This evening I finished a collection of Martin Amis short stories (thanks to John B. for the tip), published in 1998 under the title Heavy Water. Something of a mixed bag, the stories themselves were, variously, published in1976, 1978, 1981, 1986, 1992, 1995 and 1998 in the likes of Encounter, Granta, Esquire, the New Statesman and the New Yorker. There are also two previously unpublished stories from 1997. The collection thus covers several Amis periods. The State of England (1985), with its pre-London Fields cockney villain, Big Mal, is a Sopranos-like conceit about the way even gangsters, mobsters and bouncers have ambitions for their children, including putting them in top schools and expecting them to win prizes and be good at sports. Denton’s Death (1976) is a Kafka-esque tale about paranoia. Let Me Count the Times (1981) is a cautionary tale about a combination of obsessive narcissim and onanism. For my money, two inversion tales are both the cleverest and the wittiest. The first, Career Move (1992), has poets feted by Hollywood studio moguls, whilst screenplay writers struggle to get their work published in obscure low-circulation journals. It has what I think is the best comic line in the whole collection, a description of an angry Hollywood mogul; ‘…for a few seconds he looked like a dark-age warlord in mid-campaign, taking a glazed breather before moving on to the women and children.’ The choice of the adjective ‘glazed’ is Amis on top form. The second, Straight Fiction (1995), paints a society where to be gay is ‘straight’ and heterosexuals are a small but vocal protest group. Both are very funny but also clever ways of confronting our subliminal prejudices. Which reminds me that I learned from the Nevius book (see this post) that until as recently as 1967 it was a criminal offence in New York to sell alcohol to a known homosexual (see here, for example). The Janitor on Mars (1998) is Amis showing off some erudite science fiction but it sums up in one line what Olaf Stapledon took a book to explain about human beings: we ‘…are very talented adorers.’