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The UFO Files
edited by Martin H. Greenberg
DAW Books, 320 pages

The UFO Files
Martin H. Greenberg
Martin H. Greenberg is the most prolific anthologist in publishing history. He has won the Milford Award for Lifetime Achievement in Science Fiction Editing and was Editor Guest of Honor at the 1992 World Science Fiction Convention. He lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

ISFDB Bibliography
Martin H. Greenberg anthologies - 1st of 4 pages

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David A. Truesdale

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Writers, by their very nature, are liars. They sell their lies for a living. As readers we enjoy the most skillful, entertaining, and convincing among them, those who make us believe the most outrageous tall tales imaginable. We routinely reward them for the best Lies. This is a good thing we do.

Reviewers, however, are not afforded this luxury. So I hereby confess that I was extremely skeptical about what I might find within the pages of The UFO Files. After all, I told myself, it looked only to be yet another grind'em out, cookie-cutter collection of yardgoods foisted upon the unwary public in order to cash in on the immense popularity of television's The X Files.

I was wrong. Well, more wrong than right, anyway. It is, obviously, meant to attract the same audience. Take a look at the cover, and read the title. But for the most part the stories here are eminently readable and enjoyable, with several quite good pieces, and yes, even one outstanding story (more about which later).

Of its 23 original stories, The UFO Files showcases a welcome variety in its points of view, situations, and inventiveness. A difficult feat, given the tired, commercial trope of the collection. But then, with such quality wordsmiths as Gregory Benford, Robert Charles Wilson, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Ed Gorman, Jack Ketchum, Jack Cady, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kevin J. Anderson, Alan Dean Foster, and others, it is really no surprise.

The venerable Robert Charles Wilson turns in a charming tale of young Sandra, who, on a summer vacation at her uncle's, befriends none other than a gruff Edwin Hubble, who quietly takes the precocious Sandra under his wing and teaches her to look at things in a different way, to become "The Observer." This lesson she learns well as she is befriended (in an abstract sense, and off-stage) by ephemeral aliens who show her their 'palace of light.' I christen this, if I may, a tender coming-of-aliens story; a take-off on the coming of age story (but with alien awareness as the adult rite of passage). In the Heinlein tradition, with a bright, loner, juvenile lead character, this is a winner.

Known for his horror stories, Edward Lee contributes a thinly disguised polemic starring an aged, former President name of Rowland Raymond (aka Ronald Reagan), who, in the terrible throes of Alzheimer's Disease, unwittingly reveals the single tangible piece of evidence that aliens are indeed among us. Political biases are hard to hide here, under the almost cruel humor. Dark, sad chuckles, regardless of your political point of view.

Relative newcomer Tracy Knight uses the now familiar backdrop of powerful, secretive government operatives out of control and abusing the rights of the institutionalized individual to show us the tender story of the elderly Louie and Charlotte Walters, married and in love for many years -- or are they really? And how they're used as brainwashed pawns with implanted memories in a xenophobic scheme to murder a ship of peaceful aliens. The heartwarming resolution makes "Chasing the Mist" one of the best pieces in the book.

Jim Combs's "Heirloom" also uses a hoary cliché to tell a deeper human story. A green jelly-like blob of an alien is the springboard for his uplifting story of one Jean LaLoise, timid baker, and how the alien (who he has named Pooka), gives him the inner confidence, the strength, to finally befriend the woman he has hitherto loved from afar. Another of the better pieces to be found here, and not without its humorous moments. A deep tip of the hat to Jim Combs.

Gregory Benford's "Ordinary Aliens" not only opens the book and is the shortest story herein, but also offers a stingingly satiric take on the violent aspect of the Islamic faith, as he transfers this trait to supposedly loving aliens out for humankind's best interests. Benford's wit-forged blade is so sharp here, the cut is not noticed until the chuckle bubbles forth.

Bookending the collection (humor-wise), with the next to last story, is David Bischoff's camp, ribald, in your face sendup aptly titled "The S-Files." You may not believe in Santa, but the dastardly aliens in this story surely do! Santa gives the aliens what-for, and how! This one is a hoot.

I could go on, but you get the picture. There are some nice stories here, some of the more conventional persuasion as you might expect, some surprisingly otherwise. We are given "charming," "tender," "heartwarming," "satirical," and "humorous" what-ifs of Man's encounters with UFO's, and the aliens that travel within them. It must also be noted that 99% of these stories feature benign, friendly aliens, though several stories feature a horrific storyline. This is an upbeat, positive collection.

But if the above diversity of stories isn't enough to whet the appetite, we are also treated to an homage. That's right, a story written in honor of Ray Bradbury, and to my mind the best story in this collection of fine stories. Buried near the middle of The UFO Files's 314 pages is Englishman Peter Crowther's "Some Burial Place, Vast and Dry." Editor or co-editor of nine anthologies, including the 1992 British Fantasy award-nominated Narrow Houses, the author of some fifty short stories, and a regular contributor to England's premiere SF magazine Interzone, Crowther is an avowed Bradbury lover and aficionado. This story is unique in several ways. First, it is the only piece set completely off Earth (notwithstanding Bischoff's "The S-Files," which is set in Earth's atmosphere), on the isolated farming colony of Orgundy. Second, the style, language, and overall feel of this tribute is so strikingly different from any of the other stories, it was like a breath of pure oxygen, an envigorating shock to the system, as it were.

(Relevant aside: Keeping with my opening confession that I must tell the truth, I had just finished reading -- quite coincidentally -- Ray Bradbury's newest {and excellent} collection of original stories Driving Blind, when I began reading this wildly different collection. Bradbury's warm nostalgia, language, themes, and manner of presenting a story were all too fresh in my mind.)

I can't begin to tell you how well Peter Crowther has captured (and made his own) the quintessential essence of the classic Bradbury milieu... without just copying him. He has envisioned this story, for this UFO collection, and made it uniquely his own creation. And something delightfully special, within the confines of this collection, it is.

That said, I must be fair and say this: if you are not familiar with written Ray Bradbury (as opposed to the many things he has done for television, or the silver screen) and what he is about, or if you haven't revisited Bradbury recently, you will most likely not care for this story with the same enthusiasm with which I did. You might even find it obscure and confusing, and not to your liking at all. But that's okay. There are certainly many other entertaining stories here that are worth the price of admission. But for true Bradbury lover's? Enjoy. My kudos to Mr. Crowther.

Initially approaching The UFO Files with arched eyebrow and a healthy dose of jaded skepticism, I come away having enjoyed it. Make no mistake, however; no Pulitzer Prize winners here. Just well-worth-the-money plane trip or train ride or lounging on the patio on a summer afternoon fare, with a handful of solid stories and one true innovative gem. Which is better than most.

I'm reminded once again (and for the hundredth time!) that you can't tell a book by its cover. I recommend this entertaining collection.

Copyright © 1998 David A. Truesdale

Dave Truesdale has been reading science fiction and fantasy for forty years. For the past four years he has edited TANGENT: The Only Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Fiction Review Magazine. It was runner-up for the 1997 Hugo Award.


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