The Baum Plan for Financial Independence
Anyone who thinks genre writing can’t be literary deserves to have Kessel’s hefty new collection of stories dropped on his or her head. Readers encounter lunar colonies, time travel and inexplicable passageways, but behind all of those elements of science-fiction are characters marginalized from society.
Four of the stories, including the novella “Stories For Men,” take place near the end of the 21st century in a matriarchal lunar colony called The Society of the Cousins. Violence is rare, polygamy is normal and sons don’t know their fathers. Men are mama’s boys, coddled and provided for, free to follow whatever interests them, and they can engage in profligate sex without consequences. Young Erno begins to question why men don’t vote or own anything in the Society as he reads a real 1936 anthology with testosterone-fraught stories by writers like James T. Farrell.
Throughout the collection, Kessel blends literary reference with scientific extrapolation. Mary Bennet is charmed by the warm affections of Dr. Frankenstein during his visit to Darcy’s Pemberly estate in “Pride and Prometheus.” With some success, Kessel parodies Austen’s witty dialogue and the hallmarks of the times, including the mysterious rise in grave robbing that will soon afflict the Bennets.
Kessel, whose work has been anthologized and won numerous awards, has a range as a writer that is trumped only by his cultural and scientific knowledge. But he never bogs down the narrative with technicality. It’s a difficult balance, one that will have science-fiction fans knocking at his lunar colony’s door, and literary fans following just behind.