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November 2002
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Tyrannosaurus Press
Trade: ISBN
097188191X PubDate May 02
Review by Rob Archer
544 pages List price $19.95  
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STRANGE BUT NOT A STRANGER

James Patrick Kelly

List Price: $25.95

Trade Hardcover– 297 pages (September 2002)

Golden Gryphon Press; ISBN: 1-930846-12-6

Review by Victoria McManus

[word count: 501]

James Patrick Kelly is one of the best science fiction short story writers in the field today. He won Hugo awards for “Think Like a Dinosaur” (1996) and “1016 to 1” (200). The latter is included in this new collection as well as a delightful, previously unpublished Christmas story called “Candy Art.” The stories are mostly reprinted from ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION. Connie Willis provided an entertaining introduction, and the beautiful autumnal cover painting is by Bob Eggleton.

Kelly is always inventive. He embodies his ideas with skillful craft that can make one guffaw or weep. His stories can amuse you or slice you open or freeze your heart. STRANGE BUT NOT A STRANGER is the sort of collection one reads in dribs and drabs so as not to be overwhelmed. Each story, even the shorter ones—especially the shorter ones—need time to be assimilated. They’re as rich as cheesecake, or lemon squares, or bittersweet fudge. The following is a summary of the book’s contents, arranged loosely into categories; however, it’s a tribute to Kelly’s depth as a writer that his stories are never simply a “love story” or “caper story.” I arrange them this way for convenience only.

“1016 to 1” is the story of a boy, the Cold War, and time travel that, besides being a wonderful period piece, is truly thought-provoking in the sense that one wants to duck and cover after reading it. The short pieces “Unique Visitors” and “The Pyramid of Amirah” induce shudders without apparent effort in less time than it takes to eat a sandwich. “Proof of the Existence of God” is a short concept story about exactly what the title says. To me, the most lingeringly horrifying story was “The Propagation of Light in a Vacuum,” a first-person tale of a man in a spaceship and his imaginary wife.

“Lovestory” succeeds in providing an emotional connection to aliens with three genders, and was one of my favorites. The novella “Glass Cloud” deals with alien messengers to Earth, as does the humorous Christmas story “Fruitcake Theory,” which involves shepherding an alien ambassador through a mall.

“Chemistry” and “Candy Art” are both satisfying love stories decorated in science fictional details; “Candy Art” will appear in ASIMOV’S in December, 2002. “The Prisoner of Chillon” is love in the midst of cyberpunk and one of the strangest caper stories I’ve ever read. “Feel the Zaz” is a more unusual relationship story that looks at the future of webcasting. “The Cruelest Month” takes a look at loss, therapy, and ghosts, and was another one of my favorites in this collection.

The two most experimental pieces are “Hubris,” which breaks down the wall between narrator and reader, and the time-shifting “Undone.” Both give a clear idea of just how skillful a writer Kelly is; they read effortlessly.

I highly recommend this collection, even to readers who don’t normally like short stories. It’s worth it just to see what the form can be like in the hands of a master.

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