Thursday, November 22, 2018

Birthday Review: Stories of John Grant

On the occasion of Paul Barnett's 69th birthday, here's a compilation of my Locus reviews of a number of his short stories, all of which were published under his "John Grant" pseudonym.

Locus, January 2003

The Autumn 2002 issue of The Third Alternative is also pretty strong throughout. The highlights are a good morally scary piece from Brian Hodge, a solid novel excerpt concerning the Blitz from Graham Joyce, and perhaps most interesting, John Grant's novelette "Wooden Horse". A young man derails his doctoral studies by becoming obsessed with some old British WWII films shown at a seedy local cinema. The recitation of the films involved, and the reason they are so interesting, along with subtle details of the narrator's life, slowly spring the surprise, which is not precisely novel, but well-presented and queasy-making.

Locus, July 2003

John Grant's "No Solace for the Soul in Digitopia" (Live Without a Net), is a fine erotic fantasia of multiple universes, in which a visit to what seems to be our universe reveals the limitations of a computing-based life.

Locus, September 2004

The Third Alternative leads off with a lovely, erotically-charged, novelette from John Grant, "Has Anyone Here Seen Kristie?" The protagonist, devastated by his wife's death, has been pushed by a co-worker to take a vacation in Edinburgh, during the Festival. There he meets by chance a young woman named Kristie, and they spend the week chastely exploring the Festival, getting much more out of it together than the man could have by himself. The culmination is in a sense predictable, but nicely handled with a slightly wistful conclusion.

Locus, November 2004

John Grant's "Q" (Sci Fiction, October) involves a government figure investigating research at a mysterious laboratory. They have learned to scan people's minds, but only usefully to read dreams. Somehow (unconvincingly to me) this leads to a disturbing revelation about the nature of the universe, which is given a cynical political twist. Interesting stuff, but I couldn't quite believe.

Locus, January 2009

John Grant’s “Will the Real Veronica LeBarr Please Stand Down?” is the lead story and the best in the Autumn Postscripts. It’s told from the point of view of a famous actress – perhaps – or is she a simulation of that actress? She works in a whorehouse where the gimmick is that the johns get a liaison with a famous person. And her latest john turns out – scarily – to be only too familiar to her.

Locus, April 2014

I made a point last month about the number of horror stories I liked, and I'll open this month by mentioning another: “His Artist Wife”, by John Grant, from the January-February Black Static. The narrator is a writer of of low-budget paperback entertainments, and his late wife Lucy was a brilliant and popular artist. He's mourning her death while trying to write a much more ambitious novel, based on another real-life couple: a composer and his mysterious wife, who died on their wedding night. Soon enough we realize that Lucy was murdered, apparently by the narrator, apparently because of her affair with the author of some books she illustrated. The story develops gradually, as drawings in Lucy's style begin to appear, depicting versions of her murder; while the new novel goes slowly, while we learn details of the relationship of the composer and his wife; and while Lucy's lover remains the narrator's only human contact. Lots of ambiguity, lots of atmosphere, lots of disquietude. I really liked it.

Locus, June 2014

The March-April Interzone is an excellent outing for the magazine. John Grant contributes another very fine piece: “Ghost Story”, in which Nick, a happily married man, gets a phone call from a girl he was infatuated with at the age of about 8. It seems she's pregnant, and he's the father. But the childhood connection had not continued, and they haven't even met in years – how can this be. An uneasy visit explains nothing really, but Nick is pushed to wonder about what the girl is convinced they did together, and what history she came from. Really fine work, and very well resolved.

Also, here's  a link to my review of his collection Take No Prisoners. (This review first appeared in the June 2004 Locus)

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