three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
By: 
John Kessel
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-The Baum PlanJohn Kessell’s stories have won many of science fiction’s top prizes. His novella "Stories for Men," reprinted in this collection (his third), won the James Tiptree Jr. Award and was nominated for a Nebula.

The Story: Many of the stories in this collection, Kessell’s first in a decade, involve subtle and not-so-subtle tweaking of other authors’ works. The subtle: a "sequel" to Flannery O’Connor’s story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." The not-so-subtle: a run-in between Victor Frankenstein and Mary Bennet, the dull sister from Pride and Prejudice. As for the promised financial independence plan, does knowing that it’s the creation of L. Frank Baum (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) help at all? Not all of the stories are of this type, however. "Stories for Men" and a few other tales take place in a utopian matriarchal society on the Moon, and several other stories explore the frontiers of time, space, and gender.
Small Beer Press. 315 pages. $16. ISBN: 193152050X

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"As a group, these stories offer a sustained exploration of the ways gender dynamics can both empower and enslave us. Kessel’s wit sparkles throughout, peaking with the most uproariously weird phone-sex conversation you’ll ever read." Chris Schonberger

Sci Fi Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Kessel’s transmutive, honoring, loving touch raises his mind-warping reconceptions to higher planes of true originality, where his own vision and voice reign supreme. Part of the proof of this is the fact that all of these stories may be read by someone utterly ignorant of the templates and still deliver powerful impacts." Paul Di Fillippo

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Many of those worlds are curiously and ingeniously borrowed from other writers. Besides Baum, we revisit Mary Shelley and Jane Austen—in the same story, no less—and Flannery O’Connor. But Kessel’s stories are to fanfic what plastic explosives are to Play-Doh." Anne Boles Levy

Strange Horizons 3 of 5 Stars
"The stories tend to revolve around one character’s discontent or desperation. … The core of discontent in each story, while deftly done, can at times be a replacement for engagement with the material at hand, and can be a hindrance as much as a benefit." Dustin Kurtz

Critical Summary

Critics were all excited to see another anthology from Kessler, even if most of the stories here have already appeared in top science fiction magazines. While some admitted they were at first skeptical of the motif of entering other authors’ worlds, most felt that not only did Kessler pull off these stories with gusto but he did so in such a way that readers can enjoy his tales even if they have not read the original authors. While the Strange Horizons reviewer was not quite as impressed by the work as a whole and cited it as an uneven collection, he also found much to praise, especially in the lunar stories.