‘The Crank that made the Revolution’ by Alasdair Gray

Alasdair Gray is the most wonderful, anarchic, infuriating talent. His writing (and the art that goes with it) soars at times to magnificence, while sometimes his playfulness and general atmosphere of seedy chaos results in odd and uncomfortable misfires. His stories have an unchecked abundance to them – not bound by any sense of decorum or genre. This one – and the delightful illustrations that go with it – is a blunt takedown of the industrial revolution, a kind of Morris-esque Marxist allegory of the problems of modernity. And a very funny story.

First published in Unlikely Stories, Mostly, Canongate, 1983, then collected in Every Short Story by Alasdair Gray, Canongate, 2012. You can hear it read by the author here)

‘Near the Driver’ by Alasdair Gray

It is possible that ‘Near the Driver’ is my favourite Alasdair Gray story simply because I heard him read it before it was published; it is therefore a story I hear in his voice. The central character is a “kind, intelligent old lady” not much used to modern trains who feels safer when she sits near the driver. Though the logic of this is soon disputed by a child in the same compartment, the feeling remains. As the passengers reminisce about the days of steam and argue about politics, the same child discovers that no-one is driving the train – it is being controlled by computer (a much less fanciful notion now, as are the pocket televisions mentioned in its 1999 setting). In many ways it is a typical science fiction warning, but one delivered with Gray’s typical erudition and humour, and always with an eye on the effects of ‘modernisation’ on ordinary people.

First published in Ten Tales Tall and True, Bloomsbury, 1993, and collected in Every Short Story, Canongate, 2012