The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"The Real World" by Steven Utley: An Appreciation by Russell B. Farr

Every fan of Steven Utley knows two things: that Utley loves dinosaurs, and that he doesn't write nearly enough. Oh, and that he doesn't have enough fans, so I guess that's three things.

Utley began writing his "Silurian Tales" around about the time Noah's wife was looking for her swimsuit, which is a fair achievement for a guy only born a couple of days before yesterday. He's got about two volumes of them waiting for a discerning publisher.

How does he do it? It's a little-known secret that Utley has found a time passage back to the Silurian, where he sneaks back to draw cartoons starring trilobites and collects mud by the bucket (he has a lucrative side business selling Devonian slime to starlets).

This might sound a little far-fetched, but it makes about as much sense as the idea of a guy sitting around in Tennessee turning out incredibly descriptive and emotive tales about one of the least picturesque periods in Earth's history.

Like they say, you can't handle the truth. Now go and read Utley's story before I spoil everything for you.

Back already? It was great for me too. Now, where were we? Ah, the past.

Through Utley's stories we know that there is, "for want of a better term, a space-time anomaly" (now that's a scientist who needs to get out more). But that isn't what the "Silurian Tales" are all about, "The Real World" included. Sure, you might think that "The Real World" is about the discovery of the hole and the first expedition back 400 million years, but it isn't.

An academic may come along and say that science fiction is a genre of ideas, and the story asks the question, "What if there was a space-time anomaly that enabled scientists to go back to an alternate-universe Silo-Devonian Earth?" That academic would be barking up the wrong tree (or maybe the right tree, but in the wrong universe).

"The Real World" is about explorers, pioneers, the first people to go boldly, or boldly go: what really happens and what they come back to. It's about real people who find themselves in the most unreal of situations, people who really are doing something no one else has done. Ivan Kelly is just this guy who knows a lot about soil, and is the first time-traveller. He also wonders if he returned to the same world he left, and not a further alternate-universe. The chances are that he has, and he's understandably just trying to cope with everything that follows his expedition, because, after that, how can anything seem completely real again.

Utley cleverly juxtaposes this with the tale of Ivan's brother Don, a writer in an unreal world closer to the present: Hollyweird. Ivan at the amazing Hollywood party, where everyone is fake: it's clever. Real or fake, Utley is writing about the people.

You can't take your eyes of this Utley guy for a second, not when he's giving you so much of a story as in this ten and a half thousand words. How he stays an "internationally unknown" is a mystery to me.


Russell B. Farr is the founding editor of TiconderogaOnline and Ticonderoga Publications and published Steven Utley's first collection, Ghost Seas (1997). He lives in Northam, Western Australia.

Link to story.


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