Dead Americans and Other Stories

Australian writer Ben Peek writes very literary sci-fi/speculative fiction. These are the kind of stories that bear reading twice since what is happening with his prose may not be obvious the first time. It reminds me distinctly of R. A. Lafferty and Gene Wolfe's tricky little stories that catch you up in the prose so much it makes you wonder if you really "got it".

Unfortunately Peek is no Lafferty or Wolfe. While Wolfe and Lafferty pulls you in with their exquisite even intimate style, Peek's writings end up too academic, even cold. It's not that he isn't a good writer. He may be a great writer. But there is too much calculation, too much of a "See how good I am" feeling in his stories. In this way he reminds me of Michael Chabon in that he is such an excellent writer that he forgets to connect past the mind and into the heart.

Dead Americans and Other Stories consists of 10 short stories. They seem to be split between stories about a world with a red sun and "Dead Americans" tales which puts famous Americans into some fantastical situation. The "Red Sun" stories are the better of the two. Yet there appears to be Australian references that may hinder the enjoyment of non-Australian readers. Regardless, they are good stories that just don't rise above the ordinary. The "Dead American" tales seem experimental to the point that they are literary exercises more than stories to be read for either entertainment or revelation.

In a way, this is a hard one to rate. I appreciate the level of skill in these works. Yet ultimately a story needs to reach the reader and these pieces of fiction do not accomplish that. For that reason I can not rate this collection any higher than 2 stars.