All-American Alien Boy by Allen Steele

Review by Tim Esaias

Allen Steele gets a lot of jacket hype these days about being the new Heinlein or the hottest thing in hard SF (which is, I assume, the opposite of flaccid SF). Well, I'm one of those who thinks that a) One Heinlein was more than enough, and b) Categories are the death of love. But I liked and can recommend this as a good, solid collection of short fiction despite the marketing the author has received.

Steele has a reputation for being blue-collar in his point of view (a refreshing tendency, in my view) and his main characters in this collection support it. They range from a professional lab volunteer ("The Good Rat") to a Tennessee backwoods semi-pro arsonist ("See Rock City") and tractor-pull workers ("Mudzilla's Last Stand"). Other stories explore the worlds of even lower-life types: reporters, serial killers, even SF writers. It's certainly not your average cast of characters, though a geologist does figure in "Jonathan Livingstone Seaslug".

This collection has a variety of styles and themes, in part because several of the stories were originally written for theme anthologies. It makes the collection uneven in tone, but also more interesting in its range.

Three stories stand out for me. First is "Lost in the Shopping Mall" which takes on the trappings of a `something-wrong-in-VR' story but is, instead, a critique of suburbia and of mass marketing with real human characters. Second, is the "2,437 UFOs Over New Hampshire" which originally appeared in Alien Pregnant by Elvis. This is a haunting realization of what the world of alien abduction fantasists might be like, would it come to pass. And finally, "The Good Rat" takes up the subject of human testing in a world where animal testing has been banned, from a volunteer's perspective. What I admire about each of these stories is that they take a common premise of SF and use it for a different kind of story altogether.

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