All-American Alien Boy, Allen Steele

Ace, 1996, 267 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-441-00460-1

Several reviewers, yours included- have often commented of the different approach used by Allen Steele’s brand of science-fiction. Though he has shown his ability to write hard-SF like the best of them, he approaches his subject from a bottom-up perspective. He writes about the common man in exceptional situations, the worker who implements the grandiose plans for tomorrow. Orbital Decay starred criminals, dull-witted construction workers, insane officers and failed SF writers. The Jericho Iteration‘s protagonist was, like Steele, a St-Louis investigative journalist.

With this background, the unusual focus of the stories collected in All-American Alien Boy all makes sense. His first collection (Rude Astronauts) was heavily concerned about the usual space exploration SF subject matter. (Though not, as Steele writes in his introduction to his second collection, “set mainly in outer space” [P.xiii]) All American Alien Boy is different, concentrating on near-future SF and historical alternate histories. Few stories are set in more than twenty years. The title refers to the adaptability required to cope with today’s pace of change; we are all a bit more alien than ever before.

As a big supporter of author introductions to stories in collection, I was pleased to note that Steele wrote substantial introductions to his stories, detailing sources of inspiration and occasionally getting on soapboxes. Most introductions are interesting, some less so and others (like the last half of his introduction to the collection) simply pedantic. Still, it’s appreciated.

As for the stories themselves, they’re vintage Steele: A clear and elegant style with occasional structural experimentation. Fortunately, there’s more variety than in Rude Astronaut. Like most novelists who started out as journalists, Steele’s prose goes straight to the story without useless detours. It’s no surprise if the two weakest stories of the collection (“See Rock City” and “A letter from St.Louis”, though the latter is from the perspective of a journalist… in 1900) are written with more elaborate style. It’s the more classical stories that shine.

“Jonathan Livingstone Seaslug” owes a lot to Arthur C. Clarke, as Steele mentions in his introduction, and the result is a tale worthy of the master himself… though the conclusion is obvious early on.

I thought that despite a fascinating premise, “Lost in the Shopping Mall” could have been stronger. No matter; it’s good enough as it is.

“Whinin’ Boy Blues” is the sort of SF story that I like to read, with high-tech gadgets, unusual situations, an action-oriented plot and a happy finale. Just ignore the strange title.

“Doblin’s Lecture” is sociological SF, with a touch of psychological horror. Thought-provoking and with an effect that’s ultimately contrary to what we may expect, a characteristic also shared with “The Good Rat”.

Finally, I hope this review is just and equitable, because “Hunting Wabbitt” is a great revenge fantasy, from an author to a bad critic.

No interplanetary spaceships, no aliens. A few giant robots, VR addiction, sea monsters and a crashed SSTO, but that’s as wild as we get. Still, a good author doesn’t have to rely on gadgets and All American Alien Boy is a pretty good collection. You could do worse than take a look at it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *