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Mini-Masterpieces of Science Fiction
edited by Allan Kaster
narrated by Tom Dheere and Vanessa Hart, unabridged
Infinivox, 3 hours, 48 minutes

Mini-Masterpieces of Science Fiction
Allan Kaster
Allan Kaster is a baseball-loving, guitar-playing, science fiction fan that happens to be a native Texan that can't get enough Mexican food. He has a loving wife and two teenage kids. By training, he is an anaerobic microbiologist.

ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Susan Dunman

It's been a long time since I've listened to short stories, but evidently Allan Kaster knew just what I'd like to hear. This collection includes nine selections originally published between 1991 and 2007, offering a variety of topics ranging from an aging superhero grandmother ("Grandma," by Carol Emshwiller) to how a mother and daughter cope with the end of the world ("Last Contact," by Stephen Baxter).

Narrators Tom Dheere and Vanessa Hart give fine performances. They handle the reading in a clear, approachable style without being overly dramatic. Both have voices that are easy on the ears, although Dheere audibly inhales at the beginning of sentences with enough frequency to be mildly distracting at times. However, his performance of "Kin" by Bruce McAllister, is stunning and makes me reduce my complaint to a mere quibble.

In this story, a young boy named Kim lives in an over-populated future Earth. He solicits the services of an alien to assassinate the government official who has decreed that Kim's mother must abort her unborn daughter. Dheere uses pacing and tone to create a memorable alien that is both menacing and sympathetic at the same time. His narration makes the story come alive as the alien and the boy develop a bond between cultures and occupations.

Not to be outdone, Hart uses her vocal skills to evoke a sense of melancholy and quiet wonder that is perfect for the story, "Lambing Season," by Molly Gloss. When a sheep herder discovers an alien ship and its pilot in the desolate landscape preferred by her woolly charges, she allows the newcomer the privacy and respect deserved by an interstellar traveler.

Another story skillfully handled by Dheere is "None So Blind," by Joe Haldeman. When an over-achiever teenager falls in love with a super-intelligent school mate who happens to be blind, he eventually develops a way to turn her "weakness" into a strength of world-shattering proportions. This story presents some intriguing ideas and narrator Dheere amazes by easily phrasing such texts as, "Where Cletus divided his time between the musky charms of his beloved and the sterile cubicles of Institute Marcey, learning how squids learn things, which was by serotonin pushing adeylate cyclase to catalyze the synthesis of cylic adenosine monophosphate in just the right place." Wonder how many times he had to record that sentence to get it exactly right?

Short story collections almost always contain surprises and that's one of the joys of listening to them. Elizabeth Bear offers a unique twist on contact with aliens in "The Something-Dreaming Game" where a doomed alien can communication with a young girl only when she is rendered unconscious through auto-asphyxiation. Additional stories in the collection include, "As Far As You Can Go," by Greg van Eekhout, "Gene Wars," by Paul J. McAuley and "Bright Red Star," by Bud Sparhawk. Only two of the titles, "Gene Wars" and "As Far As You Can Go" seemed to fall a little flat, but for me, that's an unusually low percentage in a short story collection.

One of the joys of listening to short stories, as opposed to reading them, is that when you can't "see" that you're in the last paragraph, it's not as easy to know when a story is about to end. That situation can often make the endings more of a surprise and I found that to be true in a number of stories gathered here. For some reason, it seems to make hearing these stories more enjoyable. Each CD has the stories on that particular CD clearly marked, along with the track numbers associated with each tale. Infinivox has put together a well-produced audio collection that's both a pleasure to hear and to ponder.

Copyright © 2008 Susan Dunman

Susan became a librarian many light years ago and has been reviewing books ever since. Audiobooks and graphic novels have expanded her quest to find the best science fiction in Libraryland.

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