Locus Magazine Review



I don't see all of Golden Gryphon's short story collection series by any means, but the volumes I do, Andy Duncan's Beluthahatchie, for example, are excellent.

Most recently I've finally caught up with Kevin J. Anderson's Dogged Persistence. It's both a retrospective pilgrimage through close to two decades of the author's writing history, and an intriguing peek into how a writer of talent and energy manages not only to exist but as well to make a significant commercial splash in this uncertain professional arena.

Golden Gryphon seems to give its authors a fair amount of artistic freedom in picking contents, and presumably that's a bit of why Dogged Persistence can go against conventional marketing wisdom and display a mixture of SF, fantasy, and horror, all between the same boards. This, says I, is a good thing indeed.

There are 18 stories here, along with auctorial story notes and a fascinating biographical introduction by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Here's what gives the story selection a welcome diversity: a quadrumvirate of collaborations, and a sprinkling of "franchise" or spin-off stories from other writers' fictional universes. The former displays Anderson writing with Doug Beason (hard science, unsurprisingly), Brian Herbert (a Dune story, equally unsurprisingly), with his mate Rebecca Moesta, and a nasty bit of atmospheric horror cowritten with Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist for the rock group Rush. The spin-off category ranges far afield to the surprising likes of Harlan Ellison, Charles Dickens, and H. G. Wells.

It's pretty darned rare for Harlan Ellison to permit any other writer to play in his sandbox, but he did so in the case of Anderson's "Prisoner of War," a tale set in the universe of a rather younger Ellison's story and Outer Limits teleplay, "Soldier." In a bleak future world of depersonalized, Orwellian, endless war, Anderson's protagonist Barto is a cloned and conditioned warrior who finds himself stranded with another soldier among the denizens of a refuge reminiscent of an unholy hybrid of an extrapolated Boulder, Colorado, and the hale Midwestern underground dwellers of Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog." It's not a pretty sight. Anderson ably captures the downbeat monochromatic scale of Ellison's original.

Back in 1996 Anderson edited an original anthology titled War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, the literary conceit of which was that a variety of prominent vintage writers wrote accounts drawn from Wells's scenario of unpleasant Martians escaping their dying world by conquering Earth. The average level of response from Anderson's contributors was pretty high. Anderson's own offering is reprinted here, "Canals in the Sand." The story's portrait of prominent astronomer Percival Lowell offers a wry insight into what might likely happen to a classically arrogant scientist on a very bad day.

"Scientific Romance" is another nod to Wells, though drawn from quite a different anthology than Global Dispatches. This story speculates about the seeds for War of the Worlds as they might have germinated through unfortunate circumstance during Wells's student years at university and the intercession of the great proevolutionary theory scholar, T. H. Huxley. It's a literary game, but it's an adroitly presented one.

The same, but cranked up to another level of accomplishment, might be said for "The Ghost of Christmas Always," Anderson's fantastical suggestion as to the roots of Charles Dickens's Christmas classic. The clear scholarship, the careful balance of sentiment and sentimentality, the sheer heart, all combined to make me lust to redecorate the tree and hang my stocking by the chimney with care. In that peculiar sub-subgenre of holiday sf and fantasy, this story stands out more brightly than even Rudolph's snout.

All in all, Dogged Persistence displays a solid mix of imaginative treatments and Kevin Anderson's considerable abilities.

—Edward Bryant, Locus, March 2002


 

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