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As Flimsy as Lace

Unlikely Stories, Mostly

By Alasdair Gray 

1 Nov, 2022

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Alastair Gray’s Unlikely Stories, Mostly is a collection of short pieces. It was first published in 1983; an amended edition appeared in 1997.

This is a collection of whimsical, often but not always fantastical pieces. Although generally comic in form, there is often a dark undercurrent, particularly where the Axletree Empire (one part Rome, one part Tower of Babel) is concerned. For the most part, the stories are amusing and engaging (or at least short, the sole exception being Sir Thomas’s Logopandocy, which is interminable and incomprehensible).

If you were curious about the author but unwilling to commit to reading Lanark, you want to take a look at this collection. While there are some novella-length pieces, most of the stories herein are quite short. Because they are so short, there is room for a great number and diverse assortment of stories, giving the impression of a much longer collection. Not that 304 pages is short.

Unlikely Stories, Mostly is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

The Star” • (1951) • short fiction

A schoolboy’s curiosity about a falling star results in a delicious transformation.

I am sure someone somewhere wrote a story in which British teachers are presented sympathetically but this is not one of them. 

The Spread of Ian Nicol” • (1956) • short fiction

An unprecedented medical issue leaves Nicol beside himself.

The Problem” • (1983) • short fiction

Misplaced candor nobbles astronomical romance.

The Cause of Some Recent Changes” • (1957) • short story

Careless talk inspires a student to transform the world.

Ah, the backstory to a particular Michael Reaves novel, which I cannot name without spoiling the story.

The Comedy of the White Dog” • (1970) • short story

An affronted husband’s effort to displace his wife’s dog succeeds beyond his wildest dreams.

Have I done five stories featuring bestiality for Tor? Probably best if I don’t.

The Crank That Made the Revolution” • (1971) • short story 

The curious history of the man who gave the world the crank.

Another entry in the field of fictional non-fiction, for which I wish I had a better name. 

The Great Bear Cult • (1983) • novelette 

The strange history of a once-influential, now forgotten British social movement.

Same genre as Crank. 

The Start of the Axletree” • (1979) • short story

The first of several stories about the Axletree Empire, this details how a metaphor became a dominant paradigm.

Five Letters from an Eastern Empire • (1979) • novella 

A poet recruited by the Axletree Empire slowly grasps the full horror of that which he serves.

Sir Thomas’s Logopandocy • (1983) • novella

Having perused this several times without much result, I am inclined to agree with the reviewer who claimed it was lists by a madman.”

M Pollard’s Prometheus • (1983) • novelette

An intellectual dwarf A highly intelligent man of small stature becomes a poet’s muse and in so doing loses her.

The End of the Axletree • (1983) • novelette 

The rise and fall and rise and fall of the great empire and the lessons posterity should take from its history.

A Unique Case” • short fiction 

Traumatic injury reveals unprecedented anatomical details.

Inches in a Column • short fiction

A bold con-man’s bid for freedom is undone because he is a creature of habit.

A Likely Story Outside a Domestic Setting” • (1983) • short story

An extremely short piece about a failing relationship.

A Likely Story Within a Domestic Setting” • (1983) • short story

An extremely short piece about a relationship running aground due to disagreement re reasonable expectations.