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Strange But Not A Stranger
James Patrick Kelly
Golden Gryphon Press, 297 pages

Strange But Not A Stranger
James Patrick Kelly
James Patrick Kelly has been a full-time writer since 1977. He has won Hugo Awards for his stories "Think Like a Dinosaur" (1995) and "1016 to 1" (1999) and a Locus Award for short story "Itsy Bitsy Spider" (1997). He has also published four novels, the latest being Wildlife (1994). He lives in Nottingham, New Hampshire, with his wife and children.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Looking for a good gift for the science fiction reader on your holiday shopping list? You could do much worse than James Patrick Kelly's latest story collection. Adorned with a gorgeous cover painting by Bob Eggleton, Strange But Not a Stranger is further proof that, outside the magazines, Golden Gryphon Press is the pre-eminent publisher of short stories in the science fiction field.

There are even two Christmas stories included. The first, "Candy Art," is a fine example of Kelly's main strength as a writer, the revealing of human emotional responses underneath the surface gloss of a high-tech future. Jennifer, forty-something and single, is trying to cope with life while being faced with parents who have downloaded themselves into a puppet body and moved into her apartment. Meanwhile, her boyfriend seems forever fated to being an artistic success and a financial failure. "Fruitcake Theory," besides celebrating the classic holiday confection, explores another common theme in the collection, an encounter with aliens whom the protagonist is never quite able to understand.

That theme of the alien and its effect on an individual's life emerges full-blown in "Glass Cloud" one of the best stories in Strange But Not A Stranger. In "Glass Cloud," an architect with a troubled marriage is offered a commission that is literally out-of-this world, but he has grave suspicions about the extent to which his life has been manipulated by the alien making the offer.

The length of the stories in Strange But Not A Stranger runs from very short to novelette. The longer pieces are generally stronger than the shorter stories. Compare, for example, short-shorts like "Unique Visitors" and "Hubris" to lengthier stories such as "Feel The Zaz" and "The Cruelest Month". The shorter stories are set pieces, relying for their impact on the cleverness of the underlying idea, but once that idea has been revealed, they tend to fade from memory. "Feel The Zaz," with its striking depiction of a mentally-handicapped woman who finds fulfillment in brain-enhancements and a talent for virtual reality, but who knows it can't last, and "The Cruelest Month," the story of a corporate executive haunted by the death of her young daughter, provide a lasting emotional resonance that simply isn't possible unless the story is long enough to build a character and not just an idea.

Strange But Not A Stranger opens with what might be Kelly's best-known work, the Hugo-Award winning "1016 to 1". Set during the Cuban missile crisis, an encounter with a time-traveller confronts a young boy with that classic dilemma of utilitarian philosophy, if you could save many lives by taking one, would it be right to do so? It's a strong introduction to a collection that maintains a high level of quality, from the first story to the last.

Copyright © 2002 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he is debating whether or not to try James Patrick Kelly's recipe for Faster-Than-Light Meatloaf, even with the creamed corn. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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