No one–and I mean no one at all–writes a short story like Howard Waldrop. If you like Howard’s stories, that’s unfortunate, because that means that you have to wait for your next fix from the single source rather than being able to rely on multiple suppliers. But them’s the breaks when you’re talking about a writer who has a unique style and voice.
This collection from 1987 showcases seven of those wonderful stories, bracketed by an introduction from Gardner Dozois and an afterword by Lewis Shiner, and in conjunction with some original artwork by people like Tim Kirk, Terry Lee, and Hank Jankus (at least in this version, the signed, limited and slipcased edition; YMMV). The stories are reprinted from both Shayol, a fanzine produced by Pat Cadigan and Arnie Fenner (someone once said that the most important thing for Howard’s career was for him to send his stories to the highest paying market first rather than starting with the semi-pro magazines), to OMNI (the highest paying market; hmm, someone must have finally told Howard). The stories are:
- “All About Strange Monsters of the Recent Past” — His second story ever sold, but one that took years to actually see print. What makes a Howard Waldrop story? A Grade B monster movie plot treated as if it actually occurred from the viewpoint of the national guardsman called in to help fight it. The difference is point of view. Howard’s able to make the story unique by establishing a unique focus on it.
- “Helpless, Helpless” — A perfect little tale of disease and civilization, trading off that adage that he who forgets history is bound to repeat it and Alfred Bester’s tale of the android and the heat. Short, but to the point.
- “Fair Game” — Another of Howard’s signatures is that he does his research, almost to the point of absurdity given the economics of scale. But in science fiction, it tends to pay off, because readers are trained in watching the minutia, and if you can carry it off, they will be pleased. Here, it is Hemingway and the hunt is on.
- “What Makes Hieronymous Run?” — Hieronymous, of course, is Bosch, and the research also includes Brueghel the Elder and a number of other warped Renaissance painters, whose fevered imagination comes to life in this tale.
- “The Lions Are Asleep This Night” — As Howard tells it in the introduction, he walks a fine line between telling a subtle story and a rarefied one. There have been many times that I’ve felt that he crossed the bounds, just because my knowledge of history, culture, or mythology wasn’t enough to keep up him. This is one about a different Africa, but there are enough clues here for most anyone to understand the differences.
- “Flying Saucer Rock and Roll” — This is probably one of my top three favorite Waldrop stories, and one of my top 20 favorite short stories. The reasons are two-fold: number one, it’s that good; number two, I heard Waldrop read it out loud. If you ever get the chance to hear Waldrop read a story, do take it. The only other reading I can think of offhand that I thought was any better than this reading was Dan Simmons reading “Entropy’s Bed at Midnight.”
- “He-We-Await” — A little bit of Ancient Egypt and the return of an awaited messiah, but not quite the type you might have been thinking of.
This collection appeared in paperback a few years back, but is likely out of print now. If you are a fan of alternate history or the short story, you owe it to yourself to check the used book racks for this or one of Howard’s other collections. You won’t be sorry.
[Finished November 1995]