Albedo One Review

Strange But Not a Stranger by James Patrick Kelly (Golden Gryphon hardback, 297pp, US$25.95)

One thing that is, apparently, a guarantee of quality is the Golden Gryphon imprint, if the two recent releases I read from them are anything to go by. Strange But Not a Stranger is another short story collection, this one by Hugo winner James Patrick Kelly (with a name like that there must be more than one drop of Irish blood in him). As with the Waldrop book, this is a beautiful presentation (which I failed to mention in the previous review). The paper is recycled and has a feel of quality to it. The cover art is by Bob Eggleton (Frank Kelly Freas did Custer's Last Jump). Both of these artists have a superb track record and have been around, it seems, since the very dawn of SF, or at least the Golden Age. Never mind the contents, Golden Gryphon books look and feel beautiful. But I guess it is the content that I should really be discussing.

. . . I have never read a single word written by J. P. Kelly prior to this, but if his other work matches the stellar quality of these stories, I might just be persuaded to start reading SF again on a regular basis.

You might say I'm on safe ground given that one of the stories herein, "1016 to 1," won the Hugo (novelette, 2000). But it's not even the best story in the collection. Or should I say, not my favourite. Which coming from me, and given the subject matter, is odd. "1016 to 1" is an alternative history story about an alien who comes back in time to change our future. He meets a young boy and explains that on the course we are following humanity will cease to exist early in the 21st Century. There is one chance in ten to the power of sixteen that the course of future history can be changed — and all depends on the success of the stranger's mission. But without the boy's help he has no chance and the boy is far from sure he should give that help.

So if that's not the top story what is? Maybe it's "Feel the Zaz," an interactive, Internet, virtual reality story with a bittersweet twist. Or could it be "Unique Visitors," a brief dissertation on the possible future history of frozen heads. Or "Candy Art" — a simple love story. Or "Glass Cloud" — a simple love story of betrayal and redemption. Or "The Cruelest Month" — a simple post-love story of death and redemption. Or "Fruitcake Theory" or "Chemistry" or virtually any story in the collection you care to name. They're all great and I'm sorry for suggesting "1016 to 1" is not the greatest story ever told (Cecil B DeMille got there first) but on second thoughts, maybe it is. Who can tell? What do I know, anyway? My brain has been overloaded by the sheer excellence of these stories and I am approaching meltdown. And . . . some grey stuff that may have been my brain is dripping from my ear. I need to get something to collect it. I may need to use it later.

— Underview, Albedo One, Issue 28, 2004


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