It Came from Schenectady

by Barry B. Longyear
Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes

“Stories are about people, and people are about feelings.”

-Barry Longyear, Odyssey, 2008


The above mantra has guided Barry’s 30 year career through the highs (winning the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell awards all in one year) to the lows (contemplating suicide that same year). It Came from Schenectady, named after one of the short stories in this collection, embodies that same mantra. These sci-fi stories have characters with feelings, powerful and real.


Many of the plots put a single protagonist and antagonist in a contained environment where one must somehow vanquish the other--unless they choose to work together. His most famous work, Enemy Mine, takes that premise to a beautiful extreme (not included here). These stories are of the same caliber. Barry eschews foregone conclusions--expect surprises.


The conflicts herein are reminiscent of the conflicts Barry has had with himself. In fact, he urges aspiring writers to mine themselves for inspiration. “You are your only source of real feelings. All you’ve got is your own experience to draw upon.”


Considered the Ernest Hemmingway of the Science Fiction community, Barry has overcome many obstacles. Although he doesn’t hesitate to share his experiences, I don’t feel that privilege extends to me. I will say only that if you get a chance to hear him speak, by all means do so. He will inspire you. He will convince you that your own troubles are littler than you imagined.


The story lengths range from novella, Homecoming, to two flash fiction pieces. My personal favorite is The House of If. Here, a psychologist/inventor has created a devise which puts convicted criminals through the psychological agony of years in prison in the space of a few minutes: all the punishment, loneliness, and perhaps rehabilitation without wasting a lifetime. The devise is tested by a world renowned escape artist with a grudge against prisons of any kind. The result is dynamite. The House of If has been optioned four times by Hollywood, though never produced.


I can only imagine what kind of butchery they might do to it. By all means, read the stories before Hollywood decides to produce them.


More on Barry can be found at: