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Changing the face of science fiction

By James Argendeli
CNN Headline News

"Strange But Not a Stranger"

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(CNN) -- Right off the bat, let me just write that "Strange But Not A Stranger" by James Patrick Kelly is science fiction for the new millennium. Yes, the Lizard realizes those are some big socks to fill, but read on and expand the boundaries of your reading pleasure with this marvelous short story collection.

The author, winner of the Hugo Award twice, opens this collection with the Outer Limits type story "10 (16) to 1." Twelve-year-old Ray Beaumont narrates the story in the not quite so innocent year of 1962.

Ray is a quiet, introverted kid who enjoys watching old sci-fi movies, staying up late to watch "The Twilight Zone" and reading his dad's science fiction magazines. While hanging out in the backyard woods, Ray literally runs into "something" in a three-piece business suit. Mr. Cross (given name Chitmansing) is in a slightly humanoid disguise in order to complete a mission to change history.

What this mission is and how it involves Ray gives the reader a perfect reason to ponder that great science fiction concept of "what if."

Next, in "Chemistry," Kelly writes about what may be just around the corner in the future version of a singles bar. College roommates Marja and Lily are lonely and burned-out students studying neurobiology. They decide to check out the Hothouse, a place to fall in and out of love in one night ... guaranteed.

Hothouse is FDA approved and licensed to chemically trick the brain into increasing hormones to find your perfect match. At least while the chemicals are active.

Then there is the Christmas story "Fruitcake Theory." The story follows Maggie and an alien she's babysitting on a mall-shopping excursion in the Christmas season. Instead of asking the question of what to get the person who has everything, how about, What does an alien who has the habit of singing carols on his mall travels look to buy?

In "Strange But Not A Stranger", Kelly has written a 15-story collection that gives the reader stories to encourage thinking. These are not lightweight cookie-cutter science fiction tales, nor are they difficult to understand.

Once you get done reading the collection, however, it is one you will probably pass on to others to let them know that the future of the science fiction short story is to be found in these pages.

Kelly follows the fiction portion of the book with a very enlightening afterword in which he describes the genesis of each preceding story.

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