True Review
Current Issue Number 74 Vol.19 No.3  February 2010

Are You There:

ARE YOU THERE? And Other Stories, by Jack Skillingstead. Golden Gryphon Press (, 2009, 333 pp., $24.95. ISBN 1-930846-61-4

Many readers may find the emergence of a Phil-Dick-type author in Jack Skillingstead, who has the same questions as Dick's own repertoire about life and literature: what is human? What is reality? Are we only a dream within a dream?

What of the world around us - with technology growing more complex, how can we ever begin to ascertain what is "real" from what is "virtual"?

No story is ever predictable when Skillingstead is writing it. The stories are nasty, brutish, and pointed right at the heart of what is real.

For instance:

• "Life on the Preservation" (a story from ASIMOV'S SF from June 2006), Kylie visits the Preservation Field encompassing Seattle on a mission - locate the Eternity Core and, with her explosive device, destroy it. Trouble is, there are the robot Tourists. Worse yet, she meets Toby and begins to fall in love, relishing the world, rich in experience and texture, that used to be, before the world's end and her resulting mission. Kylie enjoys it, but the mission must go on.

• "Scatter" (from ASIMOV'S SF October-November 2004). Daniel Frye, killed in a married spate by his wife, exists as a simulacra, a hologram, to take on various forms. As a private detective, Kari Tolerico asks for Daniel's help to stop a plot to kill her lover's husband - but to remain corporeal is difficult for Daniel, to say the least. If you could live on, would the technology be sufficient?

• "Rewind" (from ASIMOV'S SF, February 2004). A man at a downtown bar recounts a bomb exploding (the result of a terrorist? A natural disaster?) and how, thinking back, he may have attempted to save the life of a woman he was with. He has the gift of "rewind," or the chance to change behaviors, however small, in the past, to potentially change the present. In this case, perhaps his gift could have saved a woman's life.

• "The Apprentice" (from WHISPERS FROM THE SHATTERED FORUM, fall 2003). Danny and his mother meet the Old Woman - a witch - whose spell cures Danny's mother from the cancer she got as a result of smoking too much. The witch asks more - a lot more - of Danny. Has he become her apprentice, her slave? Can he break free?

• "The Tree" (from ON SPEC #62, fall 2005). This Ray-Bradburyish tale features Tom and his mother, who move from a tiny apartment to a big house, with 10 acres of woodland behind it, courtesy of Tom's stepfather, Charlie. The woods are eerie, but contain a child's tree fort. Tom is cautioned about two boys in the woods who ventured in, were apparently abducted, and never found. Of course, Tom's curiosity is piqued - what could be so dangerous about the woods? He believes he is safe, until he reaches a mysterious tree, and needs his stepfather's help to survive.

• "Cat In the Rain" (from ASIMOV'S SF, October-November 2008). Daniel Porter, alcoholic, manic-depressive, a compulsive loner, starts to believe his partner's theory that aliens take over when human companionship falters. Are what Daniel experiences simply alcohol-induced lucid hallucinations, or the manifestation of aliens trying to control a select, few humans?

• "Alone, With An Inconvenient Companion" (FAST FORWARD 2, Pyr, October 2008). Doug Fulcher, attendee at the In-Gen Convention, meets Lori. Doug is convinced she's had a face makeover, or Super M, a very unnatural beauty enhancement. Is she for real, or some type of cybernetic mechanism, out in the field being tested, even at the convention?

• "Two" (TALEBONES #35, summer 2007). Rogue, a sort of mechanical AI, is able to use technology to create a human boy, Bingo. While the machines see no need for humans, Rogue believes they may have value, and wants to create a companion for Bingo.

• "Human Day" (ASIMOV'S SF, April-May 2009). Raymond activates Robbie the Rover, a robot dog, a Golden Retriever simulacrum. When Raymond lets Robbie roam, the dog is "adopted" - like such a good dog, it exceeds its programming. So what IS a robot, and what is canine?

• "Strangers on a Bus" (ASIMOV'S SF, December 2007). Freya, taking a bus away from her ex-husband, Roger, meets Neil, a man who claims he can literally "create" people's lives. Are Neil's so-called "talents" mere schizophrenia, or can he LITERALLY create reality?

          If you love Philip K. Dick, you will enjoy Skillingstead immensely.

Andrew M. Andrews

Black Hills - Dan Simmons Warriors - George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois Additional Reviews Diving Into The Wreck - Kristine Kathryn Rusch The Jewel Hinged Jaw - Samuel R. Delaney

Boilerplate - Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett Swords From The Desert - Howard Andrew Jones Shades of Gray - Jasper Fforde Muse and Reverie - Charles de Lint Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's - Charles A. Cerami

The Raindrop's Adventure - Kimberly Kerr An Irish Country Christmas - Patrick Taylor Twilight Zone - Carol Serling Home For Christmas - Andrew M. Greeley Amelia Earhart - Lori Van Pelt

A Simple Christams - Mike Huckabee Puttering About in a Small Land - Philip K. Dick   Are You There - Jack Skillingstead The Fantasy Writer's Assistant - Jeffrey Ford


CYBERABAD DAYS, by Ian McDonald. Pyr/Prometheus (, 2009, 279 pp., $15.00. ISBN 978-1-59102-699-0

Seven stories in CYBERABAD DAYS are set in the year 2047 in India, including a Hugo Award winner and nominee.

THE THIRD SIGN, by Gregory A. Wilson. Five Star/Gale Cengage Learning (, 2009, 351 pp., $25.95. ISBN 978-1-59414-765-4

Calen Gollnet, resident of the country of Klune, watches as his world goes to war, as the peace made by the king and the arlics has become tenuous at best. But the armies are the least of his concern, as the Soul Wall appears. Prophecies are coming true - and what will the latest portend?

BY BLOOD WE LIVE, ed. by John Joseph Adams. Night Shade Books (, 2009, 485 pp., $15.95. ISBN 978-1-59780-156-0

There is a strange craving for these types of stories, felt by mostly teenage girls suddenly feeling the throngs of post-puberty. And there are plenty of authors to accommodate this strangeness, indeed.


THE SECRET HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION, ed. by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel. Tachyon (, 2009, 381 pp., $14.95. ISBN 978-1-892391-93-3

I remember reading most of these SF classics when they were first published, with seminal work by Thomas M. Disch, Ursula K. LeGuin, Lucius Shepard, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, James Patrick Kelly, and many others.


THE VERY BEST OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, 60th Anniversary Anthology, ed. by Gordon Van Gelder. Tachyon (, 2009, 475 pp., $15.95. ISBN 978-1-892391-91-9

Many of these I read collected in other anthologies, and some I read in the magazine itself. (I have subscribed to F&SF regularly from 1977-2007, and off and on since 2008.) Included are works by Ray Bradbury, Alfred Bester, Theodore Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight, Ursula K. LeGuin, Neil Gaiman, Ted Chiang, and others).

Next Time In True Review

A Sample Of Our Upcoming Reviews...

GASLIGHT GROTESQUE Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes, ed. by J.R. Campbell and Charles Prepolec. Edge (, 2009, 311 pp., $16.95. ISBN 978-1-894063-31-9

TESSERACTS THIRTEEN ed. by Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell. Edge (, 2009, 317 pp., $16.95. ISBN 978-1-894063-25-8

THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR Vol. 1, ed. by Ellen Datlow. Night Shade Books (, 2009, 321 pp., $15.95. ISBN 978-1-59780-161-4