Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Nearly People
Conrad Williams
PS Publishing, 78 pages

Nearly People
Conrad Williams
Conrad Williams was born in Warrington, UK in 1969. He has sold over 60 short stories to a variety of publications and anthologies including The 3rd Alternative, Cold Cuts 2, Darklands 2, The Mammoth Book of Dracula, Dark Terrors, Best New Horror 9, The Year's Best Horror XXII and Narrow Houses 3: Blue Motel. In 1993, he won the Littlewood Arc Prize and the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer and his story "Ancient Flavours" was nominated for Best Short Story. In 1998, his debut novel Head Injuries was published then optioned by Revolution Films. He moved to London in 1994 where he worked as a freelance journalist for six years before moving to Southwold to write full-time with the writer Rhonda Carrier.

Conrad Williams Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

Advertisement
Howling Mile: a quarantined zone of urban decay whose barren and unpopulated periphery, the Outermost, is ringed with sentinel towers manned by invisible snipers whose sole purpose is to pick off any plague-ridden denizen who strays too close to freedom.  Patrolled at night by the black copters of the Bordertypes, searchlights arc and probe the gutted buildings and debris-cluttered alleys of the Corridors in deadly enforce of curfew, residents caught out after dark liquefied in the torch of flamethrowers.  Life has been distilled down to daily survival, hunger the constant compulsion that drives the Mile's denizens out into the rubble and contaminated ruins to stalk starved and feral dogs, or silverlings laired in the logs of the collapsed woods encircling the irradiated shores of the Emulsion Ponds, hunts that can at times include each other.  For many, carrion has become a welcome addition to the diet, and dried hands are displayed for sale in the rare shop window still advertising business, trafficking human flesh.  Gangs of Tar Babies roar through the streets, stealing "the lungs of smokers to process into fuel for their motorbikes," while mutant Mowers prey upon the living.  People routinely vanish without a trace, perhaps a victim of common mayhem and violence, maybe arrested and removed by the patrols, fallen to madness and the sure suicide of wandering the Outermost, or simply succumbed in some lonely and forgotten flat to the lesions and corruption left as legacy to the Iridia Wave.

While none of this is particularly original, touched upon by a wide variety of apocalyptic visions imagining the future, from films such as the "Muscles from Brussels'" Cyborg to the writings of Roger Zelazny, Brian Aldiss, or innumerable others, holocaust aftermath continuing to remain one of the more lasting and central themes of science fiction literature, Conrad Williams nevertheless does infuse his novella-length telling with energy and spark in the form of his central character and, more significantly, through his use of metaphor and symbolism.  Considering the circumstances aptly named, Carrier is a young woman who has proven her fitness for survival, daily venturing out, not only to keep herself alive, but as well a lover who is slowly expiring from Iridia's plague.  She has adapted to the cruel hardships and deprivations of her marginal existence, acquiring the predatory skills necessary to negotiate the Mile's deadly byways while not allowing its constant threat and inescapable degradation to destroy either her identity or humanity.  Despite the inherent and added risks, she still insists in visiting an abandoned hospital some nights, where, through the use of an old and decrepit computer, she can communicate with the outside world and experience, even if only momentarily, some contact with life beyond the sudden or slow death that haunts the Mile. 

Yet even the courageous can come to know despair, and Carrier is beginning to feel overwhelmed by the never-ceasing struggle for survival and absence of hope for the future.  She yearns for something more than mere endurance.  As if in answer, a mysterious stranger appears, a spectral Dancer who will show her the Mile as she has never viewed it before, a city and landscape that resides well hidden within her, and offers promise for escape, a chance at redemption.  Her new experiences pose a possibility of salvation that carries unforeseen consequences, as well as a burden of knowledge as horrific as the disease infecting the Howling Mile.

While there is a certain degree of anticipation and disappointment that comes with the Outer Limits-like finale, Williams brings the decayed and plague-ridden streets of his apocalyptic city to life though words and description directed with vivid economy.  The use of metaphor and symbolism elevates this tale beyond a simple recitation of woe or grim harbinging for the future.  However, in the end one might have wished they had served more than conspiracies or a device to spring a not entirely unexpected surprise that awaits the reader at narrative's conclusion.

Copyright © 2002 William Thompson

William Thompson is a writer of speculative fiction, as yet unpublished, although he remains hopeful. In addition to pursuing his writing, he is in the degree program in information science at Indiana University.


SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to editor@sfsite.com.
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide