David Gerrold,
Alternate Gerrolds
(BenBella, 2004)

David Gerrold is a writer's writer. Just think about his credits; his first sale was "Trouble With Tribbles," reportedly the most popular Star Trek episode ever. Since then, he has tossed off, seemingly without effort, When H.A.R.L.I.E. was One, The War Against the Chtorr, the Star Wolf novels and the award-winning novella, "The Martian Child." He is one of those authors I was sure could never produce something less than excellent.

Short stories offer the writer, among other things, a chance to experiment, the freedom to play around with weird ideas and unusual techniques. I'm not one to insist on adhering blindly to formal criteria in a short story; the only reason I ever write them myself is to have a chance to, in Charles de Lint's words, "colour outside the lines." In Alternate Gerrolds, Gerrold has done just that.

All of these stories originally appeared in anthologies edited by Mike Resnick, another author I admire -- his Santiago is still one of the most nearly perfect odyssey-type adventures I've ever read. I suspect that Gerrold's stories sparkled in their original context.

Gerrold lives in Los Angeles and is as much a scriptwriter as novelist. It's no surprise, then, that many of these stories have to do with movies and television, and take place in a Hollywood milieu. In "The Firebringers," for example, all of our favorite movie heroes of the 1940s are involved with a top-secret project to drop the Bomb -- on Berlin. (Did I mention alternate histories? There are several of those.) The movies themselves provide starting points for some of these stories -- Jurassic Park seems to have spawned a couple of them, although the dinosaurs have been miniaturized. And imagine John F. Kennedy as the original Captain Kirk.

So, the stories are inventive, unexpected and well told, but I'm not at all sure that they should have appeared together in this collection. Some of them are one-liners -- which become repetitions of one-liners -- and one finds oneself thinking, "Oh, another commercialization of Christmas story." Not enough of them are strong stories on their own. It's not until the final three stories, "The Spell," "Digging in Gehenna" and "Riding Janis," that we're back to the David Gerrold, the one who has the reputation. This is the kind of work I've come to expect from Gerrold. He is a past master at building a universe by assumption, and the last two stories are vivid examples of that. Nor does he ever seem paralyzed by that quicksand question, "What happens next?" Gerrold takes time-honored (and with anyone less capable, they could very easily become time-worn) story ideas and pulls something new out of them. "Riding Janis," a story of mining the asteroid belt (and how many of those have there been?) is an engaging, poetic tale of growing up and family politics, beautifully told and somehow, shiny new.

I think a large part of my disappointment with this collection is that I admire Gerrold greatly as a writer (and his Worlds of Wonder is one of the best books on how to write that I've ever seen). Unfortunately, if this had been my first exposure to his work, I might have missed a lot of very good books.

by Robert M. Tilendis
1 October 2005

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