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Cigar Box Faust and Other Miniatures

by Michael Swanwick

(Tachyon Publications, $14.95, 94 pages, paperback, published November 2003.)

I think this must be the first time I've ever cover scanseen a collection of any author's short-short fiction (the longest text in Cigar Box Faust is the introduction, by a very comfortable margin). It's easy to see, though, why Michael Swanwick's back-of-an-envelope vignettes were deemed fit for collection and reprinting.

The contents range from the titular text of a piece of tobacco theatre, apparently performed by Swanwick at conventions, to a series of brief essays on unusual topics, to an eleven-part outré dissection of Picasso, to the author biogs Swanwick invented for Asimov's Science Fiction, where many of these pieces saw publication. There's one imaginative piece for each planet of the solar system, an anecdote for every letter of the alphabet, and the author's thoughts on the late Philip K Dick. What unites these various pieces is a lively sense of humour, to say nothing of the fertile imagination needed to produce so much material, and the reader is fairly guaranteed to find at least a handful of pieces that will please.

It seems that, not satisfied with overachieving while awake, Swanwick has trained himself to lucid-dream new short-short stories -- to lucid-write, if you will. The lucky beggar. I particularly admired the results of "Writing in My Sleep", as well as "The Mask", a compressed novella sold to Asimov's at 1500 words but here reduced to just over 400. But the best, if you ask me, has been saved till last. "The Madness of Gordon Van Gelder" is a merciless ribbing of the editor of F&SF, and all credit to the victim, who bought the piece ...

A compendium of tiny curiosities and hit-and-run gags, Cigar Box Faust is the perfect pick-me-up for the reader in a hurry.


Review by John Toon.

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