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Terminal Visions
Richard Paul Russo
Golden Gryphon Press, 237 pages

Terminal Visions
Richard Paul Russo
Richard Paul Russo has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award for Subterranean Gallery, a Philip K. Dick Special Award for Carlucci's Edge and has been shortlisted for England's Arthur C. Clarke Award for his novel Destroying Angels. Terminal Visions is his first collection of short stories.

ISFDB Bibliography
Review of Destroying Angels
Review of Destroying Angels in German
Review of Subterranean Gallery
Review of Carlucci's Heart
Golden Gryphon Press

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

When Jules Verne and J.H. Rosny, aîné wrote their early science fiction works in the late 19th century, they were already each exploring different poles of the genre: Verne, hard SF where technological innovation was paramount; and Rosny, social SF where the human individual or society learned to cope with advanced technology. Russo's work in Terminal Visions clearly falls in the latter category, with many stories being classified as SF only because the landscape the characters move in fits what one would categorize as an SF setting. However, the rich underlying interpersonal themes of the stories could work equally well in a conventional reality. Russo's work is first and foremost about how people deal with situations, technology-driven or otherwise, and with each other -- not bigshots capable of commanding the world's armies/economies/ideologies or superheroes capable of solving all with one flick of their superpowers, just your average Joe or Jane of the future faced with a problem.

While the settings of the stories range from interstellar lifeboats to decaying post-apocalyptic inner cities, and the technology from invasive alien body suits to a device for time/space-hopping in old-fashioned cars, the stories are first and foremost about ordinary men and women, their emotions, interactions, hopes, and motivations. These largely transcend the technological backdrop or unusual abilities of the characters. Best of all, the characters are neither save-the-world superheroes, nor cloyingly sentimental; they are ineffectual emotional wrecks.

Karen Joy Fowler in her introduction to Terminal Visions cites "The Open Boat," a poignant story of three men and two women stranded and doomed to live out their lives in a small lifeboat in the non-universe, as her favourite. As she points out in this case, and as pervades most of the other stories in this collection, the details of what technology has landed the characters in their predicament, and their antecedents are quickly dispensed with, and we learn who they are through their actions and interactions with others. In "The Open Boat" we are witness to how each of the characters comes to terms with a life sentence to the endless non-time of the non-universe. In my favourite story, "Telescope, Saxophone, and the Pilot's Death," a young woman dying of a neurological disorder induced by her piloting interstellar spacecraft, is befriended by a musician and sculptor. They live together and he takes care of her as the once razor-sharp control of her body quickly escapes her. When her death finally comes, his grief finds artistic expression in the fusing of her remains with those objects which they most cherished together in her final days. If any story debunks the adage that romance and science-fiction don't mix, this is the one.

Another theme that pervades Russo's work is the idea of the control a man can have over his environment through his dreams, induced or natural. In "Prayers of a Rain God" Garrett is the very human God to which a primitive people are praying for rain. As he sees the suffering of his people Garrett tries more and more to find the inner strength to bring the life-giving rain to his people, but when it does come, exhausted from his efforts, he can no more control the rain. In "Watching Lear Dream," Samuel and Lear are both decommissioned superhuman tools of war capable of creating reality through their dreams. Samuel has the job of destroying the products of the aged Lear's increasingly erratic dreams, but when Lear brings back to life Teresa, the love of Samuel's life, Samuel cannot intervene.

If you're looking for an in-depth monograph on the subtleties of tachyon sail design concealed in a science fiction novel, you'll have to go elsewhere. What makes Russo's vision so compelling is that in glossing over the trappings of standard science fiction, his work is far more accessible and enjoyable and likely to draw new readers to SF, while maintaining sufficiently intriguing futuristic settings and SF plot elements to maintain a following among even the diehard SF fans. So whether you be a technophile or Luddite, you're sure to find something to enjoy in Terminal Visions

Copyright © 2000 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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