A dozen smart tales that travel far and wide to straddle the line between SF and literary—in a first collection from novelist Scholz (Radiance, 2002).
Most of these pieces originally appeared in SF magazines (Isaac Asimov’s SF Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction), though they might just as easily have appeared in mainstream literary quarterlies, and some did (The Missouri Review, Crank!). The first, “The Eve of the Last Apollo,” tells of an ex-astronaut’s post-moon ennui colliding with his 40th birthday and the final moon shot, a combination that creates the ultimate midlife crisis; the title story is about an unwitting insurance salesman traveling to Europe for some Kafkaesque turns of fate—and perhaps a friendship with K. himself; “The Nine Billion Names of God” is the epistolary exchange between an editor and a writer, “Carter Scholz,” who is either a plagiarist or an artful borrower; while “A Catastrophe Machine” is the life story of a young man whose guilt, possibly, has tangible effects in the form of a machine that may shape the course of history; and a lonely man (“Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor”) observes sex in a neighboring apartment, an experience that, combined with his lifelong bachelor’s ethic, triggers a bizarre masturbatory fantasy involving his furniture. Other stories follow scholars into the Louvre or listen in on men’s conversations with futuristic computers. Scholz co-authored Kafka Americana with Jonathan Lethem, and it shows: these tales are always alert, and their knowledge extends well beyond the predictable mayhem and pyrotechnics of science fiction. The old is always as important as the new or the yet to be invented, and human emotion, rather than firefights or contact with aliens, is always the goal.
Probably not for anyone on this planet or any other, but a successful cross-genre experiment, and a welcome addition to what stories can do.