KATHY GOONAN IS SOMETHING of a writer’s writer, a highly literate SF novelist, enormously respected by her colleagues but less familiar to the general reading public. She’s best known, perhaps, for her “Nanotech Quartet,” beginning with Queen City Jazz in 1994, which follows a young woman through a future America rendered strange, beautiful, and dangerous by out-of-control nanotechology and genetic engineering. Her 2007 novel In War Times is a gripping, sometimes dream-like tale, set during and after World War II, that makes subtle use of physicist Hugh Everett’s many-worlds theory to examine alternate ways in which the past 65 years of history might have played out. 2011’s This Shared Dream, a direct sequel to In War Times, is also receiving strong reviews (a paperback edition will appear in early July). Many of Goonan’s novels have been nominated for genre prizes, with In War Times winning the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel of the year, and she is also an excellent short story writer.
As is the case in her novels, most of the tales in Angels and You Dogs, her first published collection, center on well-developed characters living in the near future who must deal with the deep weirdness of unrestrained technological change. The volume opens with the oddly titled cover story “Angels and You Dogs.” This is actually an atypical work for Goonan, and for this collection, because it’s fantasy rather than science fiction. It concerns an accountant, Evan, who is deeply depressed because his much-loved partner, Charles, has left him for another man. Advertising for a roommate to share his beautifully-put-together Key West home, he winds up with Lulu, an eccentric young woman who owns a dog named Ambrose and who immediately begins violating his house rules and seriously shaking up his life. Although Lulu does help pull him out of his depression, Evan soon discovers that she has her own dark secret: she accidentally killed her husband and is now contacting him through a psychic who uses the dog as a medium. The story shifts fluently between the serious and the comic; Evan’s somewhat fussy house and his collection of classic Fiestaware are lovingly described, and both protagonists come believably to life. In its superbly crafted language, strong descriptions of scene, and well-developed characters, this story exhibits Goonan at her most literate and literary.
“Solitaire,” the second story in the book, moves us into the realm of science fiction but still lacks any of the futuristic background for which Goonan is best known. It concerns an odd little boy, Norman (nicknamed Stumblebum for his clumsiness), who is smart but perhaps mildly autistic. A loner and intensely introverted, he loves playing cards by himself, and does so over and over again. One day, however, forced by his mother to go outside to play, Norman discovers another boy, one even odder than himself, living alone in a shack outside of town. They form a friendship by playing solitaire — and we eventually realize, as does our protagonist, that the second boy is both an alien and a shapeshifter whose spacecraft has crashed in the nearby woods. More alone even than Norman, the alien yearns to go home. Loneliness and the need for companionship, as seen in both “Angels and You Dogs” and “Solitaire,” is one of the most common of Goonan’s themes and will appear over and over in this collec...read more