Since his first novel, Inner Eclipse, Richard Paul Russo has delivered a sequence of almost painterly portrayals of America in decline. Subterranean Gallery, with its Californian art underground, and Russo's series of "Carlucci" novels, featured finely observed, carefully crafted depictions of a world where society was in decline, but individuals could still act positively and with honor. These qualities are followed through in Russo's short fiction, now collected in Terminal Visions. The 14 stories here are filled with images of dissipation and loss, yet they are filled with an optimism about the individual that undercuts any sense of pessimism about society as a whole.
Throughout Terminal Visions, and most especially in those stories looking at space travel and the space program, Russo opts to focus on people, rather than on science and technology, and in doing so expresses a vision more consistent with Ballard than Stephen Baxter. In "The Open Boat," three men and two women are stranded, doomed to live out their lives in a small lifeboat trapped between universes. As they face non-existence in a non-world, Russo carefully chronicles their reactions to seemingly inevitable decline. In "Lunar Triptych: Embracing the Night," Russo looks at how space travel has become almost a holy cause, a possession counterbalanced with futility. And there are other stories: "Telescope, Saxophone, and the Pilot's Death" tells of a young woman dying from a neurological disorder caused by piloting interstellar spacecraft, who becomes involved with a musician and sculptor who cares for her as she deteriorates, losing the precise control she once had over her body. In death, her lover shows that this scanner didn't live in vain, combining her remains with the objects they both loved in an expression of love and grief. "Watching Lear Dream" is the story of two decommissioned warriors, Samuel and Lear, who are capable of changing reality with their dreams. As Lear ages and his dreams become increasingly erratic, Samuel is given the task of destroying the products of those dreams. However, when Lear dreams of a lost love his friend cannot complete the task. And, in "Just Drive, She Said," a couple travel interdimensional roads that seem somehow to correspond with the path of their relationship.
Although Russo's work has been moderately successful and has garnered some critical acclaim, he is yet to grab the attention of the science fiction readership as a whole. It's difficult to say whether Terminal Visions will correct that, but anyone willing to seek out the romantic and ultimately life-affirming stories collected here will be well rewarded.
—Jonathan Strahan, Locus, November 2000