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Things Will Never Be The Same: A Howard Waldrop Reader by Howard Waldrop
Cover Artist: Robert T. Garcia/Ellen Datlow
Review by Judy Newton
Old Earth Books Trade Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 1882968360
Date: March 2007 List Price $19.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

You don't have to know a lot to read Howard Waldrop's fiction, but it helps. His stories are packed with inside jokes, allusions, historic and pop-cultural references which sometimes leave you wondering if you got everything out of it he put into it. That's why this collection of his short fiction is such a treasure: each story has an afterword written by Howard himself explaining (some of) the punch lines you may have missed, the premise he based it on, the circumstances under which he wrote, and anything else he felt his readers should know. (The continuing saga of how he single-handedly shut down a number of publications just by having a story accepted is truly amazing.)

Not, however, as amazing as the diversity of invention and delights provided by the collection of stories in this volume. From the first and probably most famous, "The Ugly Chickens", clear through to the final and most recent "The King of Where-I-Go", we take a wild and wooly Waldrop-ride through time and space. Here are a few of my favorites:

What if a population of dodo birds may have survived to the present day in an obscure corner of the American South? And what if an ornithologist caught wind of the trail and went hell-for-leather off trying to make damn sure one way or the other? You get a terrific detective story with a heartbreaker of an ending.

"Night of the Cooters:" Why should New Jersey's invasion by Martians be the only one everybody knows about? Howard does for Pachuco City, Texas, what Orson Welles did for the East Coast. And makes it funny.

How about a fantasy story (well, it does involve a mythical creature) set in the days of the Roman Empire? We take a trip across the civilized world (that is, from Constantinople to the pillars of Hercules- and beyond!) in the company of a centaur. Even with the sneaking suspicion that it would be even funnier knowing Latin can't ruin one's enjoyment of this one.

Then there's "The Sawing Boys," in which a bunch of Jewish gangsters meets a quartet of klezmerim whose instruments happen to be musical saws; but the heart and highlight of the story is the glorious lingo spoken by the gangsters. A glossary is included in the afterword; it feels like peeking at the answers in the back of the book.

"Heart of Whitenesse" is best described in Howard's own words: "I had started with the concept of Marlowe-Marlow-Marlowe. Christopher Marlowe the Elizabethan playwright as Raymond Chandler's detective Marlowe, as narrated by Joseph Conrad's Marlow, who narrates Heart of Darkness…" And there's spying, and a ride in an iceboat on the frozen Thames, and a visit to Dr. Faustus (yes, that one) with metaphysiks, and to the Queen, and we leave Kit Marlow on the day of his fateful tavern party.

And there's a time-travel tale or two, and a post-apocalypse with a twist, and alternate history, and and and…

Go read it yourself. It's really good.

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