The Peacock Cloak
by Chris Beckett
Edited by Ian Whates
Cover Artist: Eugene Kapustyanskiy
Review by April Disney
Newcon Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781907069499
Date: 15 February 2013 List Price £10.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In The Peacock Cloak, British author Chris Beckett unveils a masterful collection of gritty science fiction that will capture and haunt readers, a brilliant invention of imagination that is unapologetic in its impact. Beckett shows that he has a gift for foresight which spells not doom but caution in our steps towards our destiny, both as man and society. Each story is gripping in its own way, and it was difficult to pick out just a few to showcase here.
"Johnny's New Job" is a dystopian vision of a haunting future where mob mentality is used by the state as a tool to keep its people in line. By wanting to fit in, Johnny instead makes himself stand out in a piece full of delicious irony.
In "The Caramel Forest", Beckett introduces us to Lutania, a wild land of beauty just waiting to be claimed (destroyed, perhaps?) by humanity. Older settlers attack and kill one native species whom they call goblins on sight. The new waves of settlers -- mostly scientists -- side with a conservationist approach. In some ways, this mirrors our current struggle against what we consider pests: those who cause fear by their very existence, whether intentionally or not. Goblins have a discomfiting way of bringing your hidden thoughts to the surface -- things you feel paranoia over, or fear to be true. To many, the truth is not something we like to hear, at least not starkly and played con brio inside our minds. Yet to a little girl whose very presence is a strain on her parents' relationship, perhaps the truth is the only thing that matters.
"Greenland", one of the strongest in the collection, hits on a few issues that are extremely relevant to modern man. In a world nearly destroyed by the positive feedback loops created by our pollution and population, how would we react to the influx of immigrants on our soil, just trying to survive and feed their families? "Greenland" is told from the perspective of one such immigrant, a young man who jumps at the chance to make sure his wife and daughter have a place in the evolving world. What he gets may be more than he bargained for. This piece highlights issues along the social and scientific ethical scale, including immigration, cloning, medical ethics, and population control.
The following story, "The Famous Cave Paintings on Isolus 9", digs even deeper into the human condition as it follows Clancy (whom Beckett readers might be familiar with because of his previous collection, The Turing Test) through a journey of self-discovery. Clancy, always the lady's man, finally finds himself in love. How will love hold up over the vast distances Clancy travels for his writing? Further complicating things, his visit to the planet Isolus 9 will open more introspection than the famous author has ever experienced. This is a superb short story outlining the nature of love, obsession, fear, and heartbreak.
Others in the collection touch on various themes prevalent in our modern lives or possible futures. The theme winding through them all is the seeming dissociation from the world around us, a recognition of our own individual insignificance in a universe so vast and encompassing that our lives are mere blinks in the eyes of gods. The undeniability of our imperfections (and somehow also our loveliness) shines clear through each character; we are perfect and yet flawed.
Beckett sprinkles his collection with relevant issues, like the classic SF of old. Told with the straightforward but sophisticated style of an author like Ted Kosmatka, coupled with the depth of Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang, The Peacock Cloak is a collection to be taken seriously in literary science fiction.