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Passing For Human edited by Michael Lawson and Steven Utley

01/09/2009. Contributed by Kelly Jensen

Buy Passing For Human in the USA - or Buy Passing For Human in the UK

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pub: PS Publishing. 270 pages hardback. Price: 20.00 (UK), $32.00 (US). ISBN: 978-190583-422-8.

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Stories have been passed down in many cultures using outsiders (gods, devils and mythical beings) to illustrate aspects of human behaviour we're not comfortable examining in ourselves. 'Passing For Human' is a new anthology edited by Michael Lawson and Steven Utley presenting a motley collection speculative fiction along this theme using aliens as the outsiders.

The collection relies heavily upon the work of masters of the trade, who for the most part are all saying the same thing. I'm not sure I would have included all these stories, except for the fact it's hard to resist names like Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, Donald Wollheim and Robert Silverberg to name just a few. The newer and lesser known authors will definitely benefit by their association.

I liked perhaps just over half the stories in this slim volume. To my surprise, the stories that really stood out weren't always by the afore-mentioned masters. It's hard to talk about them without spoiling their secrets for you, but I can try to tell you why these particular entries won my admiration.

First up, we have the hands down favourite: 'Under The Hollywood Sign' by Tom Reamy, whom I've not read before. According to the editorial blurb at the beginning of the story, he had a somewhat short lived but brilliant career. After reading this story, I can join the editors in mourning his loss.

A policeman becomes captivated by the beauty of a bystander at an accident scene. His memory of the man's beauty and perfection taunts him and he becomes obsessed. He then discovers there is more than one of these red-headed beauties haunting Los Angeles and he sets out to capture one. This story left me nearly speechless, it's seriously disturbing.

Next we have 'A Spaceship Built Of Stone' by Lisa Tuttle, who is one of those writers I've long been aware of, but have only sampled. This story was a turning point for me, I want to read more. It all starts with a shared dream that only a few people remember.

The nature of the dream is innocuous enough - a collection of people are waiting in tunnels beneath the ground, a city of stone above them. They are waiting for the dreamer to tell them it is okay to come out now, that they can return to the world. I hesitate to tell you anymore, it's such a good story and I don't want to give it all away.

The final entry in my top three is 'The Reality Trip' by Robert Silverberg. Is it because I've just read Silverberg's 'Dying Inside' or is it simply because this is a superior story? Notably this is the only story told from the point of view of the alien, a crab-like creature that is encased in a fully functional replica of a human body. He is observing our culture and filing regular reports home.

His life is comically mundane, set to a schedule for observation, feeding and reporting and is comforted by his routine. This is interrupted by an upstairs neighbour, a human female who first presses upon him her collection of dreadful poems, 'The Reality Trip'. What follows is social comedy mixed with alien weirdness in a new twist on the classic boy meets girl.

I'd like to add an honourable mention. This was the last story in the collection and I think it was no accidental placement. 'Sex And/Or Mr. Morrison' by Carol Emshwiller perhaps illustrates the title of the anthology better than any other. Briefly, it's the tale of two wildly disparate beings, a tiny older woman an obese younger man. This is one of the most intriguing stories in the collection. Looking at our own differing versions of humanity and wondering if any of us is truly human or if some of us are just 'passing'.

Kelly Jensen

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