by Brian Stableford
Review by John Berlyne
PS Publishing Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 1904619401
Date: Early 2006 List Price £25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The star studded list of authors published by Peter Crowther's extraordinary PS Publishing outfit continues to expand, exponentially it seems. Over the next few months there are no less than a dozen titles in the pipeline and for the first time, Crowther has produced advance copies of some of these books so that reviews can be placed in time for publication. So, there's quite a bit of reading in the pipeline for me then! (Sometimes this job is a killer!!)
First up is a shortish novel, Streaking by Brian Stableford - the prolific British author who has visited every corner of the genre in his long and impressive career. Additionally he has written many short stories and works of genre related non-fiction and to top all that Stableford has also translated a number of French works into English. It's safe to assume then that with such a resume (the blurb at the back of my copy informs us that this author is nearing publication of his one hundredth book!), a writer like Stableford is going to deliver the goods -- and so it proves.
Streaking is a story about luck, specifically the luck of one man, Canny Kilcannon, aka the Earl of Cresdale. At the story's start, Stableford interestingly presents our protagonist at a pivotal moment in his life. Canny is introduced whilst working the gaming tables of Monte Carlo, a dashing figure, almost Bond-like. Canny is not profligate in his gambling, but he does have a habit of winning more often than not. He does this with an assured and understated confidence and though he displays few extravagances in his winning streaks, the ever watchful 'House' does become aware of his continued defiance of the odds. The casino authorities can tell however that Canny is no cheat, and as such it's no bad thing to have him around (given that other, less lucky gamblers may be inclined to place more bets knowing that someone near them keeps winning) -- however, it is not only the House that has spotted Canny's talents, others are watching - not least the Eastern European Mafia and supermodel Lissa Lo, one of the most beautiful women in the world.
As all this is established, we learn also that Canny must return home, for his father, the Earl of Cresdale is on his deathbed and is likely to die within hours. We are told that Canny's luck at the tables is no random thing, rather it is a family trait stretching back generations. The Kilcannon Luck is a phenomenon passed from father to son, and done so only with the strict adherence to certain archaic rules and regulations. It has been thus for centuries. Furthermore, at the point of inheritance, when the father dies, the luck itself wanes to the point where the Kilcannons have as much or as little chance as everyone else in the world. Only when the new Earl produces a son of his own does the luck become restored.
This premise provides a fascinating field of play on which Stableford explores the concept of luck and he does so from every conceivable angle. The resulting story is very much an intellectual one. The geography here is not epic and the cast of characters requires no dramatis personae. Instead, with deft and brilliantly handled economy, Stableford examines what it means to be lucky and through the self-questioning nature of Canny, we gain insight into "Luck" as folklore, as myth, as philosophy, as science, as fantasy. Questions on the subject develop into arguments, then develop further into hypothesis and, indeed, the entire piece could be read as a thesis on the subject. Throughout though, Stableford keeps all these intellectual viewpoints tightly and rigidly part of his narrative. Consequently this is no dry, academic read -- "stuff" happens all the way through ï-- deaths, sex, crimes, all the things we want to read about in a thiller! By the end though, and in spite of one or two false endings that perhaps roughen the ride just a little, the enduring thing about Streaking is how it forces you to consider its subject most carefully. It's a very well executed work indeed.
Find out more about Brian Stableford and his work at this semi-official author web site.