The alien territory of the human heart
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be any science fiction in Kelley Eskridge's new book of science fiction, "Dangerous Space" (Aqueduct...
Special to The Seattle Times
Kelley Eskridge will discuss "Dangerous Space" at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the JBL Theater, Science Fiction Museum, Experience Music Project, 325 Fifth Ave. N., Seattle; free. Sponsored by the Clarion West Writers Workshop and the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (206-724-3428 or www.clarionwest.org).
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be any science fiction in Kelley Eskridge's new book of science fiction, "Dangerous Space" (Aqueduct Press, 255 pp., $18). In this compilation of seven short stories, Eskridge's subject is human emotion, sexuality and relationships. Her characters are regular, flawed humans who struggle with regular, flawed human emotions in a land that looks very much like our own.
But upon a closer look, the book is a unique kind of science fiction, wherein the alien land we are enticed to explore is the human soul itself. Eskridge invites us into its strange, inhospitable terrain and urges us to peer at the disfigured, imperfect creatures that live there — jealousy, loneliness, yearning. Under Eskridge's watch, each emotion becomes a monster, complete with its own personality, that then preys on her human characters.
In "Strings," the first story in the collection, Eskridge describes the emotional state associated with listening to music, with feeling music. It is a haunted, wild creature, capable of overtaking the human body and insinuating itself into the soul: "... the door that had been shut so tight within her burst open, and the music battered through, spinning inside every part of her like a dervish, like a whirlwind ... The music in her exulted and laughed and wept and reached out, farther, farther ... "
The character of "the music," as Eskridge calls it, makes another appearance in the title story, "Dangerous Space," when a singer/songwriter named Duncan very nearly succumbs to its powerful, terrible force. The only one who can save him from the music's manipulative grasp is Mars, the "sound guy," who has the unexplained ability to expel the music with his/her touch. (Mars is a recurring, genderless character in three of Eskridge's stories.)
In "Dangerous Space," Mars loves Duncan and Duncan loves Mars, but both are torn by their obligations to the band and their aversions to vulnerability. Eskridge does a wonderful job describing the ache of love (the beautiful desperation of human relationships!), and she tests the limits of our vicarious, readerly hearts as Mars and Duncan dance around one another: a touch here, a longing look there, a stolen kiss.
Finally, at the end of the story, Duncan, overcome with the music, announces his love for Mars over the microphone in the middle of a rock concert in Seattle. The show stops and the two rush together, meeting — finally! — backstage, where they kiss hungrily and tumble to the floor to consummate their love.
" 'It won't let go ... Make it let me go,' " Duncan says of the music, which holds him hostage. Mars obliges, holding him close "as the music pulled us back and forth into each other," until it ebbs and "he was Duncan again."
Sigh. And that's it. We're left with this passionate, carnal act — albeit an interesting ménage à trois, once you throw the music into the mix — but nothing more. And that ending would have been passable, at least, had Eskridge not done such a good job describing the yearning and heartache that brought the two together in the first place.
By the end, we expect, perhaps unfairly, that Eskridge will describe love (real Love, the Tolstoyian kind!) with equal authenticity. But instead, we're left with an act of lovemaking, which, however "ravenous" it is, feels shallow.
In nearly all the stories in this compilation, Eskridge takes on the Big Questions of the human soul — the cruelty and the exultation of living. While she doesn't ever quite encapsulate love or desperation, she does succeed beautifully in moments, offering us a glimpse here and there into the inscrutable terrain within us, which is flawed, grotesque, terrifying and human — the stuff of science fiction.
Haley Edwards: 206-464-2745 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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