This is going to be a rather short review, because I just don’t have much to say about Robert Charles Wilson’s short story collection, The Perseids and Other Stories (published in 2000). Don’t get me wrong now, Wilson is one of my favorite authors, but as much as I’d like to be able to tell you great things about this collection, I just can’t bring myself to do it. Based on this volume, it appears I’ll have to put RCW into that category of writers who write awesome novels, but whose short stories don’t do much for me (a category he shares with Vernor Vinge, as I discovered a while back).
I should try to explain my lack of enthusiasm. It’s not that this material is badly written; no, it is competent in terms of descriptions, characters, plot structure, and all the mechanical aspects of writing. Wilson is far too good a writer to fail in such an obvious manner. Where most of these stories fall short is in the ideas and concepts they are built upon, and their general atmosphere of strangeness that I just couldn’t connect with. There’s too much of a bizarre occult slant to many of them, too much magic or supernaturalism or just plain weirdness to suit me, and not enough SF of a stricter sort (the kind that provides at least some sort of rational or scientific background for what’s happening). There was also a nagging feeling of insignificance or smallness; largely absent here were what you might call Wilsonian Big Ideas — the kinds of big, bold, world-changing premises that he tackles in his novels.
One exception to that is the title story, “The Perseids,” which provides a mind-warping change of perspective on just what a human being is. Also of some interest is “The Observer,” which also involves a different perspective, this time on the universe and its expansion. This one has Edwin Hubble as one of its characters, and asks whether the universe is actually expanding, or whether we are shrinking. And “Protocols of Consumption” presents some alarming consequences of our society’s overuse of chemicals and medications. However, that’s only one-third of the collection; the rest didn’t leave much of an impression on me, or at least not a positive one.
I can understand Wilson wanting to do something different from what he does with his novels. Something smaller, more intimate if you will, with a different kind of atmosphere. I’m sorry to say it just didn’t work for me, for the most part. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, just a difference of taste between the author and this particular reader. As the saying goes, your results may vary.