Sunday, September 15, 2019

Birthday review: Stories of Howard Waldrop

As with many of these writers, my reviews only cover late work -- I'm not discussing some of Howard Waldrop's spectacular stories from the '80s and '90s. But, be that as it may -- Howard turns 73 today, and here's a look at the stories I've reviewed over my time at Locus, not to mention on early piece for Shayol.

Review of Shayol #7

Waldrop's story, "What Makes Hieronymus Run?", is a weird one -- quel surprise, eh? It's about a couple time traveling to 16th Century Holland. But instead of tulip growers and the Duke of Alba, they find themselves in scenes from paintings, eventually including, of course, a painting by Bosch. Pretty good stuff, not quite Waldrop at his best, though. (It didn't really advance enough beyond simply presenting the neat idea.)

Locus, November 2003

In Sci Fiction for October I also enjoyed Howard Waldrop's "D=RxT", though it doesn't seem to be SF: a loving and honest story about boys (and a girl) in the 50s racing pedal cars, and a challenge from "Rocket Boy".

Locus, October 2004

Sci Fiction in September offers a short story by Howard Waldrop, "The Wolf-man of Alcatraz", which, in a characteristically Waldropian way, takes a goofy idea and makes it seem natural: what if the "Birdman of Alcatraz" was a "Wolf-man" – a werewolf. His evocation of the prisoner's life, buttressed with details like his obsession with the moon, is very nicely done, though almost too straightforward.

Locus, December 2005

In Sci Fiction in November there is a pretty good Howard Waldrop story, “The Horse of a Different Color (That You Rode In On)”, about an unknown (to us) Marx Brother, Manny Marks, the death of vaudeville, and, particularly, a mysterious vaudeville act and their quest.

Locus, January 2006

Finally, in the December Sci Fiction, Howard Waldrop offers one of his best recent stories, “The King of Where-I-Go”. Waldrop’s recent territory has been the American 20th Century, ever viewed from just slightly skewed viewpoints: obscure alternate histories, or in this case a very personal bit of time travel. The story concerns a Texas boy and his younger sister. They spend summers with relatives in Alabama, while their parents, in the end unsuccessfully, try to work out marital problems. Then the sister gets polio, surviving because of her Aunt’s experience. She is slightly handicapped, and perhaps changed in another way, as she ends up participating in the Duke University psychic experiments. The story has a definite SFnal twist, but at its heart it is a pitch perfect portrayal of a mid-20th century childhood in the American South.

Review of Fast Ships and Black Sails (Locus, December 2008)

In “Avast, Abaft”, Howard Waldrop mashes up H. M. S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance to delightful effect.

Review of Warriors (Locus, May 2010)

The best of the other entries comes from Howard Waldrop. “Ninieslando” is set during World War I. A British soldier is injured in No Man’s Land, between the lines, and wakes up in a mysterious place, full of Esperanto speakers. (Fortuitously, he had been an Esperanto enthusiast prior to the war.) The story turns on the Esperantist dream of human unity arising from a common language – and turns again, quite bitterly, on the constant ability of humans to find differences for no particular reason. (It’s critical, I suppose, for such a story to be set in the relatively senseless “Great War” rather than in the Second World War.) The story is only marginally fantastical – it’s more a sort of Secret History, but the conception of the existence and location of the Esperantist refuge is pure Waldropian loopiness of the sort that makes it clearly unfair to call it loopy – rather, it’s inspired.

Locus, January 2014

In Old Mars my favorite comes from Howard Waldrop. “The Dead Sea-Bottom Scrolls (A Recreation of Oud’s Journey by Slimshang from Tharsis to Solis Lacus, by George Weeton, Fourth Mars Settlement Wave, 1981)” is, as the title tells us, told at multiple levels – it's a later edition of the account of an early Martian settler reenacting an old Martian's journey as his journal described it … clever, moving, believable, and mysterious.

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