The Last Science Fiction Writer, by Allen Steele

[Happy birthday, syringe Ben!]

Subterranean Press has introduced me to quite a large amount of the science-fiction authors of the 1980s and 1990s that I missed the first time around, view either due to youth or a predilection for fantasy over sci-fi. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. This, side effects which appears to be Allen Steele’s fifth collection of short stories, was no exception. Allen Steele, a native of Nashville, was educated at New England College and the University of Missouri, and worked as a journalist for some years. He started publishing short stories in 1988, and has won the Hugo Award twice, in 1996 and 1998. He has published quite a few novels and short story collections, and one collection of essays.

This collection consists of ten stories; the first is a young-adult novella entitled “Escape from Earth,” about a young man who runs into a handful of people from the future, complete with spaceship, and helps them get back to their time. The other stories include “The War of Dogs and Boids,” “An Incident at the Luncheon of the Boating Party,” “The Teb Hunter,” “Moreau^2,” “High Roller,” “World Without End, Amen,” “Take Me Back to Old Tennessee,” “Hail to the Chief,” and “The Last Science Fiction Writer.” The topics range from time travel to teddy-bear hunting, and the lengths range from quite short to the aforementioned hundred-page novella.

Mr. Steele is quick to point out in the introduction to the collection that The Last Science Fiction Writer is the title of one of his stories; he does not, in any way, shape, or form, regard himself as having that title. It’s the final story in the volume, and rather a short one; it did not make nearly as much impact on me as the first story, “Escape from Earth.” I suppose it’s obvious that I’m a fan of that which is written for young adults, and this story, originally for an anthology edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, certainly qualifies. The main character, Eric, is an appealing character with an interesting backstory, and he handles himself impressively during the events that transpire.

Some of the other stories are rather disturbing; the teddy-bear hunting that I mentioned earlier the author himself calls a straight-out satire, and it really very much creeped me out. “Moreau^2,” which takes some of its ideas from The Island of Dr. Moreau, also has some very unsettling elements, and the follow-up story, “High Roller,” continues some of them. The latter story, though, is a lot more straightforward, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. “An Incident at the Luncheon of the Boating Party,” I felt was probably the weakest story in the volume, but it’s cute and has a strong element of wish-fulfillment. It just wasn’t as well-formed as the others.

I quite enjoyed my introduction to Mr. Steele’s worlds. If he’d published more YA books, one could be sure that I’d have searched them out already. Unfortunately, that novella was his only foray into my preferred age-level. I might yet look for his other works, but I’d recommend this collection for fans of the other standard SF that I’ve reviewed so far. YAs looking for that novella should probably search out the anthology, conveniently entitled Escape from Earth: New Adventures in Space; the rest of the authors included are interesting, as well. Fans of Michael Swanwick, Heinlein, and other classic authors won’t be disappointed. 5/5 stars.

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