has been trying to get me to read Terry Bisson for years. Finally tired of all my "yeah, yeah, I'll get to it" responses, he went ahead and Xeroxed two of Bisson's stories for me, as a sort of primer: "Necronauts" and "Bears Discover Fire."
"Necronauts" was fantastic in both premise and execution. A blind painter is enlisted by a couple of scientists to be a part of their life-after-death experiments. They'll send him to the other side temporarily, and in return he will use his uncanny abilities to paint what he "sees" there. Though Bisson is no stylist, at least not here, his prose is clear and evocative, and when he describes the other side it's wonderfully vivid in the reader's imagination. Bisson, rather brilliantly, takes the fundamentals of a horror story -- fear of the unknown, especially what lies beyond death -- and turns it into something more awe-inspiring than terrifying. Parts of the other side are scary, at least at first, but by the end our narrator begins to miss his visits, to envy the dead their eternity there.
"Bears Discover Fire," one of the most anthologized modern science fiction stories of all time, or so I'm told, is much more whimsical than "Necronauts," though it's got its share of heavy too. In this story, the title is the synopsis, essentially. With a very matter-of-fact tone, Bisson shows us that bears have discovered fire, though this is really just the background for a story about a man, his nephew and his sick, elderly mother. It's about how the world is changing, I guess, and how sometimes that's a sad thing and sometimes it's amazing. Fire is the great equalizer, the first sign of civilization, and so I suppose these characters can look forward to detente between man and bear in the future.
As I mentioned above, Bisson isn't a stylist, his prose didn't hypnotize me the way, say, Jeffrey Ford's or Peter Straub's does, but he's an excellent writer with fantastic ideas, if these two stories are anything to judge by. I should check out some more of his work.