Stalin’s Teardrops and Other Stories
The tales in STALIN’S TEARDROPS AND OTHER STORIES are held together by the fact that they all occur in a world just slightly different from the familiar; that, and Ian Watson’s bizarre imagination. In “The Human Chicken,” for example, an otherwise ordinary couple produces a chicken as offspring. The rest of the world is just as one would expect it to be, and no explanation is given for the blessed event.
Perhaps the most firmly grounded story is “The Eye of the Ayatollah,” in which a young man blinded in Iran’s war with Iraq finds himself in possession of the eye of the dead Ayatollah Khomeini. He becomes involved in a plot to use the eye to search for Salman Rushdie. Neither Khomeini nor Rushdie is named explicitly, but the context is obvious. The story, aside from a psychic bent, is straightforward and predictable. Likewise, “The Case of the Glass Slipper,” a pastiche of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, is clever but unsurprising.
That can be said of none of the remaining tales. In the title story, cartographers hired to distort maps find themselves in a “dead space,” an area that would be hidden on a relief map. “In the Upper Cretaceous with the Summerfire Brigade” is a superb blending of two small plots, one a standard tale of a writer struggling with his long-forthcoming novel and the other an inventive exploration of how time travel opens the possibility for hijacking.
Watson is immensely skilled at introducing bizarre settings or circumstances and making them believable. He uses just enough explanation to render his unusual conceptions plausible, then lets his powerful storytelling take over. Although his characters are interesting and vivid, his settings and situations—time travel, soil with lips, holograms with demons, and even the birth of a human chicken—are what make these stories a joy to read.