Birthday Reviews: Stephen Gallagher’s “God’s Bright Little Engine”

Birthday Reviews: Stephen Gallagher’s “God’s Bright Little Engine”

Cover by Michelle Prahler
Cover by Michelle Prahler

Stephen Gallagher was born on October 13, 1954.

Gallagher received the British Fantasy Award for his 2004 collection Out of His Mind and in 2007, he earned the International Horror Guild Award for Short Fiction for his story “The Box.” He has also been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and twice for the World Fantasy Award. In addition to his fiction, Gallagher is also a writer for television, developing the series Eleventh Hour and Crusoe. He wrote the Doctor Who serials “Warrior’s Gate,” starring Tom Baker, and “Terminus,” during Peter Davison’s tenure.

Gallagher originally published “God’s Bright Little Engine” in Peter Crowther and Edward E. Kramer’s 1995 anthology Tombs. Gallagher also included the story in his 2004 British Fantasy Award-winning collection Out of His Mind.

In “God’s Bright Little Engine,” Helen is an elder-care nurse whose life is focused entirely, and not entirely by her desire, on her patients. In her run-down apartment she has built one of her few relationships with Big Andy, the slow-witted handyman who lives below her. Their relationship, such as it is, appears to be based on his infatuation with Helen and Helen’s need to have someone fix things around her apartment.

The story revolves around the emptiness in Helen’s life. She doesn’t particularly like her job, although she is apparently good at it, she doesn’t like her run-down apartment, and she sees Big Andy solely in terms of someone she can exploit because he likes her. The status quo takes a turn for the worse when Helen returns home to find some repairs had been done to her apartment while she was at work. Following a confrontation with Big Andy, who clearly had found her spare key, she also discovers that he has been spying on her through the floorboards of her apartment.

While the story could have become a study in a woman’s fear of a man in her life, whether real or paranoid, Gallagher throws in a twist that almost makes Helen feel guilty for her suspicions about Andy, as realistic as they might be. The story also remains firmly rooted in reality until near the end when Gallagher attaches a coda which feels unnecessary, but definitely moves the story into the dark fantasy realm.

Reviewed in its original appearance in the anthology Tombs, edited by Peter Crowther and Edward E. Kramer, White Wolf Publications, 1994.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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