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Robinson, Spider.

Markham (Ont.), Penguin Books, c1984.239pp, paper, $6.95, ISBN 0-14-007427-9. (Penguin Short Fiction) CIP

Reviewed by Chris Kempling

Volume 13 Number 1
1985 January

Melancholy Elephants is the first collection of Spider Robinson's science fiction to be published exclusively in Canada. The ex-patriate New Yorker, now living in Halifax, has compiled twelve stories, all but two previously published.

Although a back cover reviewer lauds him as the new Robert Heinlein, this writer feels he has a long way to go. Robinson's characters simply do not act or react like real people. In the title story, the protagonist guns down a mugger with the same thoughtless annoyance that one feels when scraping bird droppings off one's prized chariot. The incident is unrelated to the rest of the story and makes for an absurd opening. The heroine of "True Minds" actually punches herself unconscious after thrashing a bevy of bouncers: "No Minds" would be a better title.

Robinson attempts to explore the agony of unrequited love in "True Minds" and "Antinomy," but fails utterly. The plots and character reactions are bad soap opera: organ crescendo, please, as Dr. Higgins in "Antinomy" unfreezes his true love only to find the freezing has wiped out her memory and her love of him; cut to his well-carpeted office, where the good doctor, bandaged after punching out a plate glass window in remorse, drinks himself into a stupor. If Robinson thinks he can keep a reader interested with this type of caricature and cliche, he deserves a swift trip into literary oblivion.

Robinson does include several stories that demonstrate his award-winning ("Hugo" and "Nebula") science fiction style. "Satan's Children" has an artful plot and the intriguing theme of a tremendously potent truth drug: the two main characters have great fun zapping the high and pompous. "In the Olden Days" has a plot that gives a mirror image of the line ". . .in my day we had to chop and fetch afore breakfast, then walk four miles to school through drifts yea high," required reading for all Green Party members.

The best piece of writing in the collection is undoubtedly "Chronic Offender." The time machine back-drop is rather faded, but Robinson really brings the characters to life with his rendition of 1930s gangster lingo. For example, Harry the Horse arrives, to each one's surprise, in the 1980 living room of an old crony and states, a la Edward G.: "I will not guzzle your joint, even though this causes me some inconvenience, because. . .you have always been aces with me." It is easy to picture the slouch hat, the dead cigar stub, and the five o'clock shadow. Here is a real wordsmith at work.

If it were a movie, the collection would acquire an X-rating due to the pornographic "High Infidelity." Most of the other stories contain excesses of profanity and obscenities. This type of writing demeans the author and will certainly turn off many readers. My recommendation is to read the magazines (New Voices, Twilight) where "Satan's Children," "In the Olden Days" and "Chronic Offender" are published and forget about purchasing this collection of generally mediocre stories.

Chris Kempling, Quesnel, B.C.
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