The words that come to mind when I think about this collection of short stories are “delightfully weird”. Aliens, small towns, Indigenous politics, and aliens. I really don’t know what to compare this to because I don’t think I’ve ever read a collection quite like this.
Van Camp’s distinctive voice comes through loud and clear and he tells stories with an ease that is really lovely to read. There is an oral story-telling feel to many of his tales, as if the narrator is sitting down next to you. (And, indeed, several of the stories have that deliberate set up.)
The stories all take place in and around Fort Smith, NWT and feature Indigenous characters. Some deal with local politics (and living in a small town, this felt both familiarly frustrating and hilarious) and several deal with complicated family relationships. The continuance of language and custom is also a frequent theme.
As are aliens. Van Camp approaches alien presence as almost an aside in the opening story. Aliens aren’t what the story is about, they’re simply there, literally hovering over the town. In two other stories, connected to one another, we learn of a future where our warming climate has awakened an ancient danger. Something vicious and alien that we cannot control and that is quickly destroying us. Climate change and environmental destruction is mentioned only in passing but it’s a powerful metaphor for what’s occurring in our world right now. The second of these two stories feels a little overly complicated, more complex than a single short story can encompass, and I get the feeling we’ll be hearing more of this world that Van Camp has created.
I enjoyed these short stories a lot. If you liked The Lesser Blessed by Van Camp then I’m positive you’ll like his short fiction too. And if you haven’t read Van Camp before then Moccasin Square Gardens makes an excellent introduction.