by Allen Steele 

Subterranean Press


310pp/$25.00/November 2008

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

As Allen Steele points out, The Last Science Fiction Writer is his fifth story collection, and his first one in five years.  This is a little sad since the five years since American Beauty was published is the longest Steele has gone without collecting his stories into a convenient and easy to read format. It would seem to indicate that Steele has focused more of his attention on writing novels than short stories, which makes financial sense for a writer, and it means that since American Beauty was released, Steele's fan have been privileged to read five different novels, all set in the universe of his Coyote series.

And Coyote makes an appearance in The Last Science Fiction Writer as well, with the stories "The War of Dogs and Boids." Other stories in the collection show that while much of Steele's activity has focused on exploring that world, his attention isn't entirely on it.  "Escape from Earth," for instance, is a wish fulfillment story more reminiscent of Steele's earlier works, and from the first line, offers the sensation that Eric Cosby is a marysue character for Allen Steele.

"Escape from Earth" isn't the only reminder of Steele's early days.  The collection also includes two stories that were late arrivals to Steele's original near future history series.  "Moreau2" and "High Roller" both have the same feeling of being direct linear descendents of the sort of space program NASA ran in the 1960s that could have led to human colonization of Near Earth Orbit.  More than the later Coyote stories, these stories focus on characters who are bigger than life in many ways as they live, struggle, work, and die on the high frontier.

One of the things a good collection does is showcase the author's various talents, and in this respect The Last Science Fiction Writer does an excellent job of demonstrating Steele's breadth.  Not only does Steele demonstrate his ability with space opera and future history styles of science fiction, but he also shows an adept hand at satirical science fiction and more intellectual science fiction with stories like "The Teb Hunter" and ""World Without End, Again," respectively.

Another, related, strength of collections is that if any individual story doesn't suit the reader's taste, there is another, completely different story only a few pages away.  With only ten stories in The Last Science Fiction Writer, the number of stories a reader gets to read are limited, but the stories are relatively long, and well written.  Readers will find themselves turning to the next one only because they've finished reading the previous story.

Escape from Earth  High Roller
The War of Dogs and Boids World Without End, Amen
An Incident at the Luncheon of the Boating Party Take Me Back to Old Tennessee
The Teb Hunter Hail to the Chief
Moreau2 The Last Science Fiction Writer

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