Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2012 Evelyn C. Leeper.


"The Best Christmas Ever" by James Patrick Kelly:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/17/2005]

"The Best Christmas Ever" by James Patrick Kelly (scifi.com 5/26/04) is about a man surrounded entirely by robots ("biops") who take on the forms of family, friends, pets, and whatever else is needed to keep him happy. But he isn't. This is another story for which I can't understand its nomination. It's not that I don't like Christmas stories. I do like "A Christmas Carol" (the Alistair Sim version), "It Happened One Night" and "Miracle on 34th Street", and also Thomas Hardy's poem "The Oxen". But on the whole, the mere invocation of the holiday is not going to boost a story in my estimation.


BURN by James Patrick Kelly:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 05/12/2006]

"Burn" by James Patrick Kelly (ISBN 1-892-39127-9) was yet another Hugo nominee that I gave up on. There was just something about the writing style that I found impenetrable.

To order Burn from amazon.com, click here.


"Plus or Minus" by James Patrick Kelly:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/15/2011]

"Plus or Minus" by James Patrick Kelly (in ASIMOV'S 12/10) is yet another entry in the "let's-respond-to-Tom-Godwin's-'Cold- Equations'" sweepstakes. (Has anyone compiled a list of these?) Kelly has a bit more characterization, but it serves more to obscure the story than develop it.


THINK LIKE A DINOSAUR by James Patrick Kelly (Golden Gryphon, ISBN 0-9655901-9-4, 1997, 275pp):

This volume contains fourteen of Kelly's best stories, including two Hugo nominees and four Nebula nominees (a fifth, "Saint Theresa of the Aliens," is missing). The title story is the best known, and the most discussed, of all of them. Some see it as a response or follow-up to Tom Godwin's "Cold Equations." It can be seen that way, but the "equation" in Godwin's story is a function of the physical universe, while that of "Think Like a Dinosaur" is more artificially created. And in fact it's not a new idea, but has been part and parcel of teleportation discussions for a long time now. Kelly combines it well with an alien sub- plot, though, and makes it interesting from that perspective.

The other stories represent the best of Kelley's work, and make it available in a permanent form.

This is the first volume from a new publisher, Golden Gryphon, and is a very well-produced volume. The single-author short story collection is not as dead as some claim. It isn't even relegated to the small press, as some would have--just this month sees the publication of a single-author collection by Ace, for example. But these collections do have an extra hurdle (as do reprint anthologies, for that matter): readers may decide they already have some or most of the stories and pass them up. In the case of THINK LIKE A DINOSAUR, what will work against its success is the fact that all but one of the stories in it were first published in ASIMOV'S, and most readers who know of Kelly are probably subscribers to that magazine. On the other hand, libraries should definitely acquire this book. In fact, I hope someone is bringing the single-author collections being produced these days to the attention of libraries, since they provide the only way for most libraries to get some of the best work of today's leading authors.

To order Think Like a Dinosaur from amazon.com, click here.


FEELING VERY STRANGE: THE SLIPSTREAM ANTHOLOGY edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/03/2006]

FEELING VERY STRANGE: THE SLIPSTREAM ANTHOLOGY edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (ISBN 1-892391-35-X) appears to be for slipstream what MIRRORSHADES edited by Bruce Sterling was for cyberpunk or BLACK WATER edited by Alberto Manguel was for magical realism: the foundational anthology. And you know an anthology is good when you find yourself looking forward to reading even the pieces you have read before. In this case, these are such classics as Ted Chiang's "Hell Is the Absence of God", Benjamin Rosenbaum's "Biographical Notes to 'A Discourse on the Nature of Causality, with Air-Planes'", and Michael Chabon's "The God of Dark Laughter". The earliest story is from 1972, though most date between 1987 and the present. (The term "slipstream" was coined by Bruce Sterling in 1989.)

In the introduction, Kelly and Kessel attempt to define "slipstream", and in the process list some "precursors" of slipstream (my comments in parentheses):

They then say, "The ideal version of this anthology would include such precursors." Well, you can always create a virtual by seeking these out as well. (Judith Merril must have had a slipstream sensibility--she anthologized four of these in her various "best-of" anthologies.)

To order Feeling Very Strange from amazon.com, click here.


THE SECRET HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/04/2010]

And speaking of alternate histories, THE SECRET HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (ISBN-13 978-1-892391-93-3) is described on the back cover as "exploring an alternate history of science fiction." Secret history, alternate history--it sounded promising, maybe an anthology of science fiction stories that might have been written if Thomas Pynchon's GRAVITY'S RAINBOW had won the Nebula instead of Arthur C. Clarke's RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA. (This is not a random choice--it was the premise of an article by Jonathan Lethem in 1998, "Close Encounters: The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction".) Alas, it was not to be. Instead, this is simply an anthology of "literary" science fiction stories, written and published in our timeline, that Kelly and Kessel think would have been successful in that other timeline (and would have been published in "mainstream" magazines). The stories are good, but I feel that the marketing is a bit deceptive.

(Actually, what I thought on discovering this was, "It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham"--but perhaps that's a bit extreme.)

To order The Secret History of Science Fiction from amazon.com, click here.


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