In his introduction to Breathmoss and Other Exhalations, Ian R. MacLeod offers his definition of the stories he desires to tell:
“stories that make us think, stories which surprise us not because they’re showing us something new, but because they’re revealing through a lie’s tilted mirror something we suddenly realize with that lovely rush of recognition we’ve known all along.”
Here is a brief description of each story in this collection.
“Breathmoss” is set on a world where men are rarely seen. What effect will it have on Jalila when Kalal sails into her life? Like all of the more fantastic tales in this collection, the world-building is exquisite.
In “Verglas,” a man must come to terms with the transformation of his wife and children on a strange world.
“The Chop Girl” is set in an Allied bomber base during World War II and explores the themes of superstition, luck and love.
“The Noonday Pool” imagines a strange encounter in a forest between the aged composer Edgar Elgar and a young, lost girl. It looks at the process of artistic creation and the influences of nature and the wild.
“New Light on the Drake Equation” is a very human story of one man’s search for alien life.
In the dream-like “Isabel of the Fall”, a woman must sacrifice much to fulfill her role of being a “Dawn-Singer”. The author shows us brief glimpses of a fascinating world in this story.
“The Summer Isles” is a frightening tale that imagines England becoming a fascist state after the Second World War. The protagonist, Geoffrey Brook, is an old man which made a refreshing change. This novella won the 1999 World Fantasy Award for long fiction.
This is literate speculative fiction and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Each short story contains high-quality world-building, beautiful descriptions, and memorable characters. It should be noted that most of the characters are passive; things happen to them and we follow their reactions to such events. Some reviewers have called these stories boring. Perhaps they were looking for more action-packed fare?
It took me a while to finish the book, but I enjoyed almost all the stories in here. Admittedly the narrative pace can be fairly slow, but I found myself getting immersed in the weird and wonderful worlds MacLeod has created. Parts of these stories have stayed with me and I still think about them.
My favourites were “The Noonday Pool”, “New Light on the Drake Equation”, “Isabel of the Fall”, and “The Summer Isles.”
“The Chop Girl” (1999)
“The Noonday Pool” (1995)
“New Light on the Drake Equation” (2001)
“Isabel of the Fall” (2001)
“The Summer Isles” (1998)