Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Satan is a Mathematician
Keith Allen Daniels
Anamnesis Press, 163 pages

Rodger Gerberding
Satan is a Mathematician
Keith Allen Daniels
Keith Allen Daniels has been a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association since 1979 and has been publishing poetry since 1972. His work has appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction, Dark Planet, Pirate Writings and Weird Tales. In 1993, What Rough Book won the National Association of Independent Publishers Fallot Literary Award. Other honours include a Nebula nomination, the Rhysling Award (15 times), the Pushcart Prize and the Clark Ashton Smith International Poetry Award. His other books include Loopy Is The Inner Ear (1993), Dyscrasias: Selected Poems (1997), Notes From The Antipodes (1997) and Apokalyptikon (1996). Keith Allen Daniels' day job is as a materials engineering manager in Palo Alto, California.

Keith Allen Daniels Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Anamnesis Press
SF Site Review: What Rough Book: Dark Poems and Light

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Here is Satan is a Mathematician, a collection of poems, dating from as far back as 1980, but mostly from the 90s, which cover a wide range of subjects, science-fictional, fantastical, horrific, and scientific. Keith Allen Daniels is an interesting poet, and at the high end of his range is very fine.

The book is subtitled "Poems of the Weird, Surreal, and Fantastic," which is pretty much what we get. In a previous draft of this review, I dithered about trying to define "SF poetry," or "Fantastic poetry." To some extent I was interested in disproving the existence of such a beast: after all, poetry is about sound and emotion (and ideas), and at least the first two seem not to be definable in genre terms. But then, some poems really are about ideas, and ideas, famously, are the stuff of much science fiction. And some emotions are perhaps best evoked by images from SF or the fantastic. A trivial conclusion, I'm afraid. I will say, though, that it seems to me that I read poetry of all sorts for the same reasons: sound and emotion, while I read science fiction, at times, for explicitly different (neither superior nor inferior) reasons than I read mainstream fiction. Enough, though. What of the poems at hand?

One of my favourites is "The Poetasters' Café," which takes a harsh look at the contemporary "coffeehouse" fashion for poetry readings and overly confessional writing. It's a fine poem, but it's not SF, unless the use of vocabulary such as "coelacanth" and "phagocyte" is sufficient to so mark a poem. On the other hand, "Sciomancy Nights," another fine effort, uses an explicitly fantastical device, raising the spirits of the dead to speak to them, to consider, in a slightly humorous manner, four historical figures (Bierce, Archimedes, Aldous Huxley, Lincoln). Another angle Daniels uses is pure science: "The Discourse of the Stones" imagines "deep time" through the history of rock. Not SF poetry, perhaps, but "geology poetry".

An occasional poem is concerned with a simple SFnal idea: "The Time Emitter," for example, uses its own structure to convey the central notion. "Einstein's Brain" briefly sketches a notion of what might have happened to the title object (once rumoured lost, if memory serves). "The Death of NASA" is again perhaps not SF, but deeply concerned with the decline, in our time, of the old SFnal dream of space travel.

On the whole these are interesting poems. Occasionally Daniels seems to believe that an exotic use of vocabulary is sufficient to make a sequence of words poetry; on other occasions, the poems seem not much but doggerel. But that is to complain about the lesser works of what is, after all, quite a long collection by poetry standards. The best poems here are very good. For example, "Leap to Infinity" is a lovely double haiku:

"A doe's leg, fractured
in mid-leap and torn in half
hangs from the barbed wire. On the ground beneath
her body has fallen far
behind her spirit."
Or the fine extended metaphor in "Lithic":
"in caverns of the forebrain
suffering forms grottos
of fanciful dripstone..."
Or from "The Poetasters' Café":
"There the poets are mired in self
like insects in pitcher plants
of their own device."
Daniels often writes relatively free verse, but he is also interested in more rigorous forms. Besides haiku, he uses such strict forms as the sonnet, and the sestina. (There is also a clever if not quite serious effort in a form suggested by Joe Haldeman: two stanzas each consisting of words in alphabetical order, one word for each letter of the alphabet.)

Anyone interested in contemporary poetry would do well to check out this book. And if you are also interested in SF and fantasy, attuned to the vocabulary and images of science and "the weird, surreal, and fantastic," you'll be even more likely to be attracted by Keith Allen Daniels' favoured image sets.

Copyright © 1999 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide