The Uncanny Valley: Tales From A Lost Town
by Gregory Miller
Illustrated by Randall York
StoneGarden.Net Publishers 2011
Reviewed by Mike Nardine
(“Gregory Miller is a fresh new talent with a great future.” –Ray Bradbury)
As all of us know, a valley is a low point on the topography usually bisected by a river and lying between two higher points. The word “uncanny” is more difficult to define. Most people know how to use the word–”Isn’t it uncanny how they look alike?”–but few are aware of its nuances. Sigmund Freud, the old master of our inner world understood them: The Unheimliche, he called it, “the opposite of what is familiar;” somehow strange and at the same time familiar, thereby creating a cognitive dissonance that both charms and repels us.
The modern science of robotics understood this when it developed the “The Uncanny Valley Hypothesis”, stating that while we are at first attracted to a robot’s anthropomorphic features, we are progressively repelled as those features grow more human-like. Don’t worry, there are no robots in the thirty-three tales that constitute The Uncanny Valley by Gregory Miller (it isn’t SF), but you will understand what “uncanny” really means when you’ve finished the book.
I didn’t take as quickly to the tales in this book as I did in Mr Miller’s previous work, Scaring The Crows; my first assessment was that the tales lacked characters in the process of making a decision, something I deemed necessary for a true short-story. The characters had depth and were memorable, but they seemed to be telling the tale, not living it; I was perhaps a third of the way into the book before I realized that my criticism was beside the point; the individual tales were part of a larger story and that a closer reading of the prologue might have tipped me off to what was actually happening.
Much like novels written in a letter or diary format, these tales, each told by a different citizen of Uncanny Valley, Pa, form a much larger story. The plot, as I see it, hinges less on a decision (although the unexpected end results from a decisive act!), than on the reader’s slowly dawning realization that what is happening in this supposedly strange town is less odd than he at first believes; what he is actually watching is normalcy reflected on a broken mirror (remember that “cognitive dissonance” I mentioned earlier?).
The citizenry of Uncanny Valley, Pa, are a varied lot. There are students, teachers, librarians, janitors, mine workers, several small children and at least a couple adolescents. They have been asked by a area media company to describe some incident they have witnessed that might best reflect the culture of their community. The tales, however unbelievable are believable because the characters, however strange, are not unlike people we’ve met and known and are; an odd bunch, a damned odd bunch, but no odder than ourselves.
You think not? You think just because some of the characters in these tales claim to be in touch with the paranormal that they differ from the rest of us? Well, who do you think watches all those “reality” ghosts shows on television? Or think they sighted Big Foot or the Loch ness Monster? That’s Mr and Mrs America! How about the estimated three percent of Americans that think they have been abducted by aliens?
I’m glad I ignored my first instincts here and continued reading. I enjoyed the book and I learned something. If you, gentle reader are having trouble following my reasoning in this review I’m going to suggest the problem is yours, not mine: you haven’t read The Uncanny Valley yet and you don’t know what “uncanny” really means.
As should be made obvious by the accompanying photo, Mike Nardine (aka Cheap Mike) is plain vanilla and old as dirt. He is Secret Laboratory’s Technology Editor and has been writing since before the invention of the electric typewriter. His first computer was a 1kb Sinclair; his love-affair with computers began with a Kaypro. He has sold short stories to women’s magazines and has published several books, which are available in Amazon’s Kindle Store. Mr. Nardine has also written a whole slug of book reviews, play reviews, news articles, and consumer-tech stuff for various ezines and The Reader Weekly of Duluth, Minnesota. He presently lives in Rochester, Minnesota with his wife of many years and a fifteen-year-old Jack Russel Terrier named Chloe. Still writing as he circles the drain, he also sells domains and web hosting at CheapMikes.com.
Email Mr. Nardine at firstname.lastname@example.org.