Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The Caltraps Of Time - David I Masson

This is a remarkable collection of short stories. They are well written, erudite, and leavened with flashes of wit. What is all the more remarkable is that the ten stories in this expanded edition (the original contained just seven) are the only pieces of fiction the author ever wrote. And whilst every reading of the book leaves me wishing there was more, every reading also uncovers further layers of meaning and a richness that derives from the originality and elegant complexity of the work.

These are stories with two major themes – time and linguistics. The themes are treated in relation. Language changes with time and reflects the metaphysical stance of a people. The 1960s are explored through the eyes and language of a seventeenth century time traveller. The future is delineated by the language of those who live there. Our perception of time is affected by the situations in which we live. Yet all of this, whilst being the foundation of the stories is, like any good foundation, invisible. Built upon this solid and complex grounding are stories of ordinary people experiencing epic events.

Not only are the stories interesting in themselves, they had an enormous influence on the much younger so-called New Wave writers at the time they were written. This can be seen not just in terms of style and scope, but more directly in specific writers and their work. There are themes and situations that prefigure (or at the very least flower in concert with) Christopher Priest, Michael Moorcock, Robert Holdstock, J G Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Terry Pratchett, and many others. Masson opened many doors and his work continues to do so on re-reading. The stories themselves have, quite appropriately, stood the test of time.