A review of Caledonia Dreamin' (edited by Hal Duncan and Chris Kelso)

Written by Seregil of Rhiminee (March 20, 2014) [Articles / Reviews]

Caledonia Dreamin' (edited by Hal Duncan and Chris Kelso) was published by Eibonvale Press in November/December 2013.

Information about the editors:

Hal Duncan is a Scottish science fiction and fantasy writer based in Glasgow. A graduate of Glasgow University, his first book, Vellum, about a war between heaven and hell, was released in 2005. It has since been translated into several other languages and nominated to the World Fantasy Award and Locus Award. Ink, the follow up, was released in 2007.

Click here to visit Hal Duncan's official website.

Chris Kelso is a Scottish writer, illustrator, editor and journalist. He has also been printed frequently in literary and university publications across the UK, US and Canada. He and Garrett Cook are the co-creator of 'The Imperial Youth Review'.

Click here to visit Chris Kelso's official website.

Information about Caledonia Dreamin':

Glaikit, mockit, droukit, drouthy, couthy, scunner, thrawn – the Scots language is rich with words too gallus not to glory in, dialect terms that deserve better than to be boxed away as precious oddities. Here we've collected some of the strangest writers of Scottish descent to bring these terms to life – that's Scottish by heritage or residence, adoption or initiation...


Caledonia Dreamin' is a unique and well edited anthology of strange fiction of Scottish descent. It's a daring and original glimpse into Scotland, the Scots language and Scottish culture. Each story is based on or inspired by a Scots word.

It was truly a pleasure to read this anthology, because I don't remember reading anything similar ever before. There have been plenty of anthologies about different themes, but this is the first time that I remember reading an anthology that contains stories based on by Scots words.

The stories in Caledonia Dreamin' range from mainstream fiction to speculative fiction. There are all kinds of speculative fiction elements in these stories: fantasy, horror, science fiction and even magical realism. Some elements are easier found than others, but they can all be found within the covers of this anthology.

The editors, Hal Duncan and Chris Kelso, have collected an impressive amount of strange and different kind of fiction to this anthology. What makes this anthology an especially interesting anthology is that the authors have written stories are of varying length and themes. None of the stories are similar to each other, because each story is original and unique, and each author stays true to his/her own voice.

Caledonia Dreamin' contains the following stories:

- Sweeter Than by Neil Williamson
- Maw by Wendy Muzlanova
- Maukit by Brian Milton
- Fallen Through a Giant's Eyes by T. J. Berg
- Newayr by Douglas Thompson
- The Bouk Puppie Show by Preston Grassman
- The Laird of Nagasaki by Tom Bradley
- Palais 1930 by Rob McClure Smith
- The Losers by Angus McAllister
- Drive the Warlike Angles into the Sea!!! by Nick Mamatas
- Widows in the World by Gavin Grant
- I am not () by Phil Raines
- Studying Honeybloods with the Queen of Exotica by Kirsty Logan
- Mary, Thomas and Joe, Stravaigin by David McGroarty
- For Your Guising by Gio Clairval
- Nae Greeance o' Bane by Tim Jarvis
- Bowfin Island by Anna Tambour

Here's a bit more information about the stories and my thoughts about them:

Sweeter Than by Neil Williamson:
- A story about Sheena and her relationships with Matt and Chris.
- Music plays an important part in this story, because Sheena tries to date and find the right tone.

Maw by Wendy Muzlanova:
- An excellent and heartbreaking story about poor Maw who has gotten herself pregant and gives birth to a baby.
- The author has written this story in a dialect format.

Maukit by Brian Milton:
- A creepy and compelling story about Dave whose behaviour begins to change after swimming in dirty and thick bog water.
- This story is a fantastic and atmospheric weird fiction story.

Fallen Through a Giant's Eyes by T. J. Berg:
- A story about a miner, John Grant, who goes looking for Margaret who has fallen through giant's eyes. The author writes well about John's attempt to find Margaret.
- An intriguing fairy tale for adults.

Newayr by Douglas Thompson:
- A story about girl called Cathy and officer Grayling. At first Cathy thinks that Grayling is an angel, but soon learns more things about him and the world outside her village.
- An excellent story about innocence lost (and about secrets kept and revealed).

The Bouk Puppie Show by Preston Grassman:
- A fascinating and creepy story about Reilly and a puppet show.
- This story has been written in dialect format.

The Laird of Nagasaki by Tom Bradley:
- A bit different kind of a story in which the author combines Puccini's Madama Butterfly, family history, Japanese culture and vampirism.
-  A fascinatingly weird short story.

Palais 1930 by Rob McClure Smith:
- An atmospheric story that has been written well. The author has created a good atmosphere.
- There's a nice old-fashioned feel to this story.

The Losers by Angus McAllister:
- A story about Gray who reads writings on the wall while being in the toilet.
- A wonderfully sharp and observant short story.

Drive the Warlike Angles into the Sea!!! by Nick Mamatas:
- Without going into too many details and spoilers, I'll mention that I have to admit that there's quite an attitude in this story. I liked the way the author wrote about the persons and their dialogues.

Widows in the World by Gavin Grant:
- An excellent postapocalyptic story about the Granny, her family and a moving house.
- An impressive and imaginative story.

I am not () by Phil Raines:
- An outstanding and especially well written story told from the point of view of a young girl.
- This is one of the strongest stories in this anthology.

Studying Honeybloods with the Queen of Exotica by Kirsty Logan:
- A story about Josh and Kelly who study honeybloods.
- A weird and fascinating postapocalyptic atmosphere. The author writes surpringly well about the characters.

Mary, Thomas and Joe, Stravaigin by David McGroarty:
- A story about Mary, Thomas and Joe who drift and wander from place to place.
- This is a well written story about three wandering persons and the places they visit.

For Your Guising by Gio Clairval:
- A story about a teenage girl who takes drugs with his boyfriend and notices that she begins to change.
- A very good and different kind of a story.

Nae Greeance o' Bane by Tim Jarvis:
- An exceptionally well written story about Jeff and Tommy who get lost in the mist on the moor.
- An atmospheric and wonderfully creepy story.

Bowfin Island by Anna Tambour:
- An intriguing story about a travel to Bowfin Island and bird watching.
- A very good story.

These amazing stories take the readers on an imaginative and dream-like trip to Scotland and Scottish culture. There's almost an otherwordly charm to several of these stories. These stories reveal realistic, imaginative and wildly speculative visions of Scotland and Scottish culture to the readers and make the readers fall in love with Scottish words and terms.

Here's a bit of linguistics for readers who aren't familiar with the differences between Scots and English:

Scots language is an interesting language, because - if I'm not mistaken - it's generally regarded as one of the ancient varieties of English, but it has its own distinct dialects. I do remember reading that it has also been treated as a distinct Germanic language. The Scottish words differ greatly from normal English words. If you see a Scottish word that reminds you of an English word, you probably won't know its true meaning unless you look it up from the dictionary.

The authors explore Scots words and dialect in a fascinating way. At the beginning of each story, a Scots word is mentioned and its meaning is explained to the reader. I have to mention that it was educational and interesting to learn new words. I was already familiar with a few of the words, but some of them were unknown to me. I honestly think that readers who are interested in culture and languages will be delighted to read these stories and learn new words.

Readers will get to know such words as greetin, guising, laird, maukit, stravaigin and weirsh etc. Each word has a special meaning, because the Scots language is rich with words and expressions that can't be found in English. I enjoyed reading about how the authors used these words in their stories, because each author had his/her own way of using the words and other expressions.

These stories are well written, dark, beautiful, weird, disturbing, thought-provoking and also amusing stories. All the stories are of high quality, but some of them are slightly better than others. The stories that contain postapocalyptic elements are exceptionally good and gripping in this anthology, because each of them is a small masterpiece of speculative fiction.

Some of these stories will shock you while others will delight you. These stories will linger on the readers' minds and some of them will be quite difficult to forget due to their themes. I'm sure that nobody can ever forget reading about the hungry newborn child, the complaining dead mother and the men who get lost in the moor.

My favourite story in this anthology is Douglas Thompson's Newayr, because it's well written story about young Cathy who meets officer Grayling. Officer Grayling to the village almost like an angel and Cathy thinks of him as an angel. Grayling asks Cathy interview the elders of the village about the time when they fled from The Glow. Soon Cathy learns that Grayling isn't an angel and she begins lose her innocence. This story is a good example of what a talented author is capable of writing and achieving.

Wendy Muzlanova's Maw deserves a special mention, because the author writes fluently about a poor Maw who has gotten herself pregant and gives birth to a baby. She tries to care for her baby as well as she cam, but nursing the baby wears her out. In my opinion the author writes touchingly and heartbreakingly about Maw's situation and suffering. This whole story has been written in Scots dialect.

Presston Grassman's The Bouk Puppie Show is a delightfully twisted story about Reilly and a puppet show. It's a short story, but the author has managed to infuse with a dark atmosphere that it's impossible to forget it. The last sentence of this story is perfect and full of malice.

Gavin Grant's Widows in the World also deserves to be mentioned separately, because it's one of the best postapocalyptic stories I've ever read. The author writes fascinatingly about the Granny, her pregnancy, her family and the moving house. I think that it's possible to call this story weird fiction flavoured science fiction.

Kirsty Logan's Studying Honeybloods with the Queen of Exotica is also worth mentioning. The author has created an interesting postapocalytic story in which honeybloods threaten people.

I also briefly have to mention Tim Jarvis' Nae Greeance o' Bane. This story is definitely one of the best weird fiction flavoured stories I've ever read.

The stories in this anthology offer readers fascinatingly weird glimpses into Scottish culture, Scots language and Scottish identity. The weirdness of the stories stems from the use of old-fashioned and modern weird elements and Scots words. The use of Scots words brings freshness and lingual weirdness to the stories.

The characters in these stories have to deal with several difficult issues from relationships and unexplained urges to pregnancies and complaining dead mothers etc. The human condition is explored surprisingly well in certain stories, because the authors don't shy away from difficult and challenging material. I think it's good that there are authors out there who aren't afraid of exploring ethically and morally challenging issues (this is one of the reasons why I like speculative fiction so much, because several speculative fiction authors dare to address difficult themes in their stories and don't underestimate the intelligence of their readers). Writing thought-provoking stories is a talent that an author either has or hasn't got. Fortunately the authors in this anthology have this talents and they use it expertly.

It's possible that experienced readers will notice that the prose in these stories is of exceptional quality and beauty. Each story has been written well and transports the reader temporarily to another place. To be honest, it's actually amazing how good these stories are and how fluently the authors write about the happenings.

I sincerely hope that Hal Duncan and Chris Kelso will continue to edit more anthologies, because they're talented editors. I intend to read their novels and stories in the near future (I've already read The Book of All Hours duology by Hal Duncan and enjoyed it, but I haven't read anything by Chris Kelso yet).

I have to mention that the cover art by David Rix looks great. It's almost like a work of modern art and evokes weird images in the readers' minds.

I can highly recommend Caledonia Dreamin' to readers who enjoy reading weird and well written stories. Everybody who has ever read strange fiction and appreciates good prose will like the stories in this anthology. There are many wondrous and extraordinary things on the pages of this anthology that await to be found by enthusiastic readers.

Caledonia Dreamin' is one of the best and most original anthologies published during the last couple of years, so don't miss it. It belongs to the bookshelf of every reader who loves compelling, strange and thought-provoking stories.

Highly recommended!