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Dossier
Stepan Chapman
Creative Arts Books, 166 pages

Dossier
Stepan Chapman
Stepan Chapman was born in 195l in Chicago, Illinois, and studied theatre at the University of Michigan. In l969, his first published story was selected for Analog by John W. Campbell. In the 70s, his early fiction appeared in four of Damon Knight's Orbit anthologies. He has performed in plays in the USA and England, and his comedies for children were produced for the Edinburgh Drama Festival. In l997, the Ministry of Whimsy Press released his first novel, The Troika, which won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award.

Stepan Chapman Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Troika
Stepan Chapman short story: LIES
Excerpt: The Troika

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Dossier is a fine first book of short stories by the quirky writer Stepan Chapman. (He did have an earlier chapbook from the publishers of his novel, The Ministry of Whimsy Press.) Chapman won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1998 for his novel The Troika. His stories are unusual, off-centre, funny, often surrealistic, often fable-like. Oddly enough, his first sale, back in 1969, was to John W. Campbell at Analog. (It's amusing to think that two of the very last writers "discovered" by Campbell were such thoroughly non-Campbellian writers as Chapman and James Tiptree, Jr.) He also published a few stories in Damon Knight's Orbit in the 70s. Of late, his fiction seems to appear mainly in little magazines.

The stories in Dossier are all good reading. Many of them resemble fables, Native American legends, or fairy stories. (Indeed, one story is an over-the-top admixture of "Sleeping Beauty" and Gothic fiction.) The stories are often funny, and usually pointed. Sometimes there is a neat twist at the end, at other times the whole story is a wild ride through a bizarre, imaginative landscape.

My favourite story is the last and longest, "Minutes of the Last Meeting," a thoroughly original, thoroughly strange, alternate history set in Russia during the closing days of World War I. It features nanotechnology, psychics, atomic bombs, a network of computers spying on all of Russia, and many more strange things. It has a reckless momentum and it amply shows Chapman's imagination at full tilt. The other extended story is "At Her Ladyship's Suggestion," set on a North Atlantic island almost impossible to reach, and truly impossible to leave, where a mad Scottish peer decamped in 1780, only to have his family and their slaves and servants decay into ruin, incest, and degeneracy over generations of isolation.

Most of the other stories are quite short, but consistently entertaining and intelligent. "The Sister City" personifies a Japanese city to make a nice point about the Bomb. "The Stairways of Causation" is a fable about the intricate path of causation. "The One-Armed Elek" is in the form of a Native American legend about a trance-singer and a defiant chief: effective in itself but with another fine twist right at the end. I could go on -- but suffice it to say that this is a very satisfying selection of contemporary fiction -- be it slipstream, fantasy, SF, surrealism, or all of the above.

Copyright © 2001 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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