The Pure Product

First edition:
Tor Books, December 1997, 384 pp., $24.95, hardcover
ISBN 0-312-86117-6

The pure products of America go crazy.

--William Carlos Williams

John Kessel on The Pure Product...

I grew up loving the science fiction short story before I loved the novel, and I still get a kick out of stories that I never get from longer works. I hope to write a few more before I'm done.

The original idea was to reprint my Arkham House collection Meeting in Infinity. But then my editor Beth Meacham and I talked it over, and we pretty quickly decided it would be more interesting to do this book. The Pure Product is a collection of stories that do not also exist as portions of either Freedom Beach or Good News From Outer Space. Nine of these stories appeared in Meeting in Infinity, another eight did not, and the two poems are an indulgence I hope you will forgive. "Faustfeathers: A Comedy," though based on an earlier story, has never appeared before, and "Gulliver at Home" is also new. So, what you've got here is, with the exception of "Another Orphan," my idea of my best work in independent short fiction.

From the jacket copy...

Widely acclaimed as one of science fiction's most thoughtful and imaginative writers, Nebula Award winner John Kessel has gained a wide following with his wildly comic novels blending dazzling satire with poignant insights into the human heart.

Nowhere is Kessel's remarkable talent more evident than in his short fiction. The Pure Product brings together for the first time in one volume Kessel's finest short fiction from the past decade: an extraordinary body of work by one of the field's most accomplished writers.

This exceptional collection contains nineteen astonishing voyages into worlds of wonder and mystery, complete with omnipotent beings, time travel, alternate histories, and playful takes on popular literature. The collection also includes two companion pieces to his most recent novel, Corrupting Dr. Nice. Here are the profound and moving meditations of an exceptional writer who understands that darkness and tragedy can turn in one breathless heartbeat to moments of absurdity, epiphany, passion, or joy.

A recent review...

The Pure Product
By John Kessel
Tor Books $14.95/$21.00 Canada
Trade Paperback, Aug.1999
ISBN: 0-312-86680-1

Review by Clinton Lawrence, Sci-Fi Weekly, September 21, 1999

The Pure Product collects 16 short stories, two poems, and a short play by SF author John Kessel. Two of the stories, "Some Like It Cold" and "The Miracle of Ivar Avenue," are set in the same universe as his novel Corrupting Dr. Nice. In "Some Like It Cold," a time traveler tries to save Marilyn Monroe. "The Miracle of Ivar Avenue" centers around a detective investigating the death of someone who appears to be the great 1940s director Preston Sturges, though Sturges is apparently still alive. In another 1940s-Hollywood inspired piece, "Faustfeathers: A Comedy," Kessel retells the Faust legend as a Marx Brothers comedy.

In three other stories, Kessel explores science fiction as an art. "Herman Melville: Space Opera Virtuoso" contemplates the Moby Dick author as an early science fiction writer. "Buffalo" is a personal story about a fictional encounter between Kessel's own father and one of his father's heroes, H. G. Wells. "Invaders" is a three-part tale that intertwines the conquest of the Inca with a 21st century alien invasion and the author's writing of the story.

A number of the works in The Pure Product are satires. "Animals" and "Man" both use satire to explore some of the less noble characteristics of human nature. "Animals" focuses on the jealousy and displacement of a man whose alien owners take in a stray. In "Man," an unwanted intruder takes up residence in a couple's basement. "The Pure Product" documents a time traveler's crime spree across the U.S. In "A Clean Escape," an elderly patient in a post-holocaust world thinks he's still 35 and the year is still 1984. "The Einstein Express" explores the effects of relativity on a man's romantic relationship.

The Pure Product presents John Kessel at his best. Kessel is a master of satire and social criticism, and someone who finds much of his inspiration from recent history rather than the future. At the same time, he often approaches his material with a sense of playfulness. All of these traits are abundantly clear throughout The Pure Product. Among the many satires and comedies in the collection, "Faustfeathers" is the most hysterically funny, a play so vivid that readers can actually hear the voices of Groucho and Chico, and see Harpo's antics. It deserves to be filmed. "Some Like It Cold" and "The Miracle of Ivar Avenue" are more serious, exploring the idea that time travel will be used for the commercial exploitation of the past. But they also reveal Kessel's affection for old movies.

When in the mode of social critic, though, Kessel is often brilliantly vicious. "The Pure Product" is a funny and poignant satire in which he explores the randomness and irony of life through the actions of his violent protagonist. In "Animal" and "Man," Kessel transforms humans into pets and pests in order to explore the nature of humanity. His humor tempers the uncomfortable situations, while at the same time allowing him to vividly show both the resilience and the violence of human nature.

And in one of the more interesting juxtapositions in the collections, Kessel attacks the notion of science fiction itself as an escapist literature in "Invaders," while in "Buffalo" he is equally as harsh with Wells for believing that art must always carry a message.

Kessel is a brilliant, complex writer, and most of the stories in The Pure Product are simply outstanding. He is quite possibly the best short story writer working in science fiction today, and this is a collection that shouldn't be missed.

The more I read Kessel's work, the more I love his work. He's a unique voice, and science fiction is a much stronger literature with him than it would be without him. -- Clint

The Pure Product is copyright © 1997 by John Kessel.