Terminal Visions


Richard Paul Russo


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

November 1, 2005

loved reading Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo, it is the scariest science fiction story since Alien. If you read the reviews Ship of Fools on Amazon, there is a lot debate about that book, especially the ending, either it ruins the story or it is a satisfying conclusion. Personally, I think it ended the only way it could but I can see why so many other readers don't like the ending. But since I did enjoy that book, and since Russo also won an Arthur C Clarke award for his Carlucci stories (which I have not read), I figured a book of his short stories ought to have some real gems. Nope.

Terminal Visions is populated with depressing characters in unhappy situations. I was unable to connect with any of those losers. Russo's characters are miserable, and elict no sympathy, and so their stories are tedious. There is no sense of wonder here, no grand adventures. These are stories from the margins.

The story "The Open Boat" concerns the refuges from in a lifeboat trapped in some kind of null space where their escape craft has left them stranded. Do these passengers rally together? Do they tell their life stories? Do they expresses their fears of death? No, they become increasingly isolated, just sitting there helplessly. So I was unable to care about their fate. A much better story (admittedly, it's a novel so it has more time to develop characters that we care about) is The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael Flynn. A much better short story concerning passengers in a small craft (though not a life boat) is Nancy Kress's "Shiva in Shadow"

"Just Drive, She Said" concerns a mysterious woman who can jump between alternate universes. She is relentlessly pursued by some kind of law officer. I love alternate universe stories. But this one fails to excite, the glimpses we get of the other worlds are not enough to give the reader a sense of the bizarre or wonder. Russo's imagination is not on display.

"Telescope, Saxaphone and the Pilot's Death" is perhaps the best story in this book. Space Pilots who guide faster-than-light spaceships lead a life of wonder, but unfortunately the life is a short one - for reasons unexplained, piloting the spaceships results in a fatal disease. The artist-hero meets one of the these ex-pilots, and falls in love, but of course the relationship is doomed. It seemed contrived to me.

"Liz and Diego" has an interesting premise. In a near future earth, apparently ravage by war or ecological collapse, and old junk hunter rummaging in the ruins of a ship has found a helmet - whether it is a military helmet or alien or something else is not explained. Diego wants to explore the rest of the craft, find the rest of the suit that goes with the helmet, and he talks Liz into helping him. But just when the story gets going, when Russo can display some imagination, he ends the story. So what happens? What kind of ending is that?

"Cities in Dust" is an awful story, set in a future where humans are so afraid of contact with each due to virulent diseases (perhaps unleashed by germ warfare?) If you want a miserable picture of hopeless future for humanity, this is your story. There is no uplifting story about the human spirit, no happy ending. In fact, none of the stories in this book has a happy ending - especially not the wretched "View From Above" - why include that story as the final message to the reader? Yuck.

My advice - skip this book entirely. Instead, read the Year's Best SF Stories - either the huge volume edited by Dozios, or the series that Hartwell puts out. There is a lot of good short SF being written these days, but Russo did not contribute to it with these efforts.