(Golden Gryphon, $24.95, 254 pages, hardcover; published in April 2003.)
Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations is a stangely entertaining collection of eight collaborations between Howard Waldrop and other, mostly Texan, writers.
Part of what is strange is that I was so amused without thinking that most of the stories were particularly good.
For all that these are collaborations, Waldrop's trademark chaotic voice shines through in every story. These stories are anything but concise. Even the shortest or best of these, despite their admirable level of invention, all wear out their welcome. Waldrop has a habit of saying in three paragraphs what could be better conveyed in one sentence. And the dialogue is even more excessivily gabby. His characters go on. And on. Too often, I just wanted them to shut up and get on with the story.
The best stories are two of the three collaborations with Steven Utley, both of them proto-steampunk tales from the 1970s. The irreverently witty "Custer's Last Jump!" imagines an American Civil War in a world where aviation was invented a century earlier, and "Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole" imaginatively, if messily, combines the fictions of Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley, Herman Melville, and others.
Another noteworthy story is "One Horse Town" (co-written with Leigh Kennedy), a bittersweet Monty Pythonesque comedy about Homer and the siege of Troy, with plenty of zany energy. Its characters, despite their excessive verbosity, are memorable.
But the gems in this book are not the stories, they're Waldrop's introductions and the collaborators' afterwords. Waldrop has never been funnier: sharp and to the point, machinegunning absurdly delirous jokes and facts without a pause.
The greatest showstoppers are Steven Utley's three afterwords. He made me laugh until it hurt and I could barely breathe, and even then he wouldn't let up.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 24 May 2003, 12 July 2003