Steven Millhauser's new story collection, The Knife Thrower (Crown; $22), contains the prototypes for his Pulitzer-winning Martin Dressler: tinkerers, dreamers, builders, and tunnelers, lists upon lists of experiments doomed to failure. It's a numbing, depressing string, because in short form, Millhauser's heroes seem to go directly from childhood to mad scientist, without an intermediate stop at man. A boy flies too far from earth, but his carpet's fibers don't melt, this time. The novella-length Paradise Park reads a little too close both to Martin Dressler and to Millhauser's earlier, wonderful The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne. Beneath the Cellars of Our Town puts an original suburban spin on Journey to the Center of the Earth. The title story emphasizes Millhauser's macabre bent the most, and suggests a direction for his next novellas by aligning the author's tales with the knives' deadly flights.