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Tales from the Crypto-System

by Geoffrey Maloney

(Prime, $17.95, 292 pages, trade paperback; 2003.)

Review by Stuart Jaffe

cover scanInternet shopping has changed and continues to change not only the way people purchase but what they purchase as well. Independent music labels, small film production companies, and small presses are all discovering that selling on Amazon or some other vendor can turn a small loss into a meagre profit. For us, the consumers, the benefit is far better. All that griping we did decade after decade about the lack of choice is waning, for there is less to gripe about. Tales from the Crypto-System is a perfect example. This is a book that has most likely never seen a single Borders or Barnes & Noble shelf, yet it deserves shelf-space far more than half the crap they stock (I use the word "crap" with the utmost respect and affection for my fellow authors). Thanks to the Internet, not only do you get to read my happy comments on the book, you can go order a copy for yourself!

The lowdown is this: Maloney, an Australian short story writer, has put together a collection of twenty-one stories, most previously published, that all fall in the speculative-fiction realm. He covers politics, revolution, culture clash and much more. He handles this material with deft skill that never becomes overbearing. Yet another short story collection that pushes me further and further into liking these things.

It's par for the reviewing course to single out the stories that really rocked me, or even just one story in particular as an example of many more. "The Taxi Driver" certainly falls under that category, presenting a tale in which some cabbies are actually KGB-type police-spies, belonging to an organization called BOSS and living in a world where revolution has overcome capitalist society. There are other BOSS stories and each one is good, but this one shines. Unfortunately, I can't say too much about it without spoiling the story. Perhaps that's enough, though, because any short story should be missing extraneous details that a reviewer could pounce upon. I like that -- in a twisted way, the less we reviewers can say about a work, the better (provided, of course, we preface this all by saying the work is good).

So where does that leave the reader? Well, I don't want to hang you out, so the best I can think of is to say that Maloney is like an Australian James Patrick Kelly. He understands the strengths and limits of a short story. He utilizes every tool in his pack, and even surprises the seasoned reader with a twist or two. He can take all the various parts and combine them into a sturdy whole -- a short story that is just what it says: a complete story that is short and to the point.

Is the book perfect? No. Of course not. But of the twenty-one tales, I suspect most readers will enjoy the majority. And isn't that one charming beauty of the short story collection? If we don't like story X, we can skip it and read story Y. We can read the collection backwards, forwards, or shuffled. It's a lot like the access we get with ... Internet shopping.

So, take a chance, if you haven't read Maloney before. And, if you have, then what are doing reading this review? You know he's got the goods and he delivers. Now go purchase.

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