Three tales of serious ailments - and cures that may be worse.
THE LITTLE DOCTOR: After a cataclysmic battle for fundamental human values, notorious war criminal Dr Carne reflects upon his past, his prospects and the fate of humanity.
NEEDLES, PINS AND DOCTOR PROTH: Doctor Proth claims he is curing Modine's acular quadriplegia. Not only does Modine lack confidence in his physician; he isn't even certain there is any such disease.
HOUSE OF STAIRS: As Linnea lies unconscious in hospital, Marquand is drawn into a strange subterranean realm.
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By Tim Stevens
Oct 15, 2009
"Just what the doctor ordered by Tim Stevens" The three stories in this collection are united by a common theme: treatments which might be worse than the conditions they're meant to alleviate. Taking them in turn: in the first and longest, The Little Doctor, a research scientist in a nearish-future dystopia is in prison awaiting likely execution for alleged war crimes, the nature of which is only gradually revealed by an assortment of sources of varying reliability. Challinor develops and sustains a growing tone of menace enhanced by the matter-of-fact prose in which the story is delivered. The starkly symbolic outcome I was expecting did not arrive, and the story is all the more satisfying for this. The closing sentence of the story, more specifically the closing phrase, is profoundly disturbing and resonates with me still. The second story, Needles, Pins and Dr Proth, is absurdist comedy with claws and fangs. Modine finds himself strapped to a table at the mercy of Dr... More > Proth, whose methods are as dubious as the disease he is supposedly treating. I was faintly appalled at how amused I was by it. House of Stairs, my favourite of the three, is the most frightening thing I’ve read in a long time and one of the most frightening stories I’ve ever read. The adjective that shuffles lazily to mind is 'nightmarish', but the suffocating attention to physical detail in this tale is completely at odds with what one usually experiences in a dream (I’m talking about my dreams here; I daren’t speculate about Mr Challinor's). Is the protagonist Marquand hallucinating? What do the stairs mean, who exactly is the grey figure seemingly forever out of reach? There are no straightforward answers. A superb collection, then, of weird tales: eerie, unsettling and thought-provoking. The command of language is masterly, the power of description first-rate, and, best of all, these stories grip. Let's hope Mr Challinor has more up his sleeve.< Less
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