Ian R Macleod

Glittering Reviews for Frost on Glass

The June issue of Locus Magazine contained three sparkling reviews for my latest collection...

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Gardner Dozois:

This month brings another early contender for the title of Best Collection of the Year, FROST ON GLASS by Ian R. MacLeod, a collection of 11 stories and copious interstitial material (forewords, afterwords, and autobiographical non-fiction pieces), mixing science fiction, fantasy, and harder-to-classify slipstreamish stuff. It’s hard not to compare this to Ian McDonald’s collection, THE BEST OF IAN McDONALD – like McDonald, MacLeod is another British writer who’s not exactly an unknown name to genre readers (he’s won two World Fantasy Awards and a Clarke Award), but who tends not to get the kind of appreciation he really deserves, either, especially on the American side of the Atlantic. Probably neither of them pulls in the big bucks from publishers, and they only occasionally feature on Hugo Award ballots even in non-Sad Puppy years, but both of them really should be ranked amongst the top SF/fantasy writers producing today.

The majority of the stuff here is strong, vivid, core science fiction, such as ‘‘The Discovered Country’’, ‘‘Entangled’’, ‘‘Re-Crossing the Styx’’, and ‘‘The Cold Step Beyond’’. I considered ‘‘The Discovered Country’’ to be perhaps the single strongest SF story of 2013, and ‘‘Entangled’’ is very nearly as good. There’s also a previously unpublished novella here, the title story ‘‘Frost on Glass’’, about a once-famous writer now living in a community for writers in what seems to be an England taken over by a totalitarian Communist Red Guard-style revolution. He must somehow break a decades-long writers block and produce something new or face exile or even death. The story is bleak and autumnal, with regret for lost years the dominant emotion, but it is beautifully, even lyrically, crafted, and the character of the writer, who sees his own shortcomings and failures all too clearly, a glum but interestingly complex one.

Rich Horton:

Ian R. MacLeod is one of our finest writers and a collection from him is major news. FROST ON GLASS combines several interesting pieces of non-fiction with some of his exceptional recent fiction, along with interstitial material discussing the stories and essays. There is one new novella, ‘‘Frost on Glass’’, which is very fine work about a writer in an oppressive future Britain who has been granted residency on a lovely island after the success of his novel, but who seems permanently blocked and is afraid he will be banished (where? Who knows?) when the authorities realize he hasn’t written anything. Then a new librarian appears, and she offers him a potential escape. Quite interesting, and, of course, very well written. 

Gary K Wolfe:

If spending a rambling afternoon in a pub with Ian R. MacLeod doesn’t seem like an immediate prospect, his new collection FROST ON GLASS might be the next best thing. I’ve always had mixed feelings about authors who are profligate with story notes and Afterwords in their story collections; on the one hand I read them with great Curiosity, looking for insights into the process of writing, but on the other they too often read like the affection-seeking patter between numbers at a concert. MacLeod’s collection is entirely different, at times reading like a long conversation about writing and life, with illustrations in the form of the 11 stories that make up the core of the collection. Most of the wordage comes from these stories, but with an afterword to each one, plus seven additional non-fiction pieces, the overall sense is that of what used to be called a miscellany, to be dipped into almost at random. That would be a mistake.

MacLeod turns out to be as deeply literate and introspective in his essays as in his fiction, and the collection itself is a carefully constructed instrument.

Opening with one of his better-known recent tales, ‘‘The Discovered Country’’, he immediately establishes the quiet and almost nostalgic tone of much of his fiction, as a musician who once accompanied a world-famous star follows her into a kind of digital afterlife in a luxurious estate called Elsinore, where the elite guests are waited on by AI constructs called chimera. But, as is also characteristic of MacLeod, the author not only seduces readers with his richly visual imagination, but also plants details early in the story – such as those chimera – which permit him a later plot twist that reveals the tale to be a good deal more tough-minded than we first suspected.

He does much the same thing later in the collection in ‘‘Re-Crossing the Styx’’, another quasi-posthumous tale about wealthy people cheating death (this seems to be a concern of his), this time aboard a cruise ship, where a tour director falls in love with a ‘‘minder’’ who takes care of one of the decrepit, zombie-like ‘‘post-living’’, but is surprised to learn that she’s actually the old geezer’s wife. Scheming ensues.

Here is one of the arguments both for and against story afterwords: they can either validate a reader’s insight, or seem to steal that insight entirely. Halfway through, I began thinking that the plot had distinct echoes of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE; when in the afterword MacLeod said that was exactly what he was up to, I felt both a bit smug and a bit co-opted.

For the most part, though, MacLeod’s afterwords and essays together constitute one of the most thoughtful and unself-conscious discussions of writing that I’ve seen from a practicing SF writer, from the ambiguity toward genre to the influence of favorite writers like Keith Roberts, his discovery of science fiction, his fondness for the disappearing classic English ghost story, and even the impact of music from Gustav Holst to Keith Jarrett to King Crimson.

It’s either courageous or foolhardy to title the afterword to a particular story ‘‘On Writing Rubbish’’, particularly when the story it follows isn’t rubbish at all, though it is a rather predictable Borgesian fable, ‘‘The Traveller and the Book’’, about a man who discovers a blank book which summons into reality whatever he writes in it. It turns out that what MacLeod is actually talking about isn’t so much publishing rubbish as finally working through an idea that wouldn’t jell in an earlier form, which is apparently what happened in this case.

There is also a fable-like quality to some of the other stories here – ‘‘Hector Makes a Sale’’, a dark tale about an indefatigable salesman with an unusual product; ‘‘The Cold Step Beyond’’, about a warrior woman learning a lesson in the fantasy-like far future world of his earlier story ‘‘Breathmoss’’; ‘‘A Concise and Ready Guide’’, a sort of etiquette manual for vampires. These and other stories like ‘‘The Crane Method’’, with its credit-grabbing archaeology professor and almost Lovecraft-like excavation scene, reveal that a good many of MacLeod’s tales are structured like horror stories, though with the Awful Revelation a good deal more subtle than in purely affect-driven tales.

That subtlety is also present in the first of a trio of tales with which he concludes the book, and which are three of the strongest stories here, each in a different way somewhat dystopian. ‘‘Tumbling Nancy’’ is narrated by a literary agent who inherits the account of a vile author of bad children’s books, and who cynically decides they might be just awful enough to create a franchise, until a visit to the author seems to trap her in a world as unformed as those in the books.

‘‘Entangled’’, which made it into two year’s bests last year, is set in a rather dismal world in which a virus has enabled most people to become ‘‘entangled’’ in an enormous sort of group consciousness. The protagonist is unable to join, however, because of brain damage caused ¨ by a bullet wound during a traumatic confrontation years earlier; the twist – again a horror story gesture – is that the event is not quite as she remembered it.

The most haunting story in the book, though – and the most overtly dystopian – is the one original story, ‘‘Frost on Glass’’. It’s set on a coastal island off a diminished and poverty-stricken future UK (apparently), where a colony of writers are afforded privileges and supplies not available to the desperate mainland population – but only as long as they produce, and their work passes the elaborate rules and regulations of an oppressive bureaucracy.

The protagonist is the author of a wildly popular bestseller, and has been bluffing that a new novel is on the way, although all he really has is a severe writer’s block that has resulted in page after page of nonsensical scraps. A new young librarian seems to offer some sort of hope, and MacLeod evokes this bleak setting with his usual strong visual sense, but the odd effect of this curious mixture is to evoke in part the Cultural Revolution, in part King’s Misery, and even vaguely FAHRENHEIT 451. It’s easily the oddest tale of a writer’s colony I’ve ever seen, and it’s one of the most affecting. MacLeod has long established himself as one of the most capable SF writers at crafting elegant sentences and evoking sensually convincing worlds, but he’s also one who puts ingredients together like no one else.


Frost On Glass - Final, final cover

The final, final cover is slightly different from the merely "final" one - which may become a collector's edition along with the famous "Wicked Bible", as it contained a significant number of typos. The lettering typeface is simpler and, I think, a small improvement. You can order it here...


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Frost on Glass---Final Cover

Here’s the final cover for my new short story collection, which will be launched at Dysprosium, this years Eastercon, at The Park Inn, Heathrow from 3-6 April 2015. I will be attending. ‘In the title novella of this collection, a famous, creatively-blocked novelist faces exile or execution unless he can write a new story, and the theme of writing threads through the pages of this dazzling new collection.The book contains eleven stories that explore strange pasts and new futures, plus non-fiction pieces drawn from the writer’s life, substantial commentaries on the origins and development of each of the stories, and a major new essay on how ideas are developed. Both a magnificent gathering of fiction and a penetrating examination of the craft of writing, Frost on Glass memorably showcases and analyses the storytelling genius of Ian R MacLeod.’ Click the picture for a larger size.



Solaris Rising 3 - The Howl

solarisThere's a new story jointly written by Martin Sketchley and me in Solaris Rising 3, edited by Ian Whates. It's called 'The Howl', and is my first ever collaboration... You can buy the book, which also contains stories by many other well-known writers, by clicking HERE


Frost on Glass---New Story Collection

frost-glass tooMy new collection, Frost on Glass, will be published by PS Publishing spring 2015. The brand new title story is a dystopian novella set on a writers' commune, and there's also a long new essay about that perennial subject of where writers get their ideas from, along with ten of my best recent stories bookended by substantial afterwords and a generous selection of some of my other non-fiction writing which has appeared here and there over the years. A big, fat Christmas pudding of a book, in other words. The title reflects the delights and frustrations of writing fiction, which is a theme which runs through much of the rest of Frost on Glass. The contents page will look something like this...


Introduction:  Don’t Look Back.


The Discovered Country

Afterword: Silver Machines


Hector Douglas Makes a Sale

Afterword: A Cul-de-Sac in Los Angeles


Foreword: Different Warts and All

A Truncated Life in Books


The Cold Step Beyond

Afterword: The Future isn’t Real


A Concise and Ready Guide

Afterword: Bloody Dragons


An Empty Grey Cell of One’s Own


Re-Crossing the Styx

Afterword: On Being Dark


The Traveller and the Book

Afterword: On Writing Rubbish


I’ve Got This Idea For A Story…


The Crane Method

Afterword: Rejection


The Decline of the English Ghost story


Letter to Will

Afterword: Those Who Can’t…


Me and the Mushroom Cloud


Tumbling Nancy

Afterword: Other Writers 


Frost on Glass

Afterword: Writer’s Block



Afterword: Volcanoes and Dinosaurs


'Year's Best' Anthologies

dozois 2014 strahan 8 horton 2014

The 2014 crop of 'Year's Best' anthologies have started to arrive, and I'm happy to say that I have stories in the three pre-eminent volumes. Gardner Dozois selected both my 2013 Asimov's stories, 'The Discovered Country' and 'Entangled' for inclusion in his mighty tome, and Jonathan Strahan and Rich Horton each chose one of them.

kasterAnd here's another!


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