The Washington Post Review



. . . Richard Paul Russo has given us Terminal Visions (Golden Gryphon, $23.95), a collection of stark, dystopian science fiction stories. Russo is a two-time winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for his novels Subterranean Gallery and Carlucci's Edge. The works in Terminal Visions, assembled from 1987 to 1999, first appeared in magazines such as Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the now-defunct Twilight Zone. It's painful to recall that there was a time in the recent past when writers could publish and build a career in print magazines.

Russo shares many traits with Ray Bradbury, another master of the short form. Like Bradbury's, Russo's prose is lyrical and often spare; he returns again and again to the themes of the American conquest of space, the unforeseen fallout of the space program and the terrifying consequences of first contact.

The tales in Terminal Visions are loosely linked by their near-future settings. Several of them—the best—derive from the same premise, the colonization of Earth and other worlds by an alien race, the chuurka. The two protagonists of "Liz and Diego," expatriates living in a Central American village, stumble upon a strange jungle ruin containing even stranger artifacts, which seem to have an off-world provenance. In ["More Than Night"], the collection's longest and most powerful offering, the nature of the artifacts is made clear. An untold number of years have passed, during which the chuurka have become an irrevocable, unwelcome presence on our world. They have achieved an unsettling but apparently stable symbiosis with humans, whom they use as living instruments of space exploration, sending their human implements to an unnamed and perhaps unknowable place to obtain navigational data. In this cavernous space the humans go mad, die or experience a profoundly rapturous vision. Some of them never escape from the darkness; some eventually return to Earth. Russo never reveals exactly what the alien chuurka are, or what they want. Their motives are ultimately unknowable, though they seem to possess a religious sense of awe, beautifully limned by Russo's story.

["More Than Night"] is a tour de force. The remaining tales in Terminal Visions are very, very good, especially "Celebrate the Bullet," an elegant deconstruction of the place of violence in art and life, and "Telescope, Saxophone, [and the] Pilot's Death," wherein a woman who has been the human component of an intricate navigation system suffers from the neurological fallout of her symbiosis with a spaceship. And "Prayers from a Rain God," like Ramsey Campbell's "The Alternative," illustrates that it's not always a good idea to attempt to control our dreams. While Russo's subject matter is uniformly grim and anti-nostalgic, his bleak visions are relieved by the clarity of his prose, and the glimpses of exhilarating joy obtained by those who receive the dubious gift of seeing beyond the stars.

—Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post, October 29, 2000



 

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