by David Gerrold
Review by Steve Sawicki
Benbella Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 1932100377
Date: 28 January, 2005 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
There's no doubt that Gerrold has skill. There's also no doubt that there's a certain erratic nature to his final product. How else do you explain that the same man who wrote When Harlie Was One and The Man Who Folded Himself also wrote a number of books that don't even bear mentioning. This anthology, Alternate Gerrolds, reflects that pattern as well; collecting fifteen previously published short stories in the alternate history vein.The stories move from the well written "The Impeachment of Adlai Stevenson" which is a tricky little piece about how history can hinge on relatively simple actions through "Franz Kafka, Superhero" which is simply brilliant as it details the exploits of the transforming crime fighter as he battles his arch nemesis, Sigmund Freud, to "The Kennedy Enterprise" which tells of how Bobby Kennedy became a movie producer and his brother Jack, an actor, eventually landing the role as Captain of the Enterprise. It is in this last story that the seeds of the dilemma become evident. While it is intriguing to think of Kennedy on the bridge and of all of the events that would have had to have happened to lead to that, the story itself is as constructed as a Star Trek emergency engine fix. In fact the story is interesting only because of who is doing what. There is no tension, no real plot and no moving idea. You might as well have put Kennedy in the role of little red riding hood with Khrushchev as the grandma and Castro as the wolf. The pleasure is all in the idea, which is pretty much summed up in the title. "The Firebringers" is another example of this juxtaposition as Gerrold places famous people at the controls of a bomber flying to drop the atomic bomb on Germany. Is what they are doing important? Not really since it is who is sitting where that is designed to carry the interest.
Roughly a third of the stories in this anthology fall into that category. This comparison is the curse of the brilliant writer. If Gerrold had produced only good work then the comparison would not be so great. But, when you place a great story in amongst the rest, the rest suffer from comparison. And there are some great stories here. "Riding Janis" is simply brilliant, intense, moving and compact, incredibly well written. "Digging in Gehenna" is another great effort, although not quite up to the level of the previously mentioned "Riding Janis".
Gerrold has a way of presenting information that is seamless. He is as close to a natural writer as I have ever run into. This, of course, is also the cause of his difficulties because anything he writes comes out pretty good. I'd imagine even his shopping lists are interesting to read, although you'd soon figure out that there's more to life than ketchup and potatoes.
Gerrold is a storyteller. This explains his success in Hollywood, which always chooses storytelling over content. In an alternate world he'd be writing commercial copy or teaching, no doubt. In our world he's turning out fiction that is almost always easy to read and occasionally brilliant.