The dozen stories in this impressive collection from British author Roberts (Salt ), his first U.S. publication, form a natural progression. The style echoes classic British speculative fiction with its focus on individual characters, each meticulously drawn and authentically voiced (particularly the non-Brits). They all steal the spotlight from fantastical surroundings, from the woman in "Dantesque," who has become bored with heaven and begins to look for a way back to hell, to the man in "The Time Telephone," who is so caught up in thoughts of his ordinary life that he dismisses a cry for help from the future. These simple, honest tales showcase heroism, forgiveness and understanding, while not shirking from stark portrayals of error, cowardice and clumsiness. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but this fiction feels strange because it's determined to tell the truth. Unfortunately, it's the same truth every time—in essence, that people remain people no matter where they are—leaving one feeling a bit sledgehammered on reaching the otherwise satisfying conclusion. American readers may be caught unprepared by Roberts's departure from the plot-driven norm, but perhaps this change of pace is just what they didn't know they were looking for. Agent, Anubis Literary Agency. (Aug.)
Forecast: Praise from Peter F. Hamilton and Stephen Baxter will alert their fans to this relatively obscure author.
Release date: 07/01/2005