Blue Kansas Sky
by Michael Bishop
- reviewed by J M Frank
Blue Kansas Sky contains four novellas by writer Michael Bishop.
With three varied science fiction stories and one straight literary
novella, the author shows solid range, unfortunately the stories
vary greatly in quality as well as in subject matter. The good news
is that the stories generally do get progressively better.
Bishop leads off with the title story, "Blue Kansas Sky".
It is a rather simple story of the coming-of-age variety, with nothing
particularly special to offer. The single twist is the main character's
uncle recently was released from prison (the boy's father died during
a prison term stemming from the same incident). The boy's mother
hates the uncle and believes her husband took the fall for a murder
committed by the uncle during a robbery. The boy, however has a
secret attachment to the uncle. Through most of the story, there
is some ambiguity as to whether the uncle committed the murder in
question. However, not being a murderer does not make the uncle
a good guy, and there does not seem to be any real reason to like
him. When the uncle is not eating dogs, he is rounding them up as
the self-appointed animal control officer. Though the author seems
to want us to sympathize with this man, he is not likable. Neither
is the boy nor his mother particularly well-characterized or even
likable. The result is a flat story with a picket fence ending.
The second story is much stronger. It manages to mix some of the
grim realities of South Africa's apartheid with the surrealism of
cutting edge physics. A white South African banker with the inevitable
racist tendencies of his class and background becomes "shadow
matter" and can only be seen by the blacks he formerly rarely
associated with. Bishop utilizes this scenario well, teaching the
racist his much-needed lesson. The story is quite powerful in places.
However, it also peaks in the middle and does not seem to know how
to end. Also, the main character is frustratingly slow to pick up
The last two stories both concern the colonization of new worlds,
with Bishop treating the subject with much greater realism than
often found in science fiction novels. The first of the two is a
worthwhile novella that mainly concerns the physical and psychological
hazards of interstellar travel.
The final story is an anthropological study of a perplexing alien
species. This is the clear standout in the collection. Like the
best stories in this genre, a puzzle is presented in such fascinating
complexity that the story is difficult to put down. Many readers
will like myself find themselves reading the full novella in one
sitting, anxious to find the conclusion. Pieces of the puzzle are
left open, but enough is resolved to leave the reader fascinated,
and with an impression that lingers long after the story is complete.
This story in itself makes the collection worth picking up.
this book at Amazon.com
M Frank welcomes your comments on this review.