By D J Burnham

Reviewed by Rob Spalding

Test Drive is the first collection of short stories by science fiction writer D J Burnham. For a first collection, there is a very high hit ratio of really good stories.

One of the first things I noticed about the stories is that they all seem to follow a similar pattern; the first two thirds are spent on establishing the world and the characters and then the main thrust of the story comes in to play in the final third. In the hands of a less talented writer, this technique would make for quite a dull read but Burnham is very good. He makes his characters and story the focus of his writing, letting the ideas be a tool for the telling, rather than focus the story on the scientific idea--which makes a nice change from many other short science fiction stories I've read.

There's a comfortable familiarity in his writing; the stories, while new, feel familiar. Time to Leave is probably the best example of this. It's a story I feel like I've read before, but not done like this or told in this way. It was this feeling like I knew the stories that made the writing so easy to read.

Bid, One True Path, The Lighthouse Keeper and Biker's Dozen were my four favourite stories in the collection. Bid tells the story of an auction site entrepreneur and the expansion of his gardening business into an interstellar one. I have never been interested in gardening, but this story kept me interested and entertained throughout. One True Path tells of the arrival of a religious alien race at Earth and their attempts to discover if it is a spiritual world and without need of conversion. The deciding factor in their choice appealed to me on quite a few different levels. The Lighthouse Keeper is all about setting up a lighthouse on a rogue asteroid field that is causing danger to interstellar shipping. Finally Biker's Dozen is essentially a travelogue around an alien world after a war. The writing in this story is wonderful and very descriptive.

I have only mentioned four above, but nearly all the stories in the collection will have me reading them again. Only Blink disappointed me, as we never find out who it is that sets the chain of events in motion and while that might be the point, it irritated me. Home in Time for Christmas was probably the most disposable of all the stories in there. Even then, both of these stories are written with the same skill and care as the others.

In all this a very good collection from someone I will be keeping my eye out for. While reading this collection, it made me want to improve my own writing so that I could be as good as he is. I can't think of a better compliment than that.

The author is donating all of the profits from the sale of this book to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Test Drive by D J Burnham. Tpb, 320pp, $14.50, published and available through lulu.com

Author's website: - www.djburnham.com

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