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Book Review

Book Cover

Experiments at 3 Billion A.M.


Author: Alexander Zelenyj
RRP: £19.99, US $26.20
ISBN: 978 0 9555268 4 8
Available 20 March 2009

Experiments at 3 Billion A.M. is a new collection of short stories, by Canadian Alexander Zelenyj, which weighs in at an impressive six hundred and fifty-eight pages long. It is difficult to pigeonhole the stories genres as Zelenyj is able to draw from a very extensive palette, enabling his prose to create a wide variety of colours and moods; this is some of the best slipstream fiction I have read for a while. Zelenyj normally works as a puppeteer in a record store and, luckily for us, as a writer for a wide number of publications, including FreeFall, Front & Centre, The Windsor Review, Revelation, Simulacrum, Inscape, Underground Voices, and the Rose & Thorn.

Unconstrained by genre or convention he lets his imagination roam across an impressive variety of environments - from horror, science fiction and poignant stories of everyday sadness, but always with an innate sense of wonder and a deep humanity running like a gossamer thread throughout. He mixes his genres with the hand of an expert producing some really emotive pieces, sometimes melancholy, sometimes hopeful but always interesting.

This currents volume contains a foreword by David Rix, who seems as equally impressed with Zelenyj’s pose as I was. There are forty stories in all, twenty of which have appeared in various periodicals. For fans of Zelenyj’s work this volume contains  -  "The Potato Thief Beneath Indifferent Stars"; "Blue Love Maria"; "Black Flies Inside"; "Footsteps to Blacken the Drifts"; "The Stealing Sky"; "The Mighty Ones Listen to the Night"; "Let the Firefly Men Remind You"; "Just Right Under Moonlight"; "Teenage Pirates and the Ghosting of Texas"; "The Loneliness of Strangefire Dancers"; "Onwards! To Memphis!"; "The Prison Hulk"; "Gladiators in the Sepulchre of Abominations"; "Night Symphonies"; "The Burning Sadness of Crash-Landed Sleepers"; "Tara of the Wine Cats"; "In the City Where Dreams Wander the Sidewalks"; "I Humbly Accept This War Stick"; "Lost in the Penguin Tunnel"; "The Lilac Perfumes Between the Stars"; "Dreams of the Rocket-Boy"; "Love, Death, and Monsters at the Drive-In"; "Letters from the Laboratory"; "The Snow Robins Fly Between Heaven and Hell"; "The Silly Significance of Running with Soda Fire"; "Waiting for the New Reign of the Fire Ants"; "Pining for the Lost Love of the Moon Creatures"; "The Empty Hands of Alvin Calvin Rourke"; "Salty Magic Balloon Trips for the Moon to Judge"; "The Runners Among the Stars"; "Captain of a Ship of Flowers"; "Pigeons or Ashes, and the Final Gift of Jimmy Colley"; "The Animals Have Seized the Diamond Sea Kingdom"; "The Grey Tammy and the Living"; "Christina the Bloomed"; "I am the Stink Candle"; "Grandmother Mars and the Relentless Call to Arms"; "Where the War Bird Leads"; "Another Light Called 1-47"; "Poppy, the Girl of my Dreams, and the Alien Invasion I Can Detect Like Radar through my Braces" - with each of the stories having a picture plate designed by David Rix.

There are too many stories to review individually, but a deconstruction of "The Potato Thief Beneath Indifferent Stars" highlights many of his strengths as a writer. On the surface it is a story about an old man who knocks unconscious a creature who is stealing his potatoes. When he gets her back into his house he realises that she is totally alien. Gradually she transforms his house into a veritable jungle, full of strange and exotic vegetation. The two build a form of relationship until she is accidentally killed by a stray dog.

It’s a simple tale, which deals with a whole lot more things. Avoiding slavish descriptive passages, Zelenyj provides just enough information of the girl and the new world that she creates for the reader to paint their own mind picture. At first you think that this is a first contact type of story, but it is never explained where the girl really comes from and it doesn’t matter. What the story is really exploring is human emotion, the man’s loss of his wife and his alienation from his children, who live in the city and may just as well be living on a different planet for all the contact he has with them. You get the feeling that he has lived in this melancholy state for a number of years, shut off from the rest world until the strange woman comes into his life to open his eyes once more to wonder and hope. Even her subsequent death reminds him that human life is much like the changing seasons and offers him the chance of rebirth, not in the physical sense but by his understanding that things change and so he makes contact with his children once more.

So what at first may seem to be a science fiction story actually turns out to be the examination of the human condition. Although Zelenyj tells a wicked tale, they all have one thing in common, the stories are about people - it is characters and how they react to situations which most interest this writer.


Charles Packer

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