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REVIEW: Alternate Gerrolds by David Gerrold

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fine collection of stories, especially if you like alternate history stories.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Sixteen stories by David Gerrold, many dealing with alternate histories.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: 14 stories ranging from good to excellent; enjoyable and accessible writing style.
CONS: 2 mediocre stories.
BOTTOM LINE: A collection of entertaining stories.

I’m a fan of David Gerrold’s writing. While I have yet to dive into his Chtorr series, I have thoroughly enjoyed his other work (The Man Who Folded Himself, The Dingillian Family series, When HARLIE Was One, and The Martian Child). I think the main reason I like his books is because his writing style is so accessible. By that, I mean that I mean he writes in everyday language and with a conversational tone. When reading a Gerrold story, there’s no time to stumble over any verbiage because the mind absorbs it so quickly. As a reader, there is one less barrier to enjoying the story.

The same can be said of his collection Alternate Gerrolds; the strength of the collection is the writing, not necessarily the plotting. Most of the stories were originally published in various alternate history anthologies edited by Mike Resnick. Some of the stories are not so much focused on alternate history than they are on alternate reality. Still others are not alternate anything; they’re just “vanilla” science fiction stories – and there isn’t anything wrong with that.

None of the stories are deeply steeped in science fiction. All are lighthearted tales that provide enjoyment on one level or another to diehard and casual sf fans alike. Also, it is perhaps fitting this holiday season that I was treated to not one but two Christmas stories.

If there’s any fault with this collection, it is the risk taken by any themed collection: over-exposure. One alternate history story after another tends to lessen the enjoyment, unless, of course, that particular theme is hugely entertaining to the reader or their reading is otherwise spread out over time. I read these over the course of a week and found two tales to be hovering at the mediocre level. The other fourteen stories ranged from good to excellent, with the standouts being “Rex”, “The Fan Who Molded Himself” and “Riding Janis” (this last one originally appearing in a collection of stories based on the music of Janis Ian).

Reviewlettes follow.

STORIES IN THIS ANTHOLOGY:

  1. “Bauble” [1993 short story] (Rating: 3.5/5)
    • Synopsis: A mysterious and beautiful (and artificial?) being visits the office of a detective looking for a necklace that holds her soul.
    • Review: An interesting piece with a mild noir feel. Both characters, the “Allura model” and the POV detective require the necklace to survive.
  2. “The Impeachment of Adlai Stevenson” [1992 short story] (Rating: 4.5/5)
    • Synopsis: The speechwriter of U.S. President Adlai Stevenson contemplates how to write a resignation speech.
    • Review: There’s something to be said for a political alternate history story that even I like. This one was clearly written and sprinkled with lively humor. I liked the depiction of the Eisenhower/Stevenson campaign battle and the ironic portrayal of the “egghead” president (the best man for the job) having to resign for the betterment of the country. Also, the story nicely evoked the era in which it takes place; the old-fashioned coke bottle, gas for a dime a gallon, etc.
  3. “The Kennedy Enterprise” [1992 short story] (Rating: 4/5)
    • Synopsis: Reminiscing from an ex-Trek writer on how John F. Kennedy came to portray Captain Jake Logan on a popular sci-fi television show called Star Track.
    • Review: Gerrold gets to apply his vast knowledge of Star Trek in the alternate history version of the show. Instead of Washington, D.C., the Kennedys make their home in Hollywood. There are tons and tons of mixed-up, brain-stretching references to real-life and television history, not to mention a few sf author references thrown in (Ellison, Strugeon). Overall, a good smile-eliciting piece.
  4. “The Firebringers” [1993 short story] (Rating: 3.5/5)
    • Synopsis: The crew of a WWII bomber carrying the first nuclear weapon contemplates the morality of such a powerful weapon.
    • Review: Another alternate history story; the crew are peopled by the Hollywood celebrities of yesteryear (Gregory Peck, Ronald Regan, Bob Hope, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, and so on). I’m not sure that this cast added anything to the story other than allowing it to be classified as sf – if anything, the cast detracted from it – but the story itself fortunately stands up apart from that.
  5. “Franz Kafka, Superhero!” [1994 short story] (Rating: 4/5)
    • Synopsis: Revel in the thrilling adventures of Franz Kafka, who, physically transformed into Bug-Man, fights for the meaninglessness of life by battling Psyche Man (Sigmund Freud)!
    • Review: Despite the seemingly hokey premise, this was actually a very good story. The only thing I remember from reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis back in high school was the whole turning-into-a-bug-thing being a symbolic reference to disability. But that was all I needed to find this story humorously engaging and entertaining. Fans of Kafka’s story would probably add a star.
  6. “Rex” [1993 short story] (Rating: 4.5/5)
    • Synopsis: The family’s pet Tyrannasaurus Rex becomes another weapon in the war between husband and wife.
    • Review: A very fun story with a Twilight Zone-ish feel. I wasn’t sure where this one was going and then, when I thought I did, it went somewhere better.
  7. “…And Eight Rabid Pigs” a.k.a “Satan Claus” [1994 short story] (Rating: 2/5)
    • Synopsis: A bunch of writers conjure the story of Satan Claus, monstrous legend of Christmas whose sleigh is pulled by eight black pigs with demonic eyes.
    • Review: Meh. Couldn’t get into this one. More fun than the story itself was trying to match the writers name with their real-life counterparts. Let’s see, I think I have George Finger and Railroad Martin properly pegged as George Alec Effinger and George R.R. Martin. But who are Bread Bryan, Goodman Hallmouth (Harlan Ellison?) and Steven Dhor supposed to be?
  8. “The Ghost of Christmas Sideways” [1993 short story] (Rating: 3/5)
    • Synopsis: When Santa Claus comes back from the dead and samples the over-commercialization of Christmas, one very naughty elf gets his just rewards.
    • Review: A good story that grabs your attention right away with, for better or worse, a mental image of Santa and an elf locked in…connubial congress. Still, it all works out. In the end.
  9. “A Wish for Smish” [1992 short story] (Rating: 3.5/5)
    • Synopsis: An unscrupulous lawyer name Lennie Smish gets a wish from a genie in a bottle.
    • Review: Except for the table-turning premise, this one had little else to offer.
  10. “What Goes Around” [1994 short story] (Rating: 2/5)
    • Synopsis: Chronicles the brutal murders of the Manson Family rock group.
    • Review: Except for the table-turning premise, this one had little else to offer.
  11. “The Fan Who Molded Himself” [1995 short story] (Rating: )
    • Synopsis: The grandson of the nephew of Dr. Watson receives a time-travel belt and is told the true story behind Sherlock Holmes.
    • Review: Excellent story. The title is a pun on Gerrold’s time travel book The Man Who Folded Himself in which a timebelt is used to surf the time streams. In this story, the timebelt is something of a McGuffin, and the revelation of the real story behind Holmes/Watson is told through a letter. This story had an extra level of enjoyment for me since I really enjoyed Gerrold’s book and I also like the Holmes stories, but even without that familiarity, this story still stands on its own as a good piece of fiction.
  12. “The Feathered Mastodon” [1997 short story] (Rating: )
    • Synopsis: A tongue-in-cheek piece that’s more of a tell-all of the secret science projects occurring that fuel Hollywood movies – and turn frequent Gerrold editor Mike Resnick into a feathered mastodon.
    • Review: Well written, cute and not a standard sf story. Although this would work better as an article or blog entry, it was still an enjoyable read.
  13. “The Seminar From Hell” [1994 short story] (Rating: )
    • Synopsis: A salesman from the Nine Circles Corporation makes his pitch for immortal souls.
    • Review: A very good premise and another well-written piece. The salesman uses logic to entice the audience. Since both heaven and hell want your immortal soul, would you rather receive in return the unspecified rewards of heaven or ask for whatever you want from hell?
  14. “The Spell” [1995 short story] (Rating: )
    • Synopsis: A semi-autobiographical piece on how the author enlists the help of a witch to rid himself of some very pesky neighbors.
    • Review: An engaging story since just about everyone can relate to problem neighbors.
  15. “Digging in Gehenna” [2003 novelette] (Rating: )
    • Synopsis: At an archeological dig on the planet Gehenna, scientists attempt to unravel the secret of an artifact left by the extinct race of three-legged aliens.
    • Review: A very good story. The story is basically comprised of three parts: the examination of the mysterious artifact, the puppy love of one archaeologist’s daughter, and the search for her missing baby brother. The middle puppy-love part was a little weaker than the rest, but the mystery of the artifact is solved most satisfactorily.
  16. “Riding Janis” [2003 short story] (Rating: )
    • Synopsis: A family makes plans to send a large comet towards Earth.
    • Review: Gender issues are explored as the “daughter” staves off puberty but desires to become a boy. Meanwhile her mother and her female partner disagree over whether to ride Comet Janis to Earth to prevent any possible catastrophe. There’s some effective symbolism between the tethered method used to slingshot the comet and the way the narrator’s parents are tethered around the daughter.
About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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