IN THE UPPER ROOM AND OTHER LIKELY STORIES

Terry Bisson

Tor / 304 pages / May 2000

ISBN: 0312874049

What is the last book you picked up that just captivated you? A book that you read cover to cover without noticing the passing of time? If you named a Terry Bisson title, you probably already know what I’m going to say. Pretend you don’t and just read along. Not everyone has discovered the pleasures of Bisson’s work. I know, it’s hard to believe, but take my word for it.

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Some authors start off holding readers at a distance, taking a while to warm up to. Bisson comes in and plops down at your kitchen table and just launches into the most entertaining stories, you don’t even think about asking him
who he is. If you question the moment, he might stop talking and you definitely don’t want that.

In Bisson’s world there are multiple dimensions and every single one of them includes lingerie. So, even if the situation
is not exactly to your liking, you will be able to find quality tap pants, for you or whoever you’d like to see in them. Okay. Or out of them.

It is the allure of those exotic undergarments that whisks the hero of the title story off on a virtual vacation that doesn’t go exactly as advertised. The keen comparison between the computer-generated world and the everyday existence of the vacationer is a neat trick, making reality at least as hazy as the most poorly rendered, but promising environment.

The sensual heat of “The Joe Show” comes as a complete surprise. If I told you the plot concerns facilitating contact between an extraterrestrial intelligence and the president of the United States, I doubt if you could anticipate the humour and yearning to come. Nope. No more details; you’ll want to find out for yourself.

Bisson is well aware of the human tendency to see every situation in personal terms. For his characters, the world really does revolve around them, if only for a few pages. Ask Dr. Salavard, in the maddening and
hysterical “Tell Them They Are… Off.” (Sorry, that title garners a PG-13 rating. You’ll have to buy In the Upper Room to appease your prurient interests.) Every person he speaks to takes exactly what they want out
of what he says; it is the fact of the message, not the content, that matters. And what exactly is “Smoother”? Maybe it’s whatever threat you want it to be, as immediate as you care to believe.

So many of Bisson’s stories are comical. He can equally well cut to the heart of our fears. There may be an uncomfortable
laugh or two in “Not This Virginia,” but the overwhelming feeling is one of dread. Who hasn’t worried about ending up as one of these characters? It’s a case of being all-too possible and unavoidable. Getting old is a pretty cruel reward for surviving. Ask the gang in “There Are No Dead.”

But, Bisson’s view of the world is one with plenty of room for hope, and — if all else fails — a last laugh. Yes, time is limited, but make time for In the Upper Room and it will be wisely and delightfully spent.