Strangeways Number 5 by James Patrick Kelly (ebook review).

May 26, 2016 | By | Reply More

James Patrick Kelly is one of those writers who makes a living mostly by writing short fiction if you count novelettes as short. Such rare beasts intrigue me in the age of the ten doorstep volume fantasy and as a short story writer – bush league – I always read interviews and so forth of the best ones to see how they do it. Moreover, he has a foine Oirish name like meself and that deepens the sense of kinship, to be sure. He boosts his income by teaching creative writing. He’s won a couple of Hugos. ‘Strangeways’ is an e-publication experiment to put his back catalogue out there and make some bucks. It includes introductory essays by Kelly and extracts from interviews. It’s cheap but you only get a couple of stories per issue.

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The first of the two stories here is ‘Don’t Stop’. Lisa Schoonover is a small town girl who has had a series of dead end jobs and gets most of her fun from running, though she has a boyfriend called Matt who might be getting serious. Kelly runs himself and so has all the jargon about shoes and outfits. Lisa sees dead people. No one else can see them, obviously, so she has a bit of a reputation as an oddball. She sees her mother and her former running coach but mostly she sees one she calls Crispin. The name was given to him by her mother who thought he was an imaginary friend when she heard about him. He’s been around since Lisa was six and her father died in a road accident, which trauma may account for his creation. Kelly is a fluent writer of stories like this, set in the here and now but with a fantastic twist. I found the ending a bit sudden but that’s part of his method. It’s a good technique which I’ve also noticed lately in Denny O’Neil’s ‘Batman’ stories and in much of Robert E. Howard’s work. Stop when the action’s finished, not one word more.

The second story is ’Faith’ which opens amusingly with our heroine seeing her husband with a girl who has ‘enough blonde hair to stuff a pillow’. Chuck was meant to be out of town, alone. One divorce later, Faith is putting ads in the personals and looking for another guy. She also has two kids. Ultimately, after some duds, she meets up with Gardiner Allan who is thoroughly nice and grows flowers for a living. The trouble is that he seems able to read her mind. This is a fine romance that might almost have been published in a mainstream woman’s magazine but actually appeared in ‘Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine’ in June 1989. ‘Don’t Stop’ appeared in ‘Asimov’s’ in June 1987. Perhaps June, rhyming with moon in classic songs, was the month for love in ‘Asimov’s’ back then.

In truth, this will not appeal to the fan who likes aliens, spaceships, vampires, werewolves, Lovecraftian monsters or the more far out stuff of our ghetto. Both stories are mainstream with a twist, set in twentieth century USA with ordinary women protagonists. The theme of this issue is whether or not a man can write a decent lead female character. Kelly shows that he can, I think, but I am only a man myself and possibly a poor judge. ‘Don’t Stop’ passed the time but ‘Faith’ was enjoyable because of the humour. This publishing experiment is worth a look and I emphasize again: cheap! If you want a sample of Kelly’s heroes this is the way to get it.

Eamonn Murphy

May 2016

(pub: Strangeways Press, 2012. 50 page ebook. Price: £ 0.99 (UK), $ 0.99 (US). ASIN: B0085MQY82)

check out website: www.jimkelly.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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Eamonn Murphy is a science fiction and fantasy writer and reviewer who lives in the south west of England. If you want to know more visit his website: https://eamonnmurphyblog.wordpress.com/

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