by Kevin J. Anderson
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Kevin J. Anderson is best known for his media tie-in novels and, more recently, his continuation of Frank Herbert's "Dune" saga. However, Anderson has quite an extensive body of original work. His first collection, Dogged Persistence, includes numerous samples of the types of stories which originated in Anderson's own mind and only one example of a tie-in, "Dune: A Whisper of Caladan Seas." These stories demonstrate that Anderson's own ideas are quite clever, even if the characters he populates the stories with are not always particularly sympathetic.
“Fondest of Memories” is an examination of the ethics of cloning. However, Anderson tweaks the normal issues by inventing a means of imprinting a person’s memories on the clone, in this case the memories of the clone’s original’s widower. It becomes clear that he is less interested in replacing his dead wife, itself a rather intriguing notion fraught with danger, with his own image of her. In the process, Anderson’s protagonist reveals himself to be less heroic than he might like to think.
“Music Played on the Strings of Time” and “Tide Pools” are a pair of linked stories about “Alternitech,” a company which functions across different timelines. In the first story, Jeremy Cardiff is trying to find new songs and albums by musicians who are long dead in his own world. In the process of searching, he comes face to face with the most personal “what if” imaginable and he must decide whether he wants to continue living the life he has. While Jeremy is self-absorbed, Andrea has a more personal and altruistic reason for searching through the timelines in “Tide Pools.” The story deals with the fact that many horrible diseases are not researched for the simple economic reason that they do not afflict enough people to make cures for them profitable.
Anderson has collaborated with several other authors, perhaps to the most acclaim with Doug Beason, with whom he shares a Nebula nomination for Assemblers in Infinity. Their story “Reflections in a Magnetic Mirror” was their first collaboration, appearing in Full Spectrum. This story is the first hard science fiction story in the collection, exploring the way scientific discoveries are announced to the rest of the world, which needs to be brought up to speed on the reasons for the importance of the discovery. While the concerns of his non-work life playing a major part in his discovery are fairly typical of science fiction, the situation which results is not entirely believable. Furthermore, as with Anderson’s narrator in “Fondest of Memories,” Gordon Keller is not a particularly sympathetic man.
Edmond Jersey, the protagonist of “Entropy Ranch” is another of Anderson’s unsympathetic characters, made moreso by the fact that he feels little, if any, gratitude towards the people who saved his life multiple times. The story marries religious belief to scientific research to use time travel to avoid the little accidents which occur and kill people. Anderson dismisses the implications of destiny by making his characters Baptists, but a stronger story may have been written had predeterminism played a role in their decision to interfere with the past. At the same time, his the characters who are rewriting history have a definite attitude that they are in the right and know what is best for other people.
“Dogged Persistence,” the story from which the collection takes its title, was later reworked into the novel Antibodies, an “X-Files” book. The story has a feel similar to Ben Bova’s Moonbase novels in that it traces the negative public reaction to nanotechnology. In some ways, the world portrayed in the story seems a little dated, particularly in light of the actual muted response to the announcement of cloning. Once again, Anderson’s main character, Jerry McKenzy, is shown in less than sympathetic light, a scientist-über-alles who has no compunction about shooting his family pet in order to demonstrate that his experiment works.
“Human, Martian—One, Two Three” is a comparison between the manner in which Boris Tiban and Rachel Dycek handle the perception that they are being made obsolete. Boris is one of the first generation of Martians, a human who has been surgically enhanced to be able to survive on Mars. However, terraforming processes have supplanted the initial Martians with a second, less-modified version. Boris and his companions wage an ultimately futile guerilla warfare against their replacements. Rachel is the scientist who developed the surgery which made it possible for humans to survive on Mars, but now sees her role at an end. Just as Boris is given to grandiose gestures, so is Rachel, although hers turns inward. Eventually, Anderson introduces a ray of hope to examine how the characters will respond to the birth of the first human on Mars.
Anderson’s admiration of H.G. Wells can be seen in his editing of the collection War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, for which he wrote “Canals in the Sand,” a story about Percival Lowell and the actual appearance of Martians. Shortly after the construction of Lowell Observatory, Anderson’s character is vindicated by the appearance of the Martians, which he is incapable of seeing as a danger. Anderson later returned to Wellsian themes with “Scientific Romance,” in which Wells plays the role of a student observing a meteor shower with T.H. Huxley. In the process of the shower, basing his suppositions on Huxley’s defense of Darwin, Wells comes up with his initial concept for The War of the Wars. The story is hardly a serious SF story, but it is a clever look at science, literature and inspiration.
Brian Herbert is best known as the son of the late Frank Herbert, and Anderson has been collaborating with him lately on a series of novels which continue the “Dune” saga Herbert began in the 1960s. “Dune: A Whisper of Caladan Seas” is set immediately after the start of Herbert’s novel, focusing on a group of soldiers in service to Duke Leto who are holed up in a cave on Arrakis. The story is also a coming of age story as Elto Vitt learns what it means to be at war. He is a much more humanized character than the soldiers in the subsequent story, “Prisoner of War,” which gives the reader someone to connect with.
“Prisoner of War” focuses on the completely dehumanized soldiers in an age-old war who are bred merely to make war on an Enemy they no longer understand. When taken prisoner, Barto begins to discover what it means to be human and have interest and cares outside of the goals of the battlefield. Barto and his comrade, Atviq, fit in well with the distant, unsympathetic characters who populate so many of the stories in Dogged Persistence. When Barto and Atviq come to cross purposes, much of the drama which could have existed is depleted because Anderson has made it clear that as soldiers, they have no real personal ties to each other.
“Much at Stake” uses opium and heroin to create a face-to-face meeting between Bela Lugosi and Vlad Tepes during the filming of Lugosi’s “Dracula.” With Lugosi’s misconceptions of Tepes’s history based on popular literature and Tepes’s misconception of Lugosi’s identity and ability to grant absolution, the story looks not only at celebrity, but also at the desires and self-images celebrities hold of themselves.
“New Recruits” is an historical piece set in a Russian gulag in the early nineteenth century. Written in an epistolary format, the story is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” although the conscience of Anderson’s General Ursov is much more grandiose than in Poe’s story. Unfortunately, the story told through a common soldier’s eyes, is predictable in is outcome and the route that Anderson takes to get there.
“Final Performance” is an historical ghost story set against the background of Shakespearean London. Taking place entirely on the day the Glove Theater burned down, Anderson populates the theater with actors both living and dead wrestling for the chance to appear in one last role. Although an interesting premise, there seems to be little point in the end and none of the characters grab the reader’s sympathy.
“The Old Man and the Cherry Tree” has the feel of a fable from Japan, which is clearly Anderson’s intention. The characters in the story all lack identity, adding to the sense that it is a morality play which can be applied to any person or culture.
Among the numerous people Anderson has collaborated with is Rebecca Moesta, his wife. Their story “Sea Dreams” began as a solo project for Moesta who eventually enlisted Anderson’s help when she couldn’t create the piece she was trying for. Based on the final version of the story, the effect was half ghost story, half fairy tale, and the authors achieved it quite well as Elizabeth remembers her strange friendship with Julia who has apparently left for a realms beneath the sea but can still talk to Elizabeth in times of need. Most striking of all in the story is Elizabeth’s need for some romance despite focusing her life entirely on the practical and rational to the exclusion of romance.
As with so many of the previous stories in Dogged Persistence, “The Ghost of Christmas Always” features an historical character, in this case Charles Dickens, in a primary role. Anderson places his tale of Dickens in the format of Dickens’s own A Christmas Carol, a form which has been used and abused by authors practically since Dickens published his book in 1843. In Anderson’s version, the role of all three ghosts is played by Mary Hogarth, Dickens’s dead sister-in-law with whom he had a fascination. Rather than explore his greed, the story explores the events which made Dickens an author.
While “Music Played on the Strings of Time” tells the story of a failed musician in search of music, “Drumbeats,” written with Rush drummer Neil Peart, tells the story of a successful musician looking for music, or at least inspiration, during a bicycle trip through Africa. His quest eventually provides him with the music of life, although in a manner which is not as pleasing as he had hoped it would be.
One of the problems with including background information in the form of an introduction to these stories is that Anderson is providing his own context for the stories. Rather than bringing their own baggage to the situation, readers are suddenly reading the story with their own, and Anderson’s, understandings of life. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it does provide the author with a larger role in the interpretation of the story than the story alone offers.
Dogged Persistence gives readers a taste of what Anderson is capable of writing. Readers who have shied away from his media tie-ins will have a chance to read Anderson's work and discover the ideas which lurk inside his head. Dogged Persistence contains a wide range of types of stories, giving Anderson an opportunity to demonstrate his various interests and his ability to select the proper setting and mood for a story based on the needs of the idea.
|Fondest of Memories||Music Played on the Strings of Time|
|Tide Pools||Reflections in a Magnetic Mirror (with Doug Beason)|
|Entropy Ranch||Dogged Persistence|
|Human, Martian--One, Two Three||Scientific Romance|
|Canals in the Sand||Dune: A Whisper of Caladan Seas (with Brian Herbert)|
|Prisoner of War||Much at Stake|
|New Recruits||Final Performance|
|The Old Man and the Cherry Tree||Sea Dreams (with Rebecca Moesta)|
|The Ghost of Christmas Always||Drumbeats (with Neil Peart)|
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