed to get my kids out of the house just half an hour before the TV cameras arrived on my lawn’.

My experience in that job has made me much more forgiving than most people are of the ‘mistakes’ made not only by social workers but by anyone who has to make decisions in real time, in the messiness and uncertainty of the real world. I did not feel inclined to condemn the police officer who ran towards an innocent Brazilian electrician and shot him, believing him to be a suicide bomber. And I will not be one of those calling for heads to roll in the aftermath of this Covid-19 episode. Hindsight makes all kind of things look like obvious mistakes that simply don’t look that way at all when they are happening.

This story first appeared in Interzone in 2010 and is collected in The Peacock Cloak.

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Isolation story: (15) The Gates of Eden

Nothing whatever to do with my Eden books, this is a short, non-SF story from my Spring Tide story collection. The only connection is the myth of ‘the fall’ itself.

‘The Gates of Eden’ qualifies as an isolation story, I’d say, simply on the grounds that there is only one person in the whole story: a middle-aged businesswoman on her way to a difficult meeting.

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Isolation story: (14) The Land of Grunts and Squeaks

Something happens which means that people can no longer relate to one another as they used to do, and have to find new ways of communicating.

The stories I’ve been collecting together here all deal with isolation of some kind or other, but this one is surely the closest analogue of the isolation we’re currently experiencing.

This story was written for a recent anthology called Once Upon a Parsec, published by Newcon Press, and edited by David Gullen, who had the brilliant idea of ‘fairytales told by aliens’ as a theme. Do check it out. There are stories by Jaine Fenn, Una McCormack, Kim Lakin-Smith, Paul Di Filippo, Adrian Tchaikovsky and many others.

My thanks to Ian Whates of Newcon Press for permission to use the story here.

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Isolation story: (13) We Could Be Sisters

One of my best stories.

The character Jessica Ferne previously appeared in the story ‘The Turing Test’ which I included as the third of these ‘isolation stories’.

The artist, Julian Smart, also appears as the major character in another story of mine, ‘Creation’, which is in my collection, Spring Tide.

I like stories that link together. Tammy also appeared in two other stories. One was called ‘Tammy Pendant’ – I incorporated it into my novel Marcher. It caused a minor controversy when it was published in Asimov’s SF in 2004, and contributed to the magazine being withdrawn from school libraries in one of the Midwestern states, I forget which. The other story with Tammy in it was called ‘Poppyfields’ and is included in my Peacock Cloak collection.

‘We Could Be Sisters’ also first appeared in Asimov’s in 2004, and is included in my first short story collection, The Turing Test.

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Isolation story: (12) The Famous Cave Paintings on Isolus 9

It’s got a somewhat preposterous space-opera-y setting (a writer with his own private starship!) but this story is very definitely about isolation. It’s even there in the title.

The character Clancy originally appeared in another story, collected in The Turing Test, called ‘The Marriage of Sky and Sea.’ He’s also the narrator of a story called ‘Monsters’.

This story was first published by Postscripts in 2009 (in anthology #19, Enemy of the Good), and subsequently included in my second collection, The Peacock Cloak.

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