Cold Comfort and Other Stories
by David McDonald
Publisher: Clan Destine Press
Cover Art: ???
Release Date: December 2014
David McDonald is an Australian speculative fiction author who has written several short stories and his first novel, a novelization of a Canadian movie, was released last month. For full disclosure, the author is a friend of mine. The collection, Cold Comfort and Other Stories, features three of McDonald's short stories, two reprints and one original.
"Cold Comfort." This first story is an apocalyptic tale set centuries in the future where Earth is in the grips of an Ice Age and humanity is now confined to domed structures. The main character, Vanja, is a woman trader who travels between the settlements bringing crafts and news, though her true passion is being an explorer and learning history. After an attack by wild animals, Vanja comes across a dome that has not had a visitor for years and must deal with their backward preconceptions. In the process, she learns the truth behind humanity's precarious existence.
"Cold Comfort" is quite a good story with good prose, competent writing, and an interesting main character. The use of prejudice is well handled without overdoing it and so is the revelation of the reason for mankind's current existence. I could easily see this expanded into a novel. The only quibbles I have with the story have to do with a few elements of the world-building. For instance, Vanja is a trader, however, she doesn't seem to carry anything except a small backpack's worth of items for trade, which to me would hardly justify her journeys. Or at least, we the readers don't "see" the items; we're only told she has them. So perhaps a little more "showing" instead of "telling".
"Through Wind and Weather." This story is the shortest of the bunch at just a couple of pages. It's about a space pilot who teams up with a wacky A.I. to deliver badly needed goods to a planet and must survive solar storms to get there in time.
There is a lot of good stuff in this story: solar storms, a bold pilot, an A.I. considered odd even for his kind, and a quick, tense plot. While reading this I was thinking that this story really needs to be longer to really explore everything properly, until I got to the end and realized the story is long enough for what it is. I can't reveal anything without spoiling it, but I have to say it feels strange that the story length is both just right and not long enough.
"Our Land Abounds." The last story is the original of the three and might be the most polished. "Our Land Abounds" is set in the near-future where the world has suffered from shortages in food and other resources while Australia has manged to prosper by using its isolation to its advantage The main character works in the government as an immigration officer who is hardened to his job, but still feels empathy with the people he deals with.
I thought this was a good story dealing with immigration and scarcity, about what happens when people and countries do what is needed to survive. The main issue I have is that it really isn't long enough. The main character empathizes with an immigrant, but there isn't enough done with how he comes to feel that way and what he does with those feelings after.
Cold Comfort and Other Stories is a pretty decent collection of stories from an up and coming author. The stories aren't perfect so McDonald still has a little ways to go as a writer, but with more experience he will certainly make a name for himself.