- Reality and Other Stories, by John Lanchester. Faber. $24.99.
John Lanchester, whose last novel The Wall was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2019, has won the Hawthornden Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the EM Forster Award, and the Premi Libreter.
Now, comes his first short story collection, Reality, eight stories which essentially reflect the technological ghost in the machine.
Lanchester very effectively merges "the unsettlingness about the new" into the classical ghost story frameworks of authors such as Charles Dickens and MR James.
It's a collection "from which you can't hide, you can't mute, you can't follow, you can't escape, this is reality".
The opening story, "Signal" sees a father telling his nine-year-old son, before their visit to a wealthy friends' Yorkshire estate, "you aren't allowed to ask for the Wi-Fi password before you say hello".
The house is technological heaven for the children.
But who is the strange tall man always staring into a mobile phone who seems to stalk the children?
He is apparently not a house guest and only the children seem to see him.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is here reinvented for the modern era.
In "We Happy Few", a group of young philosophy academics, who regularly meet in a coffee shop, slam social media for its for its encouragement of "the stupid" in believing global lies and fake news.
They contemplate what would happen if we were part of an "all-encompassing artificial computer-created reality" and "all the stupid people suddenly disappear".
"Trolling on a cosmic scale", however, brings a resolution they didn't expect.
In "Cold Call", a stressed female QC, looking after two young children while her husband is away in Africa, is plagued by constant mobile phone demands from Gerald, a father-in-law from hell.
When she ignores his call that would have saved his life, retribution comes in the form of cold calls.
"Charity" begins with a woman bringing to a charity shop a box of her deceased husband's belongings.
It contains more than old clothes and "Clive Cussler paperbacks".
A selfie stick brought back from the Congo produces a reverse Dorian Gray impact on the girl who purchases it.
As in all the other stories, Lancaster underpins his narrative with comments on contemporary society.
In "Charity", he highlights European colonial atrocities and the selfie's curse on those that seek a perfect "self-image".
Lanchester's stories have a Roald Dahlian sting in the tail, as well as providing dark satirical reality checks of society.