Visions is a career retrospective of the short fantasy and science fiction of area writer Lawrence C. Connolly. It's the sort of collection that gives genre fiction a good name.
For some three decades, Connolly's written for periodicals like Amazing Stories and Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and he offers his share of ghosts, monsters and interplanetary travelers. But the stories in Visions (Fantasist Enterprises) display an unusual degree of humanism and a deep regard for (of all things, in science fiction) nature. Best of all, perhaps, Connolly writes good sentences.
Take the futuristic "Flow," whose bestiary includes machines that are actually genetically designed organisms, some of which have gone feral. Connolly's narrator sets one scene thus: "A triad of wild machines huddled on the concave pavement, their low carriages and flattened backs suggesting that their ancestors had been used for hauling loads. Like most wild things, their eyes had lost the dim submissiveness of machined intellect."
Through most of these 21 stories, Connolly maintains form. His prose, though seldom showy and always in the service of narrative, is clean, clear and evocative. He even puts his years as a student in a Catholic grade school to good use in conjuring the darkly comic vampire thriller "Buckeye and Spitball."
Other highlights include "Julie of the Shadows" and "Rope the Hornet." Both evoke hard-boiled fiction. The former, about a young man helping an older man find a lost love in a dystopian future Pittsburgh, is notable for its scene setting and surprisingly empathetic characters. (Some of them, denizens of a planet where even resources have been outsourced, are part-machine former outer-space miners.) The latter story is a genre hybrid slamming low-rent crooks into a space-alien scout via a convenience-store holdup. It's devilishly clever: The off-planet visitor is a tiny creature hidden in a faux-human robot, though his form isn't revealed until the story's climax.
Admittedly, science fiction holds pitfalls for a literary stylist; where else would one be tempted to write, "Alpha's voice rose from the audile implants in Cara's ears, breaking her concentration as she finished calibrating the integration chamber."
But even the story containing that notably geekish sentence, "Daughters of Prime," is an entertaining and intriguing piece of work. It's actually part two of an adventure novella, published in its entirety here and set in another of Connolly's vivid imaginary worlds. Connolly's depiction of a team of female action heros is refreshingly feminist. And, in a smart bit of social commentary, in this story, knowing the native language is as important as shooting straight.
Still, the chief gem in Visions might be "Beerwulf," a comic retelling of the Saxon legend (a la John Gardner's Grendel) from the point of view of Grendel's heretofore-unknown smarter brothers. In a genre seldom noted for its humor, it's a fluidly crafted, sparklingly revisionist yarn that made me laugh out loud.
Connolly grew up partly in Oakland. He now lives in Moon Township, and teaches creative writing at schools including Sewickley Academy and Seton Hill University. Visions, featuring non-story-specific illustrations by Nathaniel G. Sawyers, is available for $16 from www.FEBooks.net.