James Patrick Kelly, |
Strange But Not a Stranger
(Golden Gryphon, 2002)
With his dozen Hugo and Nebula award nominations but only a single Hugo win to date, James Patrick Kelly is likely the best overlooked writer in science fiction. Part of the reason for his relative anonymity is his extremely low output of novels. He has published only two to date, preferring to concentrate his efforts in the short fiction arena. His stories, collected in Strange But Not a Stranger, run the gamut thematically, from classic Boy's Own adventures ("1016 to 1") to post-cyberpunk techfests ("Feel the Zaz") to emotional character portraits ("The Cruelest Month") to bug-eyed monster retro-tales ("Fruitcake Theory").
Kelly's great strength is his ability to remain focused on the people at the heart of his stories as he crafts his finely detailed futures. The marvels of technology are there, but always in support of his characters; the technology is simply and seamlessly interwoven into their lives. It's a writing style that comes across as effortless. And it's this deceptive ease that makes the "Afterword" to Strange But Not a Stranger so enlightening. In it Kelly gives the reader a glimpse into the demanding and difficult work of making these stories sing. We're treated to insights into Kelly's influences and the challenges he sets when he plunks himself in front of his computer keyboard.
Among my favorite stories in this collection is "The Propagation of Light in a Vacuum," with its solitary starship occupant and its disturbing meatloaf recipe. Who in their right mind puts cream corn in meatloaf? "Undone," a story that manages to be a high-tech space adventure, a bucolic character study and a homage to Alfred Bester's typographic experimentation all at the same time, is another high point. The side by side columns of type, one running backwards through the preceding story sequence while the other moves forward, are an inventive and graphically effective method of visualizing the brief reversals of time that the central character commands.
In the end I don't think I can do any better job of convincing you to read Strange But Not a Stranger than to quote from Connie Willis's introduction.
"No matter what the circumstances, I can't wait to read a James Patrick Kelly story. Because I know when I do, I'll be surprised. Or touched or amused or made to think about candy or the nature of reality or toy telephones or those long lists of begats in the Bible in a brand-new way."
Strange But Not a Stranger is an absolute treat to read.