Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations
by Howard Waldrop et al
Golden Gryphon Press HCVR: ISBN1930846134 PubDate: April 2003
Review by Victoria McManus
280 pages List price 24.95
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Here's a collection of collaborations worth having, including several Hugo and Nebula nominees. Author Waldrop has teamed with Bruce Sterling, George R.R. Martin, and others over the years, but has withheld these stories from his previous collections. - ed
This long-awaited collection of Howard Waldrop's collaborations has a range of stories written over a period of three decades, and includes one story that is previously unpublished. Each story has an introduction by Waldrop and an afterword by his collaborator, usually describing how the story came about, and usually humorous. There are also three "Nut and Bolts" essays by Waldrop on the process of collaboration, a bonus for readers who are also writers.
My favorite story is without doubt "One Horse Town," by Waldrop and Leigh Kennedy. It involves time out of joint from three viewpoints: the poet Homer as a boy, the hero Coroebus of Phrygia, and archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who might sound as if they have nothing in common, but all admire heroes and heroism. Their widely varying views of heroism are what make the story intriguing. And like Classical heroes, each of the three main characters is humanized with a weakness. Homer's poor eyesight, Coro's longing for Cassandra, and Schliemann's earache all instantly give them life beyond words on a page, as does the heartbreaking portrayal of Cassandra, who speaks the true future about the fall of Troy but is not believed. The story is rich with accurate historical detail despite the dialogue's contemporary tone. Best of all, the story explores Homer as a writer, and why he is the poet we still remember today.
"Custer's Last Jump!" is one of three collaborations between Waldrop and Steven Utley. It's an alternate history featuring the Confederate States and Crazy Horse's airplane, written like a series of historical documents from four well-realized viewpoints. "Willow Beeman" was a short story experiment that nonetheless sold. The last story in the collection, "Black as the Pit, From Pole to Pole," is the finest of the three; it explores the future adventures of Frankenstein's monster, also bringing in Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne, and Moby Dick; try this one on history buffs and see what they think.
"A Voice and Bitter Weeping," with Buddy Saunders, was eventually expanded into a novel. Most of the Waldrop text in this alternate universe story was removed from this version before its original publication; to find it again, readers will have to seek out The Texas-Israeli War: 1999. "Men of Greywater Station," with George R.R. Martin, has a classic sf pulp feel, not least because there are no female characters. It's a gripping tale in which intelligent, hostile fungus lays siege to human research outpost.
"Sun's Up!" is also hard sf, as befits a story by Waldrop and A.A. Jackson IV; it's an emotionally affecting story as well. Only the best sf can make the reader feel for a spaceship. The new story in the collection was actually written in the mid-1970s by Waldrop and Bruce Sterling, but never found a market. This story is my second favorite in the collection, a detective story set in Heian Japan that I will not spoil further except to mention the Ainu sidekick.
Custer's Last Jump is an excellent addition to any collection; if you have never read Waldrop before, now's your chance.