George Alec Effinger: Live From Planet Earth
by George Alec Effinger
Published by Golden Gryphon Books
365 pages, 2005
Short Takes, Tall Talent
Reviewed by Andi Shechter
George Alec Effinger was by all accounts, a super nice guy who had a lot of crap happen to him. He was a major talent, a creative, warm and funny writer and he died way too young, in 2002 at age 55. George Alec Effinger: Live From Planet Earth represents only some of Effinger's short fiction and deserves wide distribution.
While there's no specific similarity, the stories in this anthology often reminded me of the work of another brilliant and quirky writer, Avram Davidson. More than one introduction in this book refers to Effinger as fey, surely an adjective that could have described the brilliant Davidson. Both authors had a unique way of seeing things and had ideas that just haven't been out there before. And they both wrote very well.
While I can't speak to his accuracy in parody, Gardner Dozois says that in his "O. Niemand" stories, Effinger was spot on writing as a number of famous voices, from Ring Lardner to Don Marquis to Ernest Hemingway. Since I wouldn't know Flannery O'Connor's writing style to trip over it, I avoided the comparison. Still, the seven stories offered here show, if nothing else, a wide range and an impressive ear. Effinger's "Two Sadnesses," which includes a vision of when the Vietnam war came to the Hundred Acre Wood, is amazing work. And "One" offers something that we science fiction readers simply cannot imagine (and we imagine a lot): two explorers traveling Out There and never, not once, after finding hundreds of thousands of worlds, finding one alien, a single inhabitant of another planet, not even the teeniest of new species. Unbelievable.
Anyone would have wanted to ask George Effinger "Where do you get your ideas?" because his answer would have been hilarious, full of insight into creativity and the writing process. I only ever met Effinger once, that I recall, at a convention in New York a couple of years before he died. I discovered after I arrived that I was moderating a panel with him and Barbara Hambly; two people I admired. I hadn't prepared because no one had ever let on the panel was a go. I think we did all right. I hope so, because Effinger deserved every chance to talk about writing, craft, science fiction. I suspect my lack of preparation didn't matter.
Almost every story here deserves mention for some reason; "At the Bran Foundry" is just a totally jaw-dropping weirdness about how they make raisin bran. Think you know? Think again. And "From Downtown at the Buzzer" is wonderful. Just wonderful. Aliens and basketball.
Several of the introductions mention how often Effinger's short stories ended up in the best anthologies. The New Dimensions anthologies and the Orbits and the "best of" collections of the 1970s and 1980s were where you could find so much great stuff. Many of these appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which made me happy as that was, for me, the best of the magazines. It's not necessarily a question of the best writing, but what clicked for me and F&SF always brought me what I liked to read.
No one else could have come up with "Solo in the Spotlight," featuring an American President who makes a major decision based on his daughter's reading of her "Barbie Tarot Deck" (hey, there was "Earring Magic Ken" and there's a chocolate-scented Barbie doll out there. Do you doubt the Barbie tarot deck?) "Target: Berlin" is creative wonder. A story about how this guy Effinger successfully saw to it that World War II never happened in the 1940s, and how instead of creating aerial bombers, the various powers invented bomber, um, well, cars. The Toyota Corolla "Zero" was no match apparently for the Ford Mustang "Mustang"; nor as a Japanese fighter pilot describes, could a Datsun attack a squadron of Cadillac Fleetwood "Superfortresses."
Although I weaved through the American bombers for nearly an hour, I did not hit a single target. The bombers passed me by, and I was left out of gas on a highway seven miles from the small town of Gogura.
While I didn't find the introductions to each story really necessary, they did give folks a chance to say something about their friend, about Effinger's way and his life, so I didn't begrudge any of them. There was one story that simply did not work for me at all, which didn't diminish my pleasure in George Alec Effinger: Live From Planet Earth very much at all. It's a single-author collection, that's how these things go.
Whimsy, imagination, an edge of goofiness and an understanding of people populate these stories. If you know Effinger's long fiction, as I did, I suspect the storytelling talent here will come as no surprise. If this guy's a new name to you, read. And keep reading. Either way, this is a worthy addition to your library, just so you have available any one of these examples of an author at his best. | May 2005
Andi Shechter has been a publicist, chat host, interviewer, convention-planner, essayist and reviewer. She lives in Seattle with far too many books, an old-but-cute purple computer, not enough soft toys (including a small but select hedgehog and gorilla collection), many figure skating videotapes and an esoteric collection of hot sauces. There's a Hugo Award on her mantelpiece which belongs to her partner, cartoonist and artist Stu Shiffman.