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Dangerous Space

Kelley Eskridge


" Billy loved to fly but not for the Authority never he never we all said and they put him on the road grounded him me all of us like the cliptailed canaries at the Waste Management Center that once I tried to set free. Now Billy was a passenger and I had a one arm tan and a view of the left side of his face, good view, pretty face, that square jaw and the silveryyellow hair folded on his head like bird-wings at rest, the hair so soft to smear back from heavy cheekbones and the jaw all knotted muscles and hot mouth. Billy taught me how we all drive in our own way. And what roads we take.  "

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

As with the Logorrhea anthology, Dangerous Space opened my eyes to new definitions of "genre". When this book was described to me as "feminist science fiction", I had no idea what this meant. Tales of independent female aliens or space travellers? What I was not expecting was seven poignant, sensual and often poetic stories, of musicians, actors, theatre directors, journalists, most of whom inhabit worlds much like my own but with slight twists, shifts of fundamental rules and expectations. 

Eskridge deals with familiar themes - gender, identity, love, passion - in unfamiliar ways, using the imaginative license granted by "science fiction", which permits a writer a greater freedom than those "restricted" by the conventions of traditional literary fiction.  

These stories are all about some type of "dangerous space". The opening story, Strings, is set in a world in which musicians are named after their instruments and they fight for the coveted spot of becoming The Stradivarius (Head Voilinist) or The Guarnerius (Head Cellist). However, Monitors are forever present to ensure that only the "correct" music is played and heard, whether in concert halls or being hummed on the street. When Strad finds herself longing to improvise, she knows her days are numbered. The relationship between musician and music is beautifully drawn, and while the ending is unsurprising, Eskridge's language expertly carries the reader away into Strad's deepest longings. 

And Salome Danced continues with the theme of what an artist is prepared to sacrifice for her art, but now we are in the theatre and the surreal slant is the appearance of an actor at auditions who is perfect for the part of John the Baptist and who then returns the next day as an actress to try out for Salome.

"Hello again," she says. The voice is the same, she is the same, and utterly different. She wears the white shirt tucked into the khaki pants this time, pulled softly across her breasts.

This story is the first taste of Eskridge's playfulness with gender, which reappears in later stories. It is also the first appearance of the characters Mars and Lucky. Here, Mars is the theatre director and Lucky is the assistant. Lucky is female, but Mars' gender is not so easily defined. I came to the conclusion that Mars is female, but why, I can't exactly say.

City Life adds to the philosophical debate about cause and effect through the tale of a woman with healing abilities who is distressed to discover that her every positive act is balanced by a destructive one.  Mars and Lucky return again in Eye of the Storm, this time as a young boy and a woman in a band of travellers that he meets. This story was, for me, the least compelling, being firmly set in an alternative world of sword-fighting that did not draw me in.

Somewhere Down the Diamondback Road is the shortest story and the one where Eskridge is most experimental and free with language. As in many of her stories, she invents her own vocabulary by running words together ("speedmotion" "fuzzysoft") which creates a sensual layer, rendering her worlds more tangible. This story, a powerful piece, is also the one where the plot is the least well-defined, rather it is the stream-of-consciousness of the central character, Carol Ann, who is being drugged and used by the Authority to commit acts of violence against her will. 

The title story, Dangerous Space, is the longest in the book, at 90-odd pages it is almost a novella. Here again are Mars and Lucky, this time as a renowned sound engineer and friend/assistant. After I had given in to not knowing Mars' gender, I found myself transfixed by this story of Mars and the indie rock band s/he works with; a tale of the relationship between music and musicians, between musicians and the crowd, music and passion. If Eskridge is not a musician herself, then she has an uncanny ability to transport her readers into the musician's mind. 

On a different note, with the title of the final story, Alien Jane, it is almost as if Eskridge is teasing her readers about what science fiction "should be". The first line, "She came in as a thinskin and we started badly" conjured up scenes from Star Trek, other races with two heads and tentacles. My heart sank. But no. In fact this is Eskridge at perhaps her most "traditional", a deeply moving tale of a friendship between two inmates of a mental institution. 

The author of a novel, this is Eskridge's first story collection, and it most ably demonstrates her skills as a writer, her enjoyment and playfulness with language, and her ability to tell compelling and imaginative stories peopled with characters that may live in worlds which are purely fictional but who struggle with everything that it means to be human.   

Tania Hershman is editor of The Short Review. Tania's first short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, will be published by Salt in 2008.

Tania's other Short Reviews: Etgar Keret & Samir el-Youssef "Gaza Blues"

Melvin J. Bukiet "A Faker's Dozen"

Rusty Barnes "Breaking it Down"

Roy Kesey "All  Over"

John Klima (ed) "Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories"
 

  
 











PublisherAcqueduct Press

Publication Date: June 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Awards: The title story, Dangerous Space,  was named a 2007 Tiptree Award Honour Story

Author bio: Kelley Eskridge is a fiction writer, essayist and screenwriter. Her stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the United States, Europe, Australia and Japan, won the Astraea Award and been finalists for the Nebula and James Tiptree awards. Her novel Solitaire is published by HarperCollins Eos. Solitaire is a New York Times Notable Book and a Borders Books Original Voices selection, and was a finalist for the Nebula, Spectrum and Endeavour awards. She is a staff writer for @U2, the world’s most popular U2 fan website.

Read an interview with Kelley Eskridge

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