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The Door Gunner and Other Perilous Flights of Fancy: A Michael Bishop Retrospective by Michael Bishop
Edited by Michael H. Hutchins
Cover Artist: Lee Moyer
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Press Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596063747
Date: 30 November 2011 List Price $40.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Publisher's Book Page / Show Official Info /

Michael Bishop's new collection The Door Gunner collects short stories from across four decades of writings, revealing the skill, subtlety, and enormous range of this talented author. Bishop is a master of many styles of story, from the uplifting to the bleak, from the painfully sincere to the darkly comic. The one constant is Bishop's subtle evocation of character and his unfailingly beautiful prose. Michael Bishop's short work is among the absolute best in the genre, or out of it, and this collection captures its full range and power.

One of the most impressive things about this collection is its consistently high quality. While some stories worked better for me than others, there is not a single one that failed to impress me, or to linger in my memory. The stories are arranged in chronological order, and this provides a fascinating viewpoint on Bishop's development as an author. The early stories tend to feature more traditional science fictional scenarios, such as a wounded alien being discovered on earth or a young man undergoing an initiation rite on a distant planet. Bishop imbues these traditional settings with an added depth and richness, however, through his thoughtful characterization. Also, his stories tend to have a bit more bite, often adding a trace of melancholy to replace the triumphant optimism of many of the more traditional SF stories.

Later stories move away from these traditional SF scenarios, and explore some more idiosyncratic visions. In "The Quickening", for instance, all of humanity is randomly distributed across the planet overnight by some mysterious agency, mixing different cultures and language groups at random. This story explores our alienation from one another, and the fragility of our technological and social institutions.

"Alien Graffiti" features a world in which strange indecipherable writing begins to appear at random at various points around the world. No explanation is ever given for this phenomenon; Bishop is more interested in exploring how people react to this inexplicable writing, whether it be scientifically, spiritually, or aesthetically.

As we move into the nineties, the stories move away from science fiction, with many of the stories featuring fantastical elements within a mostly realist setting. These stories also feature more stylistic experimentation, and more humor. Particularly notable is the story "Vinegar Peace; or, The Wrong Way, Used-Adult Orphanage", a story about loosing a grown child that was written after Bishop's own son was killed in a school shooting where he was a teacher. This story is enormously poignant, and heart-breakingly sad, and is worth the price of the volume all on its own.

This book collects the work of a stellar career in short-fiction writing. The stories are diverse, beautifully written, and deeply affecting. One of the all time best single-author collections I have ever read, and a must read for all fans of SF short-fiction.

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