A young couple goes out in the wilderness-Adam and Eve in the Garden, each exploring the secret corners of the other's soul and together confronting the mysteries of an untamed, alien reality. This is a situation with almost infinite possibilities: the encounter with "otherness" which is a basic part of the human process of self-definition.
Michael Rogers likes it so much, sees so many of its possibilities that he uses it with variations again and again in the 13 short stories of this collection. He uses it so well that most of the time the reader does not notice how many times he is being told the same story.
Usually, the young couple encounters a monster, something eerie and unexpected, and frequently there is some question as to whether the monster is objective or internal. Each of us is a wilderness, stranger than those in habited merely by bears of snakes, and the exploration of that wilderness is a proper role of fiction.
Michael Rogers is still a young writer, although this is his third book, and sometimes his stories seem to lack a final polish, a well-rounded completeness. But the quality of his internal landscapes and the baroque variety of his monsters show uncommon promise.
He is a product of the '60s and the spirit and concerns of that brave, doomed decade still live in many of his stories.
He moves with virtuoso ease between the mainstream of American writing and science fiction-and if his science fiction seems on the whole more satisfactory than his more standard pieces, the reason may be partly that the styles and standards in the field are different, special; partly that science fiction techniques are more congenial to his peculiar vision.
In either genre, his basic theme is the encounter with otherness-which can happen in a laboratory or at the breakfast table, in a motel room or an automobile accident, in an invalid's sickbed or on a trip to Morocco, as easily as in an untracked wilderness.
Sometimes the "other" is a totally alien creature or a force of nature; more often it is an approach to life. Given the writer's '60s orientation, it is not surprising that the "other" is frequently the standardized American Culture in which so many young citizens found themselves living almost as displaced persons during the last decade. The encounters are sometimes violent, sometimes comic and often symbolic; they involve a broad spectrum of counterculture types-gentle hippies, drug hustlers, aimless drifters and violent revolutionaries, and each of these stories hinges in some way on a point of definition, on one of the elements that make these two kinds of people different from each other.
In a few stories, the encounter is conveyed in the merest symbolic hint. A young woman offers some marijuana to a new lover after a not-very-successful first night together, and the way he declines the offer, hurrying away to his office, symptomatizes not only why he was unsatisfactory but what is wrong with the whole culture he represents.
The symbols in his science fiction tend to be less subtle but can have a wild, poetic beauty. In "Klysterman's Silent Violin," for example, the scene is a biological warfare laboratory, and the violin in the title is a purely electronic instrument that can be heard only by the man and woman who are the story's Adam and Eve figures-an apt image that they are on a different wavelength from the people around them.
"Klysterman's Silent Violin" is one of the richest stories in the collection, its symbols clear yet intricately interwoven. At another extreme, purely realistic in tone with its symbols more deeply buried, is "A Great Feeling," the story of a bedridden old man who is being tended by his niece, a young revolutionary who blows up police stations and, ultimately, her uncle's home. "The Nub of the Roach" is a brief divertissement about the social problems we can expect after legal restrictions on drugs are removed: "Mom told us about a letter in Ann Landers that morning, from a girl who wanted to know if it was all right to do psychedelics on the first date. Ann said that psilocybin or mescaline were okay, if they were organic, but that synthetics should wait."
Considering the restricted number of thematic elements he has chosen to use, Michael Rogers has managed to put a remarkable variety of flavors into this collection. His writing still contains indirect evidence that he worked at Rolling Stone for six years, but there is every reason to expect that he will outgrow this youthful experience.