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Keep The Giraffe Burning

by John Sladek

(Cosmos Books/Ansible E-ditions, $15.95, 150 pages, trade paperback, first published 1977, this edition published 2004.)

Review by John Toon

cover scanSeventeen strange creations jostle for your attention here, a mixture of short stories, parodies and odd bits. They're variously amusing, confusing and both, but they're certainly none of them ordinary. I'm just not sure whether or not I actually like them.

John Sladek's novels show his talent for the reductio ad absurdum, and he certainly seems to be one of those writers who, having milked a situation for every possible joke, can simply turn it around and start again. But compress his style into a short story and you get all the fireworks in a fraction of the space. It's like a little ideas bomb going off in your face. The only thing is, you don't get the chance to prepare for it and by the time you react, it's over. It's harder to grasp what Sladek's up to and appreciate what he's done when you're working with fragments.

The highlights here for me are the spoofs and oddments. "The Locked Room" is a witty twist on the "how did the detective know?" variety of puzzle-story. "Space Shoes of the Gods" is funny for just how little it exaggerates the von Daniken pot-boiler style. "Undecember" is a catalogue of significant dates in the "unexpected month", the one that doesn't exist but should. But as for the short stories, it's a notable mention for "Heavens Below" (which is really just a collection of fifteen quick gags) and the rest leave me... ambivalent.

As Sladek himself says in the collection's foreword, the material here is "only meant to be fun, and no serious messages are intended". Really, that alone should help you to decide if this book is for you.

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