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Star Song and Other Stories
Timothy Zahn
Five Star, 266 pages

Star Song and Other Stories
Timothy Zahn
Timothy Zahn's SF career began by selling SF stories to Analog magazine while he was a physics grad student at the University of Illinois. When his thesis advisor died, he decided to write full-time. He started with hard SF, writing the Cobra series of military SF novels. In 1984, he won a Hugo for his novella "Cascade Point." His writing has a distinctly humanistic touch, so it seems obvious to some that Theodore Sturgeon was an early influence. Zahn is perhaps best-known as one of the original authors commissioned to write novels in the Star Wars realm.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Manta's Gift
SF Site Review: Angelmass
SF Site Review: Icarus Hunt
SF Site Review: Star Wars: Specter of the Past
Timothy Zahn Interview
Another Timothy Zahn Interview

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alma A. Hromic

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In his introduction to Star Song and Other Stories, Timothy Zahn explains that he has always liked short stories, and especially short story collections. "Unless there was a novel by a [new and unknown] author X that looked particularly intriguing," Zahn says, "I always preferred to start with a short story collection. Why? Because a collection gave me a better idea of the author's range than a novel ever could."

In theory, this is a good system. But, alas, in practice it rarely works quite that well. There are people who write wonderful short stories and cannot write a good novel to save their lives. There are people who write wonderful novels but cannot bend their mind to a good short story. Sure, there are the paragons who can do both -- but they are rare enough that a direct comparison such as Zahn is proposing is simply not representative.

A prime example of the reason why is this particular collection of Zahn's, "Star Song."

Zahn writes wonderful novels. That is an undisputable fact. In his novels, he has a unique voice and a good pace and flow, and characters who -- although they may owe their initial existence to stereotypes -- rarely finish up as cardboard cutouts. Zahn's novels are his own. His short fiction, however, as exemplified by this collection, is (if I may borrow the phrase in context) a different story. Granted, these stories range from Zahn's early work (1987) to something quite recent (1997), and thus the imprints of his early influences might be expected to still be upon them -- but there are so many prints that some parts of these stories are positively trampled under them. For instance, "The Broccoli Factor" positively cried out for a guest appearance by Dr Susan Calvin, so Asimovian was it in its theme, its pacing, its characterization and its plot. I think I can catch the scent of Vernor Vinge on another tale, and even a whiff of Mike Resnick in a third.

The Zahn factor is buried deep.

If I were to follow his advice and make a judgment on the novelist by picking up the short story collection first, this particular collection would probably never have made me reach for Spinneret or Manta's Gift. It's competent, it's largely entertaining, but it is far from being the best introduction to the work of one the best storytellers writing in the sphere of speculative fiction today.

Copyright © 2003 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves". When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Her latest fantasy work, a two-volume series entitled Changer of Days, was published by HarperCollins.


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