Jon Gower, Too Cold for Snow (2012)
There are funny stories in Too Cold for Snow; dark stories; poignant ones, too – but all are built on a base of ordinary Welsh life, which Jon Gower then transforms in some way. In the title story, we meet Boz, a jingle-composer who answered a job ad and is now in Siberia, working on a documentary about a reindeer-herding people. Gower creates an effective contrast between Boz’ and the herders’ lifestyles, and shows how the gap between them starts to be bridged.
‘The Pit’ is the tale of a miner who became trapped in a collapsed pit, and had to take extreme measures to survive. A borderline-supernatural twist makes this piece a genuine chiller. ‘TV Land’ is a satirical treatment of celebrity culture, in which a burger van proprietor who uses rather… unusual ingredients is invited on a local chat show and his secrets exposed. Gower’s story is absurd, but only just, and has significant bite because of that.
‘White Out’ is a beautifully written piece in which an avalanche has covered north Wales; a sheep farmer explores the ruined landscape, encountering no one but a mysterious young girl. The closing revelation is especially moving, in one of the highlights of a varied and textured collection.
Tim Maughan, Paintwork (2011)
Paintwork is a collection of three stories set in a near future where the online space has become thoroughly integrated with individuals’ sensorial. Tim Maughan’s tales explore issues of control and authenticity in that world.
The story ‘Paintwork’ itself concerns 3Cube, a guerrilla artist whose speciality is replacing QR codes on billboards with his own, to give people artistic vistas rather than commercial messages. But the artist finds that his latest work is being vandalised, faster than should be possible. Subsequent events 3Cube to question whether he’s behind the times, with his romanticism and insistence on old-fashioned methods (such as hand-cut stencils) – and to question how much he’s in charge of his own work.
Similar considerations emerge in ‘Havana Augmented’, whose young protagonists have created an augmented-reality version of a popular fighting game. Business, government, and a major gaming clan all take an interest, and a game on the streets of Havana becomes a fight for something deeper. Perhaps this story isn’t as complex as ‘Paintwork’ in its examination of issues, but it is engaging nonetheless.
The structural similarities of Paintwork’s stories can make individual aspects of them less satisfactory – the beginning of ‘Paparazzi’ (a piece in which a journalist is sent into an MMORPG to investigate a prominent gamer) is a little heavy on exposition in comparison to the other two, though the sting-in-the-tale ending may be the best in the book. But the overall impression left by Maughan’s collection impresses most – the strong sense of tackling issues of a kind that might face us just around the corner.