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Stinger
Nancy Kress
Forge Books, 304 pages

Stinger
Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1948. She went to college at State University of New York at Plattsburgh, receiving a degree in Elementary Education, and spent four years teaching the fourth grade. Her first sale was a story, "The Earth Dwellers," to Galaxy in 1976. Her first novel, The Prince of Morning Bells, appeared in 1981. Nancy Kress moved on to write copy for an advertising agency, wrote fiction part-time, raised her children, taught at SUNY Brockport, and earned an M.S. in Education and an M.A. in English. In 1990 she became a full-time writer. In January, 1998, she was married for the third time, to SF writer Charles Sheffield. They live in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Nancy Kress Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Maximum Light
SF Site Review: Beaker's Dozen

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Lisa DuMond

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A lethal epidemic has struck in the United States. The authorities don't want to believe that. They especially don't want to accept that the disease is man-made. Imagine how little they want to concede that the plague is directed at a minority. Would they ever admit it if the maker of that plague was connected with our own government?

Robert Cavanaugh, FBI agent, English major, and emotional mess, thinks there is more to the case than anyone is willing to recognize.  Dr. Melanie Anderson seems to be the only member of the CDC epidemiology team who is convinced that the goal of the attack is genocide, with her own race as the target. They form a fragile alliance that may turn out to be the ruin of them both. Neither one is shy about expounding on their views. Admirable determination in the abstract, but perhaps fatal to their careers in a bureaucracy. Possibly fatal to anyone unwilling to give up the chase.

Over a thousand people are dead -- what's two more in the grand scheme?

Terrorism, racial tension, and scrambled personal lives make for taut suspense. Kress, as always, has blended exhaustive research with fast-paced narration to produce a unique and hypnotizing novel. If you are one of those readers who insists on trying to "figure out" the story long before the final page, good luck with Stinger. Like the little bloodsuckers it's named for, the novel tends to get you, and you don't even see it coming.

Cavanaugh, Anderson, and most of the other characters in Stinger have conflicts -- internal and external -- that it is going to take more than 304 pages to resolve, even if they do appear to make some progress. At the novel's close, though, these problems don't magically vanish for that elusive happy ending. Cavanaugh's love life may never run smoothly, and he may always be a bit too independent for the stiffly regimented FBI. Anderson is still a black woman who sees the world coloured by racism and hatred and her own rage. That's a lot to overcome in one slim volume, and, to her credit, Kress doesn't try. After the novel is over, these characters, like real people, still have a lot to work on.

Kress has made a trap of words that we can't resist entering, baiting it with suspense, paranoia, life-threatening situations, and human emotion. And, as a very special treat to keep us wandering deeper into the maze, she leaves a trail of humour. Come around any corner and you may stumble upon a line that makes you laugh out loud. Too subtle and too quick to be classified as merely "jokes," the jabs of wit strike and slip away before the reader even has time to see them coming.

Humour without buffoonery? Hard to imagine these days. In a venomous stinger of a novel, it may well be the finest achievement.

Copyright © 1998 Lisa DuMond

Lisa DuMond writes science fiction and humour. She co-authored the 45th anniversary issue cover of MAD Magazine. Previews of her latest, as yet unpublished, novel are available at Hades Online.


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