Home > Book Reviews > Book Review – The Rock Pool by Niall McMahon

Book Review – The Rock Pool by Niall McMahon

The Rock Pool is a short collection of horror and science fiction stories by British author Niall McMahon. It is available, along with the author’s second collection The Keeper’s Curse, as an ebook for the absurdly low price of 70 pence or equivalent on Amazon. If you are even remotely interested in reading horror and science fiction stories that are both pacy and well constructed, then you can do worse than getting yourself a copy of The Rock Pool.

The first story, “Fisher’s Mirror”, is a clever take on an old theme – that of the mysterious mirror that shows you a reflection different to the one you’re expecting. In this case the magical mirror shows Pete Fisher a glimpse of his future form, with devastating results. Poor old Pete can’t seem to shake his fate, and while it’s true that this kind of story has been done before, McMahon produced a couple of clever riffs on the theme – not least by including the Challenger shuttle disaster.

“Stasis” is a science fiction tale reminiscent of those the Golden Age SF writers like Asimov or Clarke might have produced. The story is an interesting thought experiment about life on board an interstellar vessel, but the narrative itself is not fleshed out enough for my liking. The final few pages, in which the vessel finally reaches a habitable alien world, is more compelling, but ultimately this story doesn’t reach its potential.

The title story, “The Rock Pool”, is another clever horror story containing some well constructed images of a seaside town and the secret that ‘Sarah’ has buried there. Nothing is ever as it seems in a story by Niall McMahon, and “The Rock Pool” is a good example. Throughout the story, the reader is led to believe one thing, and then another, and then another. The author also has a knack for endings.

But by far my favourite story in this collection is “Mindcast,” a dystopian science fiction tale that recalls not only Orwell and Huxley, but the film ‘Logan’s Run’ as well. Here McMahon has taken the well worn theme of mind control leading to a dystopian nightmare and put his own spin on it. In “Mindcast”, humans have been enslaved by the aptly-named ‘Fuses’, which are parasitic organisms living in the brains of individual people. Our protagonist Gavin wakes one day to find himself with the task of procreating. Not only does the Fuse guide his thoughts, but it also produces feelings of hunger or sexual appetite in him, thus controlling his world totally. In time honoured fashion, Gavin learns of the machinations underpinning his world over the course of the story. The Rock Pool is worth purchasing for this story alone; it demonstrates McMahon’s prowess as a writer of macabre and clever fiction.

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