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Primary Ignition
Allen Steele
Wildside Press, 252 pages

Primary Ignition
Allen Steele
Allen M. Steele's first published SF was his story "Live from the Mars Hotel," published in Asimov's Science Fiction in 1988. Since then his novels and collections have included Orbital Decay, Clarke County, Space, Lunar Descent, Labyrinth of Night, Rude Astronauts, The Jericho Iteration, The Tranquillity Alternative and All-American Alien Boy. Steele, a resident of St. Louis, MO, received both the 1996 Hugo Award and the 1996 Science Fiction Weekly Reader Appreciation Award for his novella "The Death of Captain Future," which appeared in Asimov's in June 1995.

Allen Steele Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: River Horses
SF Site Review: American Beauty
SF Site Review: Coyote
SF Site Review: Oceanspace
SF Site Review: A King of Infinite Space
SF Site Review: A King of Infinite Space
SF Site Interview: Allen Steele (part 1)
SF Site Interview: Allen Steele (part 2)

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

As the twentieth century gave way to the twenty-first century, Allen Steele wrote a series of essays for Absolute Magnitude and Artemis magazines. Initially set to be looks at science fiction and space exploration, the Absolute Magnitude columns, published under the title "Primary Ignition" gave way to more general topics, which led to the series in Artemis, which would remain focused on space exploration. These essays, along with a few others, have been collected in the book Primary Ignition.

The twenty-one essays are divided into three sections, one focusing on space exploration, one on science fiction, and the final section more general topics. The section on space exploration is the most cohesive, while the final section contains the most emotional essay of the collection. Readers who only know Steele through his novels and Hugo Award-winning short stories, may find themselves pleasantly surprised by his ability with essays, however given Steele's journalism background, this format is natural.

In his space essays, Steele shows his strong support for manned space exploration, however he is not averse to criticizing NASA or private space development organizations when he feels their priorities are wrong or they are being unrealistic. This is a nice departure from the blind boosterism which is so often found in space activists. Steele is able to offer an optimistic view of space exploration tempered by realism. Read several years after they originally appeared, however, it is clear, in many cases, where Steele's optimism was misplaced as projects he touted turned into so much vaporware. However, Steele offers a clear view of NASA's faults and foibles as well as a variety of possibilities for our future in space.

In the section on Science Fiction, Steele looks at the subject from a variety of angles. Naturally, he discusses what it means to be a science fiction author and does his best to dispel myths that there is a secret way to become successful or that all SF writers live the lives of Riley. Perhaps the most "fannish" essay in the collection is Steele's discussion of the science fiction collection at the St. Louis Science Center. Having visited the display, Steele's depiction, not only of the display, but of the reactions it engenders, is spot on.

For the most personal essay in the collection, the reader need only turn to the third section, "Destinations." While some of these are about travel, such as Steele's fortieth birthday vacation to the small Caribbean island of Dominica, "Jake's Last Stand," about the pain of losing a loved dog is the stand-out piece. There is one structural oddity in this section, however. "Mr. Steele Goes to Washington," Steele's introduction to his congressional testimony is separated from the testimony itself by an unrelated essay concerning the September 11 attacks. Easily rectified by not reading the essays in published order, and all of the essays are worth the time to read.

While some of the essays presented in Primary Ignition are artifacts of the distant last years of the twentieth century, others have aged much better. All of them are interesting and offer a quick look into the mind of Allen Steele in a way that is more autobiographical and personal than his science fiction. Fans of Steele's science fiction or space enthusiasts would be well rewarded to pick up a copy of Primary Ignition.

Copyright © 2008 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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