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issue: 02/15/2001

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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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Blue Kansas Sky
by Michael Bishop

- reviewed by J M Frank

Blue Kansas Sky contains four novellas by writer Michael Bishop. With three varied science fiction stories and one straight literary novella, the author shows solid range, unfortunately the stories vary greatly in quality as well as in subject matter. The good news is that the stories generally do get progressively better.

Bishop leads off with the title story, "Blue Kansas Sky". It is a rather simple story of the coming-of-age variety, with nothing particularly special to offer. The single twist is the main character's uncle recently was released from prison (the boy's father died during a prison term stemming from the same incident). The boy's mother hates the uncle and believes her husband took the fall for a murder committed by the uncle during a robbery. The boy, however has a secret attachment to the uncle. Through most of the story, there is some ambiguity as to whether the uncle committed the murder in question. However, not being a murderer does not make the uncle a good guy, and there does not seem to be any real reason to like him. When the uncle is not eating dogs, he is rounding them up as the self-appointed animal control officer. Though the author seems to want us to sympathize with this man, he is not likable. Neither is the boy nor his mother particularly well-characterized or even likable. The result is a flat story with a picket fence ending.

The second story is much stronger. It manages to mix some of the grim realities of South Africa's apartheid with the surrealism of cutting edge physics. A white South African banker with the inevitable racist tendencies of his class and background becomes "shadow matter" and can only be seen by the blacks he formerly rarely associated with. Bishop utilizes this scenario well, teaching the racist his much-needed lesson. The story is quite powerful in places. However, it also peaks in the middle and does not seem to know how to end. Also, the main character is frustratingly slow to pick up on things.

The last two stories both concern the colonization of new worlds, with Bishop treating the subject with much greater realism than often found in science fiction novels. The first of the two is a worthwhile novella that mainly concerns the physical and psychological hazards of interstellar travel.

The final story is an anthropological study of a perplexing alien species. This is the clear standout in the collection. Like the best stories in this genre, a puzzle is presented in such fascinating complexity that the story is difficult to put down. Many readers will like myself find themselves reading the full novella in one sitting, anxious to find the conclusion. Pieces of the puzzle are left open, but enough is resolved to leave the reader fascinated, and with an impression that lingers long after the story is complete. This story in itself makes the collection worth picking up.

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J M Frank welcomes your comments on this review.


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