Tales of Old Earth
Ltd. (Hardcover), ISBN 1583940162
That illustrates just a brief smattering of the craziness you'll find in Michael Swanwick's collection of short stories, Tales From Old Earth. Notable in this collection is the Nebula-winning short, "The Very Pulse of the Machine." The story follows the last hours of Martha Kivelson's life as she trudges over the trackless wastelands of Io, one of Jupiter's many moons. Are the voices she hears on the radio coming from a semiconductor entity that haunts the crystals of the moon's surface? Or did the accident that killed her colleague and caused her subsequent isolation drive her to insanity?
Swanwick's sense of the absurd drifts over even more arcane subjects, finally degenerating to the totally obscure. What is it really like to be a rock performer in Russia, especially if you want to see THE star in THE last concert run he'll ever make? You should also check out the futuristic version of the Gypsy and the Lady.
Swanwick's quirky style marches along, sometimes briskly, sometimes as a slow drawl that builds to an unusual climax. While reading these stories a nagging doubt builds in the reader's mind. Can this really be the direction the author means to take? A surprising question, because the plots of Swanwick's tales tend to the mundane. Swanwick's convoluted style defines and draws the reader's interest.
A word of warning -- a few of the stories do contain pretty explicit adult scenes, a fact worth remembering if you share the house with younger bookworms.
Any faults? Maybe a few. Sometimes I found Swanwick's style frustrating in its tendency to take a roundabout way to the ending. A bit like taking the long scenic route instead of the new freeway. I don't recommend impatience while reading Tales of Old Earth.
Sometimes too, the stories fail to reach a satisfying resolution. They strike the reader as the beginning of something larger, not complete stories in themselves. But if you like stories with strange twists, stories that share souls with fiction written by Neal Barratt Jr. and William Browning Spencer, Swanwick will win your heart. Zombie, Get me more beer!
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