September 24, 2005

BOOKS: Live! From Planet Earth, George Alec Effinger (2005)

SF story collection from the late Effinger, who never quite reached the level of fame that he deserved. Other writers admired him immensely, and each story here gets a short introduction from a different author; when you've got Michael Bishop, Neil Gaiman, Howard Waldrop, Jack Dann, and Gardner Dozois (among others) singing your praises, you must be doing something right.

There are some fine stories here, such as "All the Last Wars at Once," a darkly comic story which takes identity politics to its logical conclusion; or "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything," a lighter tale of what must be the most annoying invasion in SF history.

Among Effinger's gifts is a dazzling talent for pastiche. The first half of the astonishing "Two Sadnesses" is a perfect imitation of A.A. Milne's style and tone (though Milne could never have imagined the subject matter); though I haven't read The Wind in the Willows, I trust that the second half of "Two Sadnesses" is just as good an evocation of Kenneth Grahame.

Then there are the "O. Niemand" stories. There are seven of them (plus a poem), originally published under that pseudonym -- "niemand" is the German word for "nobody" -- and each written in the style of a great American author. These are not parodies; Effinger isn't mocking the style of Thurber or Twain. He's re-creating them, paying homage; if those authors had written SF, these are the stories they'd have written. "The Man Outside," after Steinbeck, and the Flannery O'Connor-styled "Put Your Hands Together," are particularly fine pieces, and would be memorable stories even without the stylistic accomplishment.

Live! From Planet Earth is a marvelous collection, and if you're not familiar with Effinger's work, you should be. The editor's preface says that there are enough stories not included here for at least one more volume, which is something to look forward to.

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