Arkham House, 1992, 309 pp., $20.95, hardcover
From the New York Times Book Review...
Literal-minded critics have sometimes derided science fiction as subliterary "escapism," because it does not deal, in so many words, with the here-and-now. J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings," defended all imaginative literature from such charges by drawing a distinction between escape and desertion: while few applaud desertion, our reaction to prison escape depends on whether we identify with the prisoner or the jailer. In a savvy introduction to his fine collection of stories, Meeting in Infinity, John Kessel confesses that when he was 12 years old, reading science fiction was his sole means of escape from "the feeling of being trapped that, sadly, so many children feel." The 14 stories in this collection confirm that while the mature Mr. Kessel still identifies with prisoners, he uses science fiction not to avoid or deny life's encumbrances but to confront and comprehend them.
In the story "Hearts Do Not in Eyes Shine," Connie and Harry confront the old, old question of whether love can survive betrayal of trust. To save their marriage, they turn to a new technological fix: selective memory erasure. Freed from the burden of past hurts, they make a fresh start--with consequences that appear inevitable only in retrospect. "Another Orphan" lifts a commodities broker named Patrick Fallon out of contemporary Chicago and plunks him down on a whaling ship named the Pequod; his efforts to comprehend his predicament are handled with a delicacy that skirts the self-righteousness of allegory, even when the one-legged captain tells Fallon, "Put aside those notions that there is another life somehow more real than the life you live now." "Invaders" mixes cocaine-smoking aliens, time travel and an indictment of colonialist oppression with a clear-headed look at the use and abuse of science fiction considered as a "mind-distorting drug." "Buffalo," a poignant meditation on dreams and reality in which they author's father meets H.G. Wells, suffers from Mr. Kessel's tendency to spell out conclusions that inhibit rather than empower the reader's imagination. But at their best, these are stories that liberate the mind, which is of course what escapism is all about.
Illustrated by J.K. Potter
Meeting in Infinity is copyright © 1992 by John Kessel.