The Barnes & Noble Review
Michael Bishop is one of science fiction's most humane and eloquent voices, and the publication of Blue Kansas Sky, a first-rate collection of "four short novels of memory, magic, surprise & estrangement," is a significant event. The book offers additional evidence -- if any were needed -- of the range and depth of Bishop's supremely empathic imagination. Handsomely produced by Golden Gryphon Press, Blue Kansas Sky contains a comprehensive introduction by James Morrow, three older, previously uncollected novellas, and the deeply affecting title story, which appears for the first time anywhere.
"Blue Kansas Sky," which begins in rural Kansas in the late 1950s, is a mainstream coming-of-age tale with just a hint of transcendent possibilities. The story focuses on Sonny Peacock, a 12-year-old boy whose father died in prison and who enters into a carefully concealed relationship with his Uncle Rory, an ex-convict who makes his home in the Van Luna city dump. A tightly compressed story of growth and discovery, "Blue Kansas Sky" shows us the unfolding arc of Sonny's life, from his awkward adolescence to his brief
flowering to his brutal collision with the political realities of the turbulent 1960s.
Political realities of another sort dominate "Apartheid, Superstrings, and Mordecai Thubana." In this one, which is set in South Africa during the latter stages of apartheid, Gerrit Myburgh, member in good standing of the ruling elite, survives an enigmatic collision with an elephant, becomes "selectively invisible," and shares a jail cell with a brilliant, angry young black man named Mordecai Thubana, whose obsessive pursuit of a "Grand Unification Theory" provides an overarching metaphor for a society infected
by the surreal imperatives of racial discrimination.
"Cri de Coeur," a 1994 Hugo finalist, takes place on a 21st-century "wheelship" filled with colonists heading toward a new -- and unforeseeable -- future. "Cri de Coeur" is an adventure story, a meditation on the human urge for transcendence, and an acute portrait of the social dynamics of life onboard a starship. At the heart of the story is a beautifully characterized Down syndrome child whose luminous nature stands in opposition to "a universe of swallowing dark."
The collection closes with "Death and Designation Among the Asadi," the account of a "cultural xenologist" named Egan Chaney, whose life changes forever when he chooses to live among the Asadi, hominoid inhabitants of a distant planet called BoskVeld. Chaney's observations of this impenetrably alien culture -- and his gradual discovery that he himself belongs among the
"milling throng" of Asadi -- form the primary substance of this eerily compelling novella. "Death and Designation..." has been largely unavailable for 20 years, and it's good to have it back. It remains one of Bishop's very finest stories, and brings this luminous, highly anticipated collection to an appropriately resonant conclusion. (Bill Sheehan)
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).