Dark Benediction by Walter M Miller Jr

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Dark Benediction by Walter M Miller Jr

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Charlie Pullen
Reviewed by Charlie Pullen
Summary: Walter M. Miller Jr is a giant of science fiction. These short stories will interest any fan of his fans, but would also make an excellent introduction to his work and classic science fiction more generally.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: August 2015
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 978-1473211940

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Walter M. Miller Jr is rightly placed among the science fiction giants H.G. Wells, Michael Moorcock, and Philip K. Dick in the Masterworks series, a large selection of genre-defining writers and works at the centre of what is now such a popular and diverse range of literatures, films, and television productions. Miller is considered one of the finest science fiction writers of the 1950s, and in Dark Benediction, fourteen of this author's best short stories are brought together in one collection.

Science fiction is a broad church, with numerous categories and subcategories, but Dark Benediction encompasses a good range of Miller's shorter fiction, which in itself is a pleasingly varied handful. Alongside more epic pieces, like the titular 'Dark Benediction' and its tale of civilization's demise, there are smaller and more subtle works focusing on one or two characters. This range fits well together without seeming samey.

Like many of his contemporaries, Miller is fascinated by technology, how it might transform in the future, and how it might fit into people's lives. These are classics, very typical of the 1950s style of science fiction, which for many can seem dated and monotonous. It would not be a new criticism. As early as the 1960s, the writers of New Wave science fiction deemed the traditional features of the genre to be dull and repetitive, and writers like Dick and J.G. Ballard were moving into new territory for their books. Robots, spaceships, aliens, and time travel were thrown on the proverbial scrapheap – drugs and philosophy were in. Much of Miller's work may be interested in robots and aliens, but that is not to say that his stories are shallow or naively fantastical. Although they are by no means difficult to read, the stories are often complex and thoughtful, and are both touching and intelligent.

This is science fiction at its most humane. Many of the stories are framed within a deceptively plausible domestic setting. The first in this collection, 'You Triflin' Skunk', for example, could be a realist story about single parenthood and poverty – but, of course, it comes with a real difference. With Miller all the expected (and unashamedly thrilling) tropes are there. Yet, this collection shows off his imaginative capacity for telling unusual kinds of science fiction tales with heart and mind. While another story concerns telepathy and mutants, the protagonists do not act as a reader might expect. It is not an adventure story, rather a glimpse into some very lonely lives and minds.

'Walter Miller is', Pat Cadigan says in her very enlightening and personal introduction to the collection, 'the master of the finely-turned phrase, things that stick in your head long after you've finished reading.' This is a very accurate summary of Miller's writing. His writing is clear, and he makes use of very simple and effective language in every story. The central character in the aforementioned story, for instance, 'wandered through the day like a caged animal.'

Miller is celebrated for his novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, yet his stories are certainly masterful. Good works of short fiction like Miller's are tight and contained, making for excellent reading. Our entrance into his world is swift, and usually without any significant introduction; it is up to us to piece together clues, gaining a feel for the scene. Naturally, this leaves many uncertainties, since he does not have the luxury (or the obligation) to spend chapters offering detailed descriptions and accounts of where we are and what everyone is doing. Indeed, short stories can be so enjoyable to read because they require a lot from the reader in imagining what is left out. It is true, often Miller's stories are teasingly short, to the extent that we might wish they were novels of their own, but so much can be got from re-reading them that they hardly seem lacking at all.

For more great science fiction literature: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick are essential members of the SF canon.

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Buy Dark Benediction by Walter M Miller Jr at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dark Benediction by Walter M Miller Jr at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Dark Benediction by Walter M Miller Jr at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dark Benediction by Walter M Miller Jr at Amazon.com.


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