Saturday, November 10, 2018

Birthday Review: Stories of Steven Utley

Birthday Review: Stories of Steven Utley

I really enjoyed the work of Steven Utley, particularly his long series of stories about an expedition to the Silurian Era, and I never felt he got the recognition he deserved. He was born November 10, 1948, and he left us too soon in 2013. So I wasn't going to miss posting a compilation of my Locus reviews of his work.

Locus, February 2002

F&SF also features a new Silurian tale from Steven Utley, "Foodstuff".  Utley's Silurian stories, about time travel via a single wormhole connection to the Silurian era, have impressed me increasingly over time. Many of the stories taken by themselves are rather modest in effect, basically using the isolated Silurian era as a backdrop for nicely modulated quiet stories about ordinary people. But the cumulative effect, for me, has been quite powerful. "Foodstuff" is another of these modest stories -- as three people taking a boat upriver encounter some minor technical problems. During the delay for repairs, they are subjected to the attempts of one of them to experiment with "native" Silurian era food. And that's about it -- but it's well told and satisfying.

Locus, July 2005

Steven Utley's "Promised Land" (F&SF, June) is another of his Silurian tales, about the researchers who go back through a wormhole to the Silurian era. As with most of these stories, Utley's main concern is the characters, not the SFnal ideas. Here he tells of dying man, an irascible scientist born just a little too late to make use of the wormhole. A younger colleague and his wife meet at his deathbed, and the interaction of the three (along with other scenes set after the man's death) rings true both in its depictions of scientists and its depictions of men and women in the oldest dance.

Locus, April 2008

And Steven Utley’s “The 400-Million-Year Itch” (F&SF) is another of his excellent Silurian stories, this one as with most of them using the time travel as merely a backdrop for a grounded character story, here concerning the woman who sacrificed her academic career to be an assistant to the famous scientist who discovered the “anomaly” leading to a version of Silurian Earth.

Locus, December 2008

Steven Utley as ever concentrates on the personal human reaction to science fictional milieus – in “Perfect Everything” (Asimov’s, December) a man is returning from an interstellar expedition that failed to find aliens, occupying his time with simulations of his lover. But what they find on getting home is in multiple ways a terrible inversion – the aliens have arrived, and his lover is not really his lover.

Locus, March 2012

Other interesting stories in the March-April F&SF include the first Silurian story in a while from Steven Utley, “The Tortoise Grows Elate”, as usual with this series more about the human misadventure of his time-traveling scientists, here looking at the fraught love affair of a couple of older scientists from the point of view of a younger researcher, with wit and warmth;

Locus, March 2013

The Boy Who Drank from Lovely Women”, by the late Steven Utley (March-April F&SF), tells of a mysterious ancient man, and eventually of his long ago participation in the French force sent to put down the Haitian slave rebellion. The evils of slavery aren't the focus here (though they are not forgotten) – rather, the fairly predictable but still interesting revelation of the reason for the main character's great age, and also its effects on him.

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