by Michael Bishop

Golden Gryphon


270pp/$24.95/November 2000

Blue Kansas Sky

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

There are several SF authors whose writing is among the best in the field, but who do not seem to have been "discovered" by the SF readership as a whole, either because of a small body of work or a canon which is published slowly.  James Morrow and Ted Chiang both fall into the category of authors deserving of larger audiences.  Another such author, who, like Chiang and Morrow has won the Nebula Award, is Michael Bishop.

The four stories in Blue Kansas Sky all deal with issues of isolation.  The characters reactions to their separateness differs greatly from Sonny Peacock growing up in rural Kansas to Gerrit Myburgh, a white among blacks in Apartheid South Africa.  Furthermore, the four stories share an evocative language that manages to transport the reader to the lands and times in which Bishop has set his stories.

"Blue Kansas Sky," which has not previously been published, is a mainstream coming of age story set in the small town of Van Luna Kansas during the Cold War.  Although the war never impinges directly on the action of the story, the feeling of a nuclear threat is always in the background, as real as the ever-present dangers of tornadoes ripping through the town.  Sonny Peacock is the adolescent son of a father who died in a prison riot and a mother who refuses to forgive Sonny's uncle, for whom she believes her husband died.  Sonny is torn between his love for his uncle and his mother, but mostly he is growing up in an isolated farming community.  Without including any fantastic elements, "Blue Kansas Sky" has the feel of a fantasy story.

Much more fantastic is "Apartheid, Superstrings, and Mordecai Thubana," which opens with Gerrit Myburgh's collision with an elephant who couldn't be there in Apartheid-ridden South Africa.  Myburgh, a white, is forced to enter the world of the black South Africans.  Although he considers himself reasonably enlightened, the human tragedy he witnesses as an unseen observer in their world, forces him to begin to realize the dehumanizing elements of Apartheid, or any form of prejudice and bigotry.  One of the strength of the story is the limits which are placed on Myburgh's revelation.

"Cri de Ceour" is the most traditionally science fictional story in the collection.  Set aboard a space ship which is en route to colonize a new world.  Dean Gwiazda suffers from Down's Syndrome and faces a prejudice against his appearance and intellect as devastating and real as the bias faced by the black South Africans in "Apartheid, Superstrings, and Mordecai Thubana."  Bishop points out that even as the human race matures technologically, it is failing to mature in the more important way, remaining tied to prejudices which should have become outdated by now.

The collection concludes with one of Bishop's earlier works, "Death and Designation Among the Asadi," in which a xenologist, Egan Chaney, intentionally takes on the role of outsider in order to complete his study of an alien race.  As Chaney learns more about the Asadi, their society and culture begin to call to him, to provide him with a desire to belong to the community.

The need to belong is prevalent in Bishop's fiction.  His novels Brittle Innings, No Enemy But Time and Ancient of Days all deal with the outsider who tries to become part of a community in the face of racism and fear of the outsider.  Bishop does not present an easy solution to any of these problems, instead focusing on identifying the problems and trying to examine their casues and showing them for the primitive fear they are.

Blue Kansas Sky
Apaartheid, Superstrings, and Mordecai Thubana
Cri de Ceour
Death and Designation Among the Asadi

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