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Blue Kansas Sky
Michael Bishop
Golden Gryphon Press, 262 pages

Ron Walotsky
Blue Kansas Sky
Michael Bishop
Michael Bishop was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1945. His early years were spent as an "air force brat." He attended the University of Georgia, where he received his B.A. in 1967 (with Phi Beta Kappa honours). He earned a master's degree in English with a thesis on the poetry of Dylan Thomas. He taught English at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Colorado Springs from 1968 to 1972, and later at the University of Georgia. He is married with 2 children.

Michael Bishop Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Michael Bishop has written some of the best speculative fiction of the last twenty years, ranging from the gritty Minor League baseball novel Brittle Innings to the romantic anthropological novel Ancient of Days. Bishop has only published a small number of novels, all of them worth searching for. Blue Kansas Sky is his sixth collection of equally excellent stories. Like James Morrow, who has written the introduction to this book, Bishop's writing has never fully managed to find the audience it deserves. His stories and novels come out, it seems, too infrequently to keep him in the public's memory.

Blue Kansas Sky, a collection of four novellas, demonstrates why readers should make time and take the trouble to search out Bishop's books and clamour for more. The collection opens with the title story, "Blue Kansas Sky," which is previously unpublished. Set in the late 50s and throughout the 60s, it tells the story of Cullison "Sonny" Peacock coming of age in Van Luna, Kansas. Lacking any overt fantastic or science fictional elements, what "Blue Kansas Sky" does have is a evocative feel for the period and location. Although the cold war is barely mentioned, the feeling that it is a threat is constantly in the background, just as Van Luna lives with the seasonal threat of tornado. Sonny's life seems entirely mapped out, even when he takes initiative, but there is little feeling of predeterminism as he deals with his widowed mother and her antipathy towards his ex-con uncle. "Blue Kansas Sky" is a story which perfectly demonstrates Bishop's underappreciated skill. His ability for accurate, almost visceral portrayals of regular people comes through.

A harsh Apartheid-ridden South Africa is the background for "Apartheid, Superstrings, and Mordecai Thubana." Opening with a strange accident involving an imported Cadillac, a disappearing elephant and a mysterious black man with the name Mordecai Thubana, the story is a realistic examination of the biases people live with and what happens when they begin to question their own prejudices. Gerrit Myburgh, the white South African who was involved in the accident, doesn't think of himself as a racist, but his rescue by a "kaffir bus" makes him question some of the foundations upon which the Apartheid system was run.

The setting of "Cri de Coeur" makes it the most science-fictional of the four novellas in Blue Kansas Sky, taking place on a wheelship. Bishop concerns himself with the idea of the outsider who has managed to find a place for himself among the multitudes. This idea is not new in literature, or even within this book, which sees Rory Peacock forging a place for himself in the unforgiving community of Van Luna and Gerrit Myburgh becoming a shadowy outsider in the black community of South Africa.

The final story in the collection also deals with an outsider, both by circumstances and inclination. Egan Chaney is a xenologist in "Death and Designation Among the Asadi," attempting to study the society by becoming a pariah. Even as Chaney takes on the role of the invisible man which Myburgh assumed in "Apartheid, Superstrings, and Mordecai Thubana," he comes to empathize with the Asadi in a way he would never have credited when the novella opened.

Bishop's writing has been rightfully acclaimed, garnering him several Nebula nominations and the award itself for No Enemy But Time. His World War II baseball novel, Brittle Innings, is as evocative of the war-era south as "Blue Kansas Sky" is of Kansas a generation later. Unfortunately, despite these and many accolades, Bishop seems to remain a closely held secret, not having garnered the readership that he deserves. Similarly, his bibliography is shorter than would be allowed in a more fair world. The publication of a new work by Bishop, or even a collection of previously published stories, is cause for celebration. If there is justice in the world, Blue Kansas Sky will introduce Bishop's work to a wider readership.

Copyright © 2000 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver in one of SF Site's Contributing Editors as well as one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He is Vice-Chairman of Windycon 28 and Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. Steven is a Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer. He lives in Illinois with his wife, daughter and 4000 books.

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