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by Allen Steele

Meisha Merlin


420pp+/$16.00/January 1999

Sex and Violence in Zero-G
Cover by Ron Miller

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

There are several reasons for publishers to package single author collections, such as Allen Steele's third collection, Sex and Violence in Zero-G.  One reason, is to collect, in more permanent form, an author's stories from a variety of more ephemeral magazine sources.  A second reason to to collect several thematically linked stories.   A third reason is to provide an outlet for previously unpublished fiction by the author.  Meisha Merlin has succeeded with all three reasons in this collection.

Sex and Violence in Zero-G collects all of Allen Steele's "Near Space" stories in one place.  These tales have been published over a period of ten years, beginning with Steele's first published story, "Live from the Mars Hotel" (Asimov's, Mid-December, 1988) to "The Exile of Evening Star" (Asimov's, January 1999).  These stories fill in the gaps between the novels Steele has set in this same milieux.  In addition to collecting these previously published stories, Meisha Merlin has included a previously unpublished story, "0.0G Sex:  A User's Guide" and "The Weight," a novella which was published in the UK in 1995, but has been previously unavailable in the United States.

In addition to the stories themselves, Steele has included a short timeline of the "Near Space" cycle at the end of the book.   Although the timeline is useful, it would have been even moreso had Steele included a notation of when the various books and short stories were set against the events.   Steele also includes some diagrams of some of the space stations and ships which populate his world.

Although Steele doesn't include individual introductions to the stories, he more than makes up for that fact with a general introduction to the collection (Kevin J. Anderson also provides an introduction).  In this note, Steele explains some of the background to the stories, not the fictional background, but his thoughts when he was formulating the stories.

All of the stories in Sex and Violence in Zero-G are entertaining as Steele blends high detail technical specifications with an understanding of pop culture.  His characters may work in space, but they are firmly rooted in rock and roll, drinking and recreational drugs.  Rather than populate space with the "Dudley-Do-Right, Square-Jawed, Steely-Eyed Missle Man" NASA parades in front of the camera's, Steele's spacemen have human foibles which makes them more approachable and understandable.  All of the stories are worth reading and, of course, "The Death of Captain Future," a tribute to the Captain Future pulps, was rewarded with an Hugo Award for 1995.

The only negative aspect about this collection is the unfortunate choice of title.  I've mentioned to book to several friends, some of whom have read Steele's work and others who haven't.  Unless the person has read a considerable amount of his writing, their reaction is almost invariably that they wouldn't touch a book with that type of title.  Its saving grace is that the Ron Miller cover is a tasteful space scene rather than a lurid, pulpish cover pandering to the title.

Despite the title, Sex and Violence in Zero-G is a book which belongs in the collection of any Allen Steele fan.  Furthermore, it is a great book to provide an introduction to Steele's writings since so many of his stories are set against the same background.  Relatively new publisher Meisha Merlin has produced a wonderful volume which deserves wide distribution.

Walking on the Moon The Weight
Free Beer and the William Casey Society Kronos
The Return of Weird Frank The Death of Captain Future
Sugar's Blues The Exile of Evening Star
The Flying Triangle 0.0G Sex:  A User's Guide
Live from the Mars Hotel Working for Mr. Chicago
The War Memorial Shepherd Moon
Zwarte Piet's Tale  

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