“For me, Misha is the consummate craftsman.”–Schuyler Hernstrom, writer of “Mortu and Kyrus in the White City”.
“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
“Do the next thing. Work on the job at hand.”
“You’re going to do this thing because it needs to be done and there is no one else.”
“Use the tools you have, and if you don’t have the right tool, figure out what the right tool looks like and make it.”
Ten years ago, it was popular for a certain segment of Science Fiction and Fantasy Fandom to wax eloquently about Kipling’s “Sons of Martha”, in whose care “that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.” And while some came close to the idea Kipling expressed, they approached it from the point of view of supervisors and managers. The actual fabricators and maintenance personnel remained invisible.
Until now. Until Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer, a collection of 12 science fiction tales and nightmares dealing with the efforts, often thankless, needed for humanity to live and thrive, whether in the current day or some far-flung future. Sprinkled throughout are nightmare where those efforts are no longer to hold back that other peril, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”. And behind it all is love, in all of its twisted yet still hopeful forms.
If there is one word that sums up Misha’s writing, it might just be Selah. Meditate on these things. Extremely contemplative, extremely blue collar in a way the Expanse guys wish they were. Never just a popcorn story. Misha is a rarity in the current time, a science fiction writer who lustily embraces the New Wave instead of avoiding it. And he brings that dream-like fascination with humanity in all its varied and occasionally malignant forms to his stories.
He also grasps with theme, when most writing advice, from Stephen King on down, treats it as an afterthought or heady accident. And there are plenty of common themes running throughout these stories. Decline and fall, hope and rebuilding. Outsiders. Broken people working out their happy endings with fear and trembling. The invisibility and necessity of blue collar work.
“The Bullet From Tomorrow” is a time-traveling story, which asks what happens to the time-traveler after the future changes. What happens to the man without hope when he discovers it once again?
Science fiction tends to show that there are beings that think differently but just as deeply as we do. Misha’s “Milk, Bread, & Eggs” posits that certain experiences are universal. Such as prepping for a disaster.
“Milk, Bread, & Eggs” and “These are the Things that Bounded Me” come across as responses to the uncertainty of COVID-19, and may just be good homespun advice for the uncertainties no doubt awaiting us. “These are the Things” is a story of quiet heroism and endurance that science fiction, so enamored with kings, scholars, and officers, tends to miss.
“The Island of Forbidden Dances” is a nightmare of the current day, forged from the current fascination with voyeurism and exhibitionism. Like Misha, I am surprised this hasn’t been done yet.
“In the Driving Lane” is a nightmare of tomorrow, or perhaps tonight. None are more skeptical about complex systems and inventions than those tasked to their maintenance. And Misha’s long years in maintenance work have rendered him skeptical about self-driving vehicles.
“Heartbeat City Homicide” is about the compromises needed to keep a city running, set in a city inside a geothermal tap.
“Serpent’s Walk” is another Ozark nightmare–the *nice* part of the Ozarks reoccurring throughout this collection–with a mutant enduring a feral and just as mutated wilderness to get a bit of revenge. “My Foe Outstretched” is another revenge tale, with a bitter price for its destructive path.
The last four stories, “The Happiest Place on Earth”, “mDNA”, “Endless Summer”, and “The First Man in the World” deal with love in its various meanings and forms. Together, they form a refutation of the old Harlan Ellison title, “Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled”, as a heavy contemplation of duty and responsibility runs through each. “The First Man in the World” by itself is worth the full price of the book. In a saner, less narcissistic time, it would have won awards.
In short, buy Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer, as it takes as truth the myriad of flatteries Science Fiction tells about itself. Adventure, wonder, inspiration, and even a chance for self-reflection are all here. Just not in the forms and characters you might expect.