Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Birthday Review: The Pickup Artist, and short stories, by Terry Bisson

Today is Terry Bisson's birthday. In his honor, here's a review from my old SFF Net group of his novel The Pickup Artist, plus several reviews I've done of his short fiction for my Locus column.

Review of The Pickup Artist

Terry Bisson's new novel, The Pickup Artist, is an interesting, odd, novel that reminded me strongly of Jonathan Lethem, particularly, for some reason, Amnesia Moon.  At the opening it seems almost a straightforward commentary by SFnal means on a theme reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451 (though at core very different), but by the end it has become a road novel through a very strange next century America. 

The title character is Hank Shapiro, who works for the government confiscating works of art which have been "deleted".  It has been determined that contemporary artists are unfairly at a disadvantage in "competition" with the weight of all the works of literature, painting, acting, etc. from the past, and each month, a randomly selected set of authors, musicians, movies, painters and so on is "deleted", and all their works are supposed to be destroyed.  Shapiro and his fellow "pickup artists" travel to people's homes who are reported to own copies of deleted videos, records, and books, and confiscated the works (while compensating the owners). 

Hank's dog is dying, and his mother is dead, and his father, who named him for the legendary country singer Hank Williams, left long ago.  The combined effects of all these lead him to a criminal act -- when he confiscates a Hank Williams record he decides to try to find a record player on which to listen to it -- just once -- before turning it in.  Before long he's involved with a long-pregnant librarian named Henry, and with a series of identical Indians named Bob, and he's breaking into a veterinary hospital to rescue his dog from euthanasia, and his Hank Williams record has been stolen, possibly by one of the Alexandrians (Library version) who apparently try to rescue deleted artwork.  So Hank and Henry and the corpse of Indian Bob and the dying dog start to chase the record across the country, through flea markets and abandoned casinos and abandoned highways to the independent city state of Vegas.

Alternating short chapters tell the history of the move for "deletion", which began with terrorist destruction of paintings at museums, and continued with the support of a mysterious figure who seems to be Bill Gates (as well as SFWA!) and an aging actress and a trial of the accidental killers of a number of people at a museum.

The telling of this story is continually interesting, and the characters are quirky and involving if not quite ever real.  The plot is discursive and really doesn't go much of anywhere, and the social background is interesting but not coherent.  Much gives off the sense of being made of as it goes along.  What seems to be the central argument, concerning the morality of this "deletion" and perhaps the "anxiety of influence" or something, is never really engaged, but the book is still about something -- about death, I think, and perhaps about art as a release from a dead life.  I don't get the sense of a completed argument, or even, really, a completed book -- but an interesting effort in both areas.

Review of SF Age, September 1998

the latest SF Age, September, is a fine issue.  It has a neat Terry Bisson story, "First Fire", which plays clever hommage to one of the most famous SF stories of all time (I won't say which, as that would be a spoiler)

Locus, October 2003

Terry Bisson's "Almost Home" tells of a boy in a small town, and his closest friends, an athletic kid named Bug, and a sickly girl named Toute. The boy discerns the outline of an aeroplane among the fencing and buildings of an abandoned racetrack, and in magical fashion the three kids bring it to life, and fly ... well, somewhere else: things in this world are stranger than at first they seem. Sweet and moving, but also quite spooky.

Terry Bisson also has a worthy novella at Sci Fiction in September. "Greetings" is the story of two 70ish men, close friends, long-time radicals, who have just received notice that they are scheduled for euthanasia. They refuse the option of a communal death and decide to commit suicide in the company of their wives, and a government observer, of course. But things don't go quite as planned ... Bisson's social future as presented is creepy, but the story doesn't seem much concerned with arguing the pros or cons of government-mandated euthanasia -- though the story does ask us to think about it. The heart of the story is in the characters, though, and in the ironic working out of events.

Locus, February 2006

With the February F&SF Terry Bisson’s long novella “Planet of Mystery” is concluded. This is a rather strange story set on a decidedly implausible Venus. (Oddly, and probably not very sensibly, I was reminded of the Ace Double To Venus! To Venus!, by “David Grinnell” (Donald A. Wollheim).) A pair of astronauts from a combined U.S./Chinese mission reach Venus, and to their shock crash land in a shallow lake. The air is breathable, and the temperature tolerable. Soon they encounter centaurs and beautiful Amazon women. The mission commander decides that he is hallucinating, and only contact with the orbiter keeps him sane – he thinks. But the strangeness multiplies – before long a flying saucer is in the picture … It’s just a very weird story, maybe in the end a bit too weird, too disconnected, to really satisfy. But I did enjoy myself.

Locus, August 2006

A few stories in the August F&SF are purely comic, and nicely so. In Terry Bisson’s “Billy and the Spacemen”, homicidal little Billy saves the world from invasion.

Locus, October 2006

Interzone for August has a fine mathematical fantasia from Rudy Rucker and Terry Bisson, “2 + 2 = 5”, in which a mathematician proves that there are holes in the number system; and another story about numbers,

Locus, October 2008

I also liked Terry Bisson’s “Private Eye”, in which a man who is a host for people who log on to look through his eyes meets a woman with a similar secret of her own. Bisson quite sweetly charts the public and private progress of their relationship.

No comments:

Post a Comment