by Allen Steele 

Five Star Press


242pp/$25.95/June 2003

American Beauty

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Allen Steele has long demonstrated himself as adept at writing short stories as at novels.  In fact, Steele’s seven Hugo nominations (and awards) have all been in the novella or novelette categories.  Steele’s fourth short story collection, American Beauty opens with one of those nominees, “Agape Among the Robots” and continues to display his various talents until it concludes with the nostalgic tribute to Victor Appleton, “Tom Swift and His Humongous Mechanical Dude.”

In fact, many of the stories in American Beauty have a nostalgic feel to them.  “Agape Among the Robots” bring to mind the works of Isaac Asimov, although with a more credible love story than Asimov was ever able to write.  “Graceland” not only references the music of Elvis Presley, but also is set in the fabulous Riverworld of Philip José Farmer.  “Warning, Warning” is a poke at the television series “Lost in Space.”  These are not the only pop cultural references in the stories collected in American Beauty.

For all these references, Steele also collected stories with serious content, such as “A Walk Across Mars,” part of Steele’s ongoing alternative history sequence which explores the difference between events as they happen and events as they are reported.  “Missing Time” is another serious story, this time about a politician who is given the opportunity to see the damage his good intention cause to his city. 

One way for authors to keep their writing fresh is to branch out from their normal genres. For many SF authors, this means a foray into fantasy.  For Steele, it meant a journey into the land of technothrillers.  He novel he planned to write did not come to fruition, but it did result in the story “The Fine Art of Watching,” which was originally published pseudonymously.  It does further demonstrate, however, that Steele is at home in various genres and styles.

Some of the stories in American Beauty, most notably “Missing Time,” “Jake and the Enemy,” and “Warning, Warning” were originally published in less than standard places, whether on the net, in small press magazines or in mainstream magazines, and therefore will provide something new even to those who religiously read the major SF magazines.  The nicely produced collection also provides a more permanent home for those stories previously found in the digests, allowing the reader to enjoy Steele’s writing as often as desired.

Agape Among the Robots Hugo Nominee Jake and the Enemy
Her Own Private Sitcom Warning, Warning
Green Acres The Fine Art of Watching
Missing Time To Walk Across Mars
Graceland Tom Swift and His Humongous Mechanical Dude

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