Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Grasping at Aliens

Alien ContactIn previous blog posts I've mentioned the significant role that book review bloggers play in today's publishing wars -- by bringing titles that aren't always reviewed by the mainstream press to the attention of book readers and buyers. Take Alien Contact for example: it's an all-reprint anthology from independent press Night Shade Books, and even though the book contains stories by such "name" authors as Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Ursula K. Le Guin, to name only three, it hasn't gotten a great deal of attention amongst mainstream publications, with the exception of Library Journal and The Guardian.

That's why book review blogs are so important to an anthology like Alien Contact and to a publisher like Night Shade Books. A typical reader doesn't have access to Kirkus Reviews or Publishers Weekly -- mostly because these publications are designed for libraries and bookstores and are far too expensive. But what a typical reader does have access to are the hundreds (thousands?) of free online book review blogs, such as John Ottinger's "Grasping for the Wind science fiction & fantasy news & reviews" blog.

I mention this blog specifically because John recently reviewed my Alien Contact anthology.

What I appreciate in particular about this review is that John addresses each of the twenty-six stories in the anthology. He doesn't necessarily like, or even understand, all of the stories, but he gives equal attention to each, which allows the reader to assess the overall content and quality of the book as a whole. As the book's editor, I'm gratified to see every author mentioned, not just the most popular or well-known authors.
Here are just a couple (well, maybe three) of Ottinger's individual story reviews:

Karen Joy Fowler's "Face Value" is a tragic story of a man and wife team sent to an alien planet to make contact with the moth-like intelligence found there. Taki is the xenobiologist and Hesper, his wife, a poet. Taki thrives, but Hesper becomes more and more depressed until even her poet's soul is lost. Fowler's sad story is about transcendence and the place where beauty comes from. It's about relationship too. Taki and Hesper's inability to understand one another has its echo in Taki's inability to communicate with the natives. There is a haunting beauty to Fowler's story that will leave you pondering long after you read it.

I have to admit that I don't really get "Guerrilla Mural of Siren's Song" by Ernest Hogan. The story appears to be about a street artist who encounters sirens deep in the winds of Jupiter. It's also a love paean to a dead woman. Art and experience combine in an experiential tale of whirling emotions and unreliable narration. It's likely to be the favorite story in the anthology of people with a less analytical and more artistic bent than myself, but for me it was rather confusing.

"If Nudity Offends You" by Elizabeth Moon is another story I have read before. In this one, a court secretary, living in a trailer park, finds that her neighbors have been illegally tapping into her electricity. Most of the story is about her confrontation with these odd foreigners who wear no clothes in their trailer, talk funny, and seem slightly off. The whole story builds up to a surprise ending that makes you wonder if these foreigners were not just from a distant land, but from a different planet entirely. It's a close encounter that is discovered only after the fact.

John concludes his review with the following observation:
Alien Contact is a title that might be slightly misleading. This is not an anthology of first contacts but rather a collection of encounters with the other, what we choose to call the alien, the ineffable, the different and unknowable. Halpern's anthology is an excellent collection of tales that share a theme in common, but that manage to postulate widely different scenarios

As I said, these are only three of the twenty-six individual story reviews; you'll find John Ottinger's complete review on Grasping for the Wind.


  1. Wow! Thanks for the thorough linkage and kind words.

  2. You're quite welcome, John; and thank you too for such a detailed review.
    - marty