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Terminal Visions by Richard Paul Russo
(Golden Gryphon Press, $23.95, 237 pages, hardcover; published September 2000.)

Another fine, compact, and well edited single author collection from Golden Gryphon Press,cover scan Terminal Visions assembles austerely poetic tales told from the heart. Richard Paul Russo has a gift for elegant understatement, and the spare lines of his prose adapt to the short form very well indeed, despite his greater reputation as a novelist. Sounding profound notes of loss in the minor keys of exotic estrangement, technological failure, and personal breakdown, Terminal Visions is a book of sad beauty, leavened with moments of startling humour.

Sometimes resembling J G Ballard in his moody evocation of places and things falling into disrepair, Russo, like Ballard, finds in the space programme a haunting symbol of loss. Few things so keenly represent both high aspiration and promise unfulfilled, and Russo skilfully suggests just how the one can, paradoxically, result in the other. A great starship, emblem of stellar dominion, has released her lifeboats in "The Open Boat", and the ill-assorted group aboard one of them soon begins to disintegrate on every level. In other tales, those who lurk on the fringes of the spaceports find that the dream of leaving Earth can sunder or destroy them, the first in "Listen To My Heartbeat", the second in "Telescope, Saxophone, and the Pilot's Death". "Lunar Triptych: Embracing the Night" pictures the obsession with space both as a holy cause and as a form of (perhaps) supernatural possession, a well turned expression of ambivalence; an encouraging intimation--that losing is also finding--is more than counterbalanced by a larger futility.

It might be thought that eventual success in reaching other worlds might terminate or at least alleviate these dilemmas; but the attainment of the exotic is at best a postponement of anguish. "No Place Anymore" is a reminder that once the Earth is abandoned it may never be reclaimed again; its ways will linger only as illusory memories. If penetration of the cosmos offers vast power or staggering revelations in compensation for that loss, they have precious little savour: "Watching Lear Dream" portrays two men who have developed the godlike ability to dream things into reality, but this earns them only imprisonment or further loss; and the powerful novella "More Than Night" takes its protagonist on a quest for The Heart of the Universe, which can have no meaning for himself or for any other human.

But what if escape from the mundane is offered by a magical agency, something beyond us, something that inherently partakes of the superhuman or the ineffable? The attraction of wish-fulfilment is fully acknowledged by Russo, but in his honesty he will not make more of it than it is. Wearing a suit of alien armour and pressing its inscrutable switches may seem like a way out in "Liz and Diego", but the story rather significantly ends just as the button is pushed; the narrator of "In the Season of the Rains" may wish that aliens had abducted him back in Vietnam, but he has no evidence that this would have meant anything better than this empty life, or a military death. Revealingly, "Prayers of a Rain God" transforms a dreaming human into the deity of a drought-stricken world, a deity incapable of providing genuine aid. Miracles will not deliver what technology cannot accomplish; if the window-cleaner in "View From Above" can simply fly away from his constricted world, it is surely only in his fevered imagination.

So what is left but this world, escape from which seemed so desirable? The agony of the futures that await humanity is tellingly evoked in "Celebrate the Bullet", which hints at all anarchy being loosed, and in "Cities in Dust", whose milieu is one of ever-increasing emptiness and loss of intimacy as the new plagues ride abroad. No relief here, no relief there: these are terminal visions indeed. But there remains the resort of love and laughter, however imperfect, and "Just Drive, She Said" takes a strange couple on to interdimensional roads...

(Order from: Golden Gryphon Press, 3002 Perkins Road, Urbana, IL 61802, USA, or visit

Review by Nick Gevers.
More of Nick's reviews are online at Parsec.

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© Nick Gevers 2 September 2000