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The Pottawatomie Giant
Andy Duncan
PS Publishing, 331 pages

The Pottawatomie Giant
Andy Duncan
Andy Duncan was born in 1964 in Batesburg, South Carolina and graduated from high school from W.W. Wyman King Academy. He earned a degree in journalism from the University of South Carolina and worked for seven years at the Greensboro News & Record. Duncan earned an M.A. in creative writing (fiction) from North Carolina State University and an M.F.A. in fiction writing from the University of Alabama. Duncan also attended Clarion West in 1994. In Fall 2008, he was hired as an Assistant Professor of English at Frostburg State University in Frostburg, MD.

Andy Duncan Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Southern literature is as distinct a genre as mystery or science fiction. Just as those two genres can be combined, southern literature with its naturalistic darkness which hints at a horror lurking beneath the surface, can be combined with other genres, as Andy Duncan deftly does with many of the stories included in his collection The Pottawatomie Giant.

This combination can easily be seen in such stories as "The Dragaman's Wife," "The Big Rock Candy Mountain," and "Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse." Duncan's characters, whether the rural folk of "The Dragaman's Wife," the hobos living around "The Big Rock Candy Mountain," or the young girl who finds faith by teaching a chicken to walk backwards, are all at home with their situations, and would see completely out of place in a more traditional fantasy setting. One of Duncan's strengths as an author is that he has a unique voice which can not be mistaken for anyone else's.

Even the most humorous story, "Senator Bilbo," about the descendent of a famous Halfling who fears that his ancestor's greatness has led to an inevitable, and unwelcome, change, is rooted in Duncan's understanding of the South, in this case the unabashed bigotry of Senator Theodore Bilbo. The historical Bilbo, with only a few minor tweaks, is only one of several historical figures around whom Duncan weaves his stories. From the famous, Zora Neale Hurston or Sergei Korolev, to the forgotten Buck Nelson or Jess Willard, Duncan populates his tales with real people and gives them real and complex motivations.

Perhaps the most moving story in the collection is the last: "The Chief Designer," which looks at the career of Soviet rocket scientist Sergei Korolev and slowly begins to examine the use of a cult of personality, noting that those who know the icon most closely are unable to halt such deification even as some of it spreads to them. Hardly a science fiction story, it is nostalgic and its topic is one which will appeal to science fiction fans.

The two stories in The Pottawatomie Giant that might be most indicative of Duncan's style are "A Diorama of the Infernal Regions, or The Devil's Ninth Question" and "The Dragaman's Bride," which follows a young girl as she first discovered her extraordinary powers and later as she is learning how to use them effectively. Pearleen Sunday is a very atypical heroine, cavorting with the Devil's son-in-law and still trying to figure out who she is and how to best use her powers to aid others who are even less fortunate than she is.

Many of the stories have a basis in history. The title story is based on an encounter between escape artist Harry Houdini and former boxing champion Jess Willard. The Chief Designer, of course, is based on the Soviet space program, "Close Encounters" draws from the claims of UFO enthusiast Buck Nelson, and both "Zora and the Zombie" and "Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse" come from the lives of other authors. Even when Duncan doesn't specify the history within the framework of the story, he is able to draw from the historical depth to add dimensions to his tales.

The stories in The Pottawatomi Giant offer a wonderful foundation and insight into the unique science fictional vision that Duncan has, bringing southern culture, with its strengths, flaws, and history to a genre which has a strong tendency to look towards cities and the future for its inspiration.

Copyright © 2012 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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