Mixed Feelings (1974) is a collection of eleven early stories by the author, plus an introduction by Theodore Sturgeon. These stories are far out science fiction, dealing mostly with the effects of technology on humanity. Many would be mainstream if the subjects were acceptable to the mass market.
These stories have the vagueness and imagery of poems and, in fact, include a few examples of (intentionally) bad poetry. Stevie Weinraub is the central character in several of the stories, standing for the confused and conditioned youth of America in all their anomie. War, pollution, intolerance and social ills are the focus of other stories.
In This Writing "Game", the author lambasts the critics and explainers of literature. In Steve Weinraub and the Secret Empire, the title character loses his final connection to reality. In Two Sadnesses, a pair of childhood classics are modernized. In Naked to the Invisible Eye, a budding pitcher finds a different road to success. In f(x)=(11/15/67) x=her, a science team uses the methods of management to search for a breakthrough.
In The Ghost Writer, an artist isn't what he appears to be. In All the Last Wars At Once, warring humanity subdivides into all the possible categories until only individuality is left. In Things Go Better, the mainstream catches Stevie in Gremmage. In Wednesday, November 15, 1967, the protagonist is left alone in a decaying world. In World War II, a castaway finds a steady yet pointless job. In Lights Out, a confused writer rejects Gremmage.
As Sturgeon says in his intro, Effinger is out of his g*dd*mn mind. That is, his stories break through some sort of barrier into chaos and symbolism. Hence the similarity to poetry. However, they (purposely?) defy understanding, resembling a Rorschach card in their multiplicity of meanings.
These stories deliberately avoid the obvious. Some go down very strange byways and leave the reader confused and wondering what was the point of the story. They unsettle the emotions and stimulate the mind. Don't expect entertainment so much as enlightenment.
Recommended for anyone who wants to read outside the box.
-Arthur W. Jordin