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If Lions Could Speak and Other Stories
Paul Park
Cosmos Books, 194 pages

Paul Park
Paul Park has written several novels, including Celestis and The Gospel of Corax. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and several anthologies. He lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife, Deborah, and their daughter, Miranda.

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A review by Rich Horton

Paul Park is one of the most intriguing of SF writers. He made quite a splash with his first novel, Soldiers of Paradise (1987), an exotic and ambitious science fantasy about a world of tailed humans with a extra long year, facing revolution and upheaval as the seasons change. This was followed by two sequels, then by Coelestis, a challenging novel set on a colony planet, somewhat reminiscent of Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus, and by The Gospel of Corax, about a lost episode in the life of Jesus Christ. In the meantime, he has produced occasional short stories, almost every one striking and different from each other.

If Lions Could Speak and Other Stories is his first collection, and it assembles, to my knowledge, all of his published short fiction to date, with one story first published here, two other stories new to 2002 (though published elsewhere), and stories dating back to 1992, as well as an excerpt from Soldiers of Paradise. It is truly a first-rate group of stories.

Highlights include the title story, "If Lions Could Speak: Imagining the Alien", in my opinion one of the best stories of the year, a vivid meta-fiction in which the narrator, SF writer Paul Park, is preparing a talk about the difficulty of imagining alien intelligence from a human perspective. The story spirals inward to contemplate the writer's own mind, in the end suggesting, perhaps, that we are as alien to ourselves as any extraterrestrial intelligence. "Get a Grip" was one of my favorite stories from 1995, anticipating The Truman Show as its narrator, also named Park, learns that his life has been a TV show. "Self Portrait, with Melanoma, Final Draft", from 1998, also plays with meta-fiction, at a remove, as the narrator, a middle-aged man trying to become a writer, finds that his stories have apparently been previously written by somebody else. Interesting enough -- but Park twists things yet again, tying in his relationship with his writing teacher, who is dying of cancer. At least one more story here, "Untitled 4", is essentially meta-fictional, this time treating a blocked writer charged with a crime in a totalitarian state who cannot even write his confession.

Occasionally Park stories are closer to traditional SF, though always challenging the genre's assumptions. "The Last Homosexual" is a striking story of a future in which draconian approaches to treating AIDS have wiped out the homosexual population. "The Tourist" seems at first a fairly straightforward story about time travel to multiple alternate pasts -- but by the end the SFnal setting is used to tell the story of a marriage. And "Rangriver Fell", the novel excerpt, is lovely and mysterious, a fine introduction to a beautiful series of novels.

This is certainly one of the landmark SF story collections of the year. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2002 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. He writes a monthly short fiction review column for Locus. Stop by his website at

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