I only review stuff I love. That’s not to say I’m not a critical reader – in truth, I may be one of the most critical readers you could meet – but I choose only to give my writer peers a step up, never a step down.

How can you trust someone that only ever raves about the books he features? How can you assign a value or rating to a stream of books about which he seems to just endlessly gush?

I guess you can’t. However, those that follow my reviews may have developed the ability to recognise when a particular work blows me out of my chair and through the wall; when an author’s command of the English language, when their manipulation of every tool in their toolbox, when the sheer scope of their imagination leaves me reeling for the means by which to communicate my utter astonishment. A few of the titles to have so impressed me include Jeremy Megargee’s Stained and Starless Places, Jessica Lévai’s The Night Library of Sternendach, and of course Mona Kabbani’s The Bell Chime, amongst others.

Stephen Howard’s Condemned to Be now joins that list.

Where do I start with this collection of tales that seems to simultaneously draw from the philosophy-infused sci-fi of Phillip K. Dick, the futuristic hypotheses of Black Mirror, the stark and startling metaphorical descriptions of Cormac McCarthy, and every avenue of Orwell, from his real-world, almost mundane tales of lived experience, to the stories of desperation in the face of oppressive authority?

There’s real scope in this collection, the stories covering a varied and expansive range of settings, timeframes, and themes. This element of unpredictability in a short story collection is a welcome addition, and paired with Stephen’s truly, TRULY masterful writing, we are left with a brilliant reading experience.

First we’re following the story of a downtrodden worker who catches a glimmer of hope in his otherwise mundane and unrewarding life, and then we’re bearing witness to an experiment that blends man and machine. Stephen’s writing is elegant and masterful, and stayed with me long after reading, as I know it’ll stay with you.

Read a master at work. Read Condemned to Be.

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