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Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian (Daw Book Collectors) Hardcover – August 5, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
This dazzling, highly original anthology, ignited by the meeting of songwriter Ian and a host of SF writers affected by her music at the 2001 Worldcon, showcases 30 mostly superior stories, each based on one of her songs. Some contributors take Ian at her word that science fiction is "the jazz of prose," responding to many of society's sharpest wounds with bittersweet improvisatory descants, like Terry Bisson in "Come Dance with Me," David Gerrold in "Riding Janis" and Orson Scott Card in "Inventing Lovers on the Phone," tales that probe the angst of adolescence. Spider Robinson, in "You Don't Know My Heart," like Gerrold in "Riding Janis," deals with the societal rejection gays and lesbians often face; "Immortality," by Robert J. Sawyer, and "Society's Stepchild," by Susan R. Matthews, respond to Ian's poignant "Society's Child," a plea for genuine racial tolerance; Stephen Baxter's "All in a Blaze" and Nancy Kress's brilliant "EJ-ES" confront the pain of aging; and several alternative-world tales, especially Harry Turtledove's powerful "Joe Steele" and Howard Waldrop's "Calling Your Name," explore the entrapment of the individual by sociopolitical forces engendered by materialism. The entire anthology seems to vibrate with the death throes of one world passing away, while far stranger ones struggle to be born. Their commonality, Ian tells us in her introduction, is that "They have heart. They have life. They have truth." No artist-nor any reader-could ask for more.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The undercurrent here is mutual admiration. Coeditor Ian, the socially conscious singer-songwriter whose greatest hit was the 1960s interracial dating anthem "Society's Child," is a longtime sf fan who, at Anne McCaffrey's urging, started attending the annual World Science Fiction Conference and met several of her literary heroes, many of whom liked her work as much as she did theirs. So coeditor Resnick proposed asking them to create stories inspired by Ian's songs. Some pretty big names responded, maybe not with their best-ever stories, but hardly with junk. Kage Baker's historical chiller, "Nightmare Mountain," would sit as honorably in Gathering the Bones (reviewed in this issue). David Gerrold's sketch of impending puberty in space, "Riding Janis," is also the premier hard-sf entry. Diane Duane's creepy essay in art criticism, "Hopper Painting," proves the most stylish contribution, but Howard Waldrop's golden oldies nightmare, "Calling Your Name," and Harry Turtledove's worst-case scenario for the American 1930s, "Joe Steele," are stylish, too, though very differently. Stars are supposed to entertain; here they live up to expectations. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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I actually have 2 copies of the book, one hard cover and one kindle. I recommend it 100%
I'll be honest, I'm not really a big music guy, in that while I might enjoy individual songs when I hear them, I don't feel the need to seek it out or follow in detail the people who produce it. So, when I got this book (it was actually part of an ebook bundle), Janis Ian's name wasn't only not a draw, I had no idea who she was. I couldn't think of a single thing I'd heard her sing, but hey, I don't have to know the musical inspiration for a short stories to enjoy it, so I dug into it. In the introduction, I learned that she had indeed written, and sung, songs I'd heard of, even at least one I'd say I particularly like, I just hadn't known the artist. But, more importantly, I learned she was a lifelong science fiction fan. Not only is she a fan, but she was engaged enough in the fan community that this collection idea was sparked at a convention while talking to a writer/editor who was a fan of hers as well, and many authors she enjoyed were thrilled to participate. So I instantly like her more than I otherwise would, since she's just my kind of people.
That said, the anthology, well, it's a typical anthology, not every story is going to land, some are in subgenres I just don't care for, others with themes I don't connect with, and a few seemed to rely on too much resonance with a song I'd never heard. There was a secondary problem, in that my favorite stories in the collection... were ones I realized I had read before (and after the first couple, a dim recollectioned formed of a "Year's Best SF" collection that contained a number of stories that were mentioned written in tribute to somebody's songs, which was obviously her). So, although they were still good, they weren't as novel, and thus I didn't enjoy them as much as I would have when they were fresh.
Still, my favorites in the collection were probably "Ej-Es" by Nancy Kress, "In Fading Suns and Dying Moons" by John Varley, "Riding Janis" by David Gerrold, "All In A Blaze" by Stephen Baxter
Of the rest, there were decent ones but few really stood out. Although there were a variety of songs that served as inspiration, a few were used again and again, most notably "Society's Child", although I don't think any of them really did justice to the idea. One wrote a story that was barely science fiction at all (with just a mention of a technology lurking in the background) but had the concept of the two characters from the song meeting at a reunion decades later, and the others just literally reinterpretted the story in a science fictional context (one played for laughs). The only one to do it in a particularly interesting way was "An Indeterminate State" by Kay Kenyon.
Also of note, Janis Ian has a short story of her own in the collection, I believe it's her first (but not her last), called "Second Person Unmasked," and it's actually quite well-done. The only reason I didn't include it in my list of favorites above was because I wanted to talk about it separately. For a first story it did remarkably well and although it was probably lower on my list of favorites than the others, still managed to be one of the more memorable ones.
The collection might do particularly well with somebody who's a bigger fan of her than I am, but otherwise, it's solid.