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The Pure Product
John Kessel
Tor Books, 381 pages

The Pure Product
John Kessel
John Kessel is the author of Another Orphan (1982), Freedom Beach (with James Patrick Kelly, 1985), Good News From Outer Space (1989), Meeting In Infinity (1992), and most recently, Corrupting Dr. Nice -- as well as many articles and plays.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

John Kessel's collection, The Pure Product, opens with the story, "Some Like It Cold," set in the same universe as his novel, Corrupting Dr. Nice. As with the novel, and several other stories in this collection, "Some Like It Cold" is a tribute to the films Hollywood used to make. While all of these stories are well written and Kessel's affection for the Hollywood of a bygone era is clear, some of the stories work better than others.

Appearing in this collection for the first time, "Faustfeathers," Kessel's retelling of the legend of Johann Faust's story in the form of a Marx Brothers comedy, does not work as well -- or as humorously -- as could be wished. On the other hand, the final story in the book, "The Miracle of Ivar Avenue," a Sidewise Award Honorable Mention, is a serious examination of the possible murder of film director Preston Sturges.

Even stories which don't deal directly with Hollywood have taken on some of Hollywood's trappings. "The Einstein Express" reads as if it were a re-working of Howard Hawks's "Bringing Up Baby" (1938) and has the same frantic energy the Hawks movie has.

Although a number of the stories deal with Hollywood and the images, both cinematic and otherwise, that Hollywood produces, other stories are set far from the realm of cinema. Some, such as "Herman Melville, Space Opera Virtuoso" or "The Franchise", deal with alternate histories in an intelligent and straight-forward manner, without attempting to inject humor which would be out of place in these two stories. "Herman Melville" posits that Melville was born a century later than he actually was and got his break by writing in the pages of Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories in 1928, filling a role which was actually filled by E.E. "Doc" Smith. "The Franchise" deals with a world in which George Bush becomes a major league pitcher who attempts to face down his rival, Fidel Castro, on the ball field.

In his afterword, Kessel refers to the two poems in the collection, "Reading Lesson" and "Mr. Hyde Visits the Home of Dt. Jekyll," as an indulgence -- and I would have to agree with him. The afterword brings up another point I would like to make about The Pure Product. One of the nice things about a short story collection can be the author's comments on the genesis of his ideas. Unfortunately, this is not something Kessel has decided to do in The Pure Product. He explains that this book was originally intended to be a re-issue of his first collection, Meeting in Infinity (Arkham House), but his editor convinced him to add other stories and drop some of the original ones, resulting in this collection.

Kessel's first short story was published in 1978. Despite several short stories and two solo novels since then, he still seems to remain a relative unknown. His novels are both of high quality and most of his short fiction likewise. The Pure Product offers several samples of Kessel at his finest.

Table of Contents
Some Like it Cold The Franchise
Herman Melville: Space Opera VirtuosoThe Pure Product
Buddha Nostril Bird Man
A Clean Escape Mr. Hyde Visits the Home of Dt. Jekyll
Invaders Hearts Do Not in Eyes Shine
Reading Lesson Buffalo
The Lecturer Not Responsible! Park and Lock It!
The Einstein Express Gulliver at Home
Faustfeathers: A Comedy The Miracle of Ivar Avenue

Copyright © 1997 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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