Sunday, August 26, 2012


By Howard Waldrop

Howard Waldrop is a writer that is a bit hard to define, but I’ll try anyway. If I had to pick two adjectives to describe Waldrop, they’d be playful and weird.

Night of the Cooters is a collection of Waldrop short stories. The stories in Cooters are all introduced by Waldrop and some are even annotated. It’s clear that every tale has its own story rooted in the dreams, frustrations, and pop-culture consumed by the author. And that they are all Howard’s babies.

And what babies! The title story follows the venerable tradition of re-telling H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, this time telling how the invasion ran into a bit of trouble in a small Texas town. “French Scenes” is an homage to the masters of homage, the film-makers of the nouvelle vague. “The Passing of the Western” is a retrospective on the Western genre in a world where rain-making devices really worked. “Thirty Minutes over Broadway” shows a war-weary Jetboy returning to an America he can’t quite come to terms with, except for when he’s battling bad-guys. “Wild, Wild Horses” is perhaps my favorite, recounting an epic bit of smuggling, mythic creatures, and a Roman Empire in decline. “Do Ya, Do Ya Wanna Dance” takes us to a high school reunion that relives the best of the sixties during the worst of the eighties.

To return to the task of defining Waldrop’s writing, perhaps his distinguishing characteristic is to take the collective memory and turn it around. What comes back to us is familiar, yet new, and pretty marvelous. There’s a line in this book that captures the essence of what Waldrop does so well,

Like in Riot in Cell Block 11, when Neville Brand gets shot at by the prison guard with a Thompson, he yells:
“Look out Monty! They got a chopper! Back inside!”
What the Cahiers people heard was:
“Steady mon frere! Let us leave this place of wasted dreams.”
Yup, I think that’s exactly what Mr. Waldrop hears. I try to hear it too.

-Dave Hardy

Sunday, August 19, 2012


By Barrington  J. Bayley

An early classic from Bayley. Rodrone is an inter-stellar outlaw, not so much a Blackbeard of the spaceways as a ‘60s-style rebel-desperado. The galaxy is controlled by the Streall, a highly conservative alien race. But Rodrone has got his hands on something that threatens their hegemony. It’s a twisty little novel with a mcguffin at once compelling and impossible to pin down. The ultimate question is less about how to get power than asking what it means to have it.

By John Jakes

This Bayley novel was only ever published as part of an Ace Double with John Jakes’ Mask of Chaos. This too fits into the counter-culture motif of the era. Mike is a micropig, a cybernetically enhanced man, who faces prejudice and hostility because of his origins. He finds himself stranded on the planet Tome, a perfectly ordered world where people live behind masks, literally (an interesting touch, reminiscent of Moorcock’s Granbretania). Here he meets Ab, a down-at-the-heels drifter with a rebel-streak a mile wide. They find themselves recruited (rather unwillingly) for a science-fictional reality TV show even more vicious than Real Housewives of Atlanta.

-Dave Hardy

Sunday, August 12, 2012


By George Allan England

If George Allan England were around today, he might find himself in the same boat as Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh, and the editor of the Jyllands Posten. Some sensitive folks might take offense at a story about a plan to loot Mecca of its holiest treasures. 

The Flying Legion is about a WWI ace, known only as “The Master”, he is bored by peace so he gathers a group of fellow soldiers of fortune, steals the worlds most advanced airship, and takes of to find a lost city deep in the Arabian peninsula. Along the way super-science weapons are deployed and a mysterious masked airman shakes things up. Things don’t go quite as planned, which makes it all the livelier.

I must make a few observations here. The Master is not a likeable character. Despite his reluctance to shed blood, he is still an outlaw and a rather stiff one at that. Frankly I found myself sympathizing with the Meccans as the Flying Legion descends on the holiest city of Islam. Not that I can say for certain that England didn’t intend those effects. At times he almost seems to be satirizing the conventions of pulp fiction more than playing to them.

First penned in 1919, The Flying Legion is out of print, however electronic versions are available from Project Gutenberg and other online sources.

-Dave Hardy

Sunday, August 05, 2012


By Neal Barrett Jr.

Neal Barrett Jr. deserves to be in a special category of fantasist among writers like Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance. Like them, Barrett is a master of absurdist Sword & Sorcery. The protagonist of The Prophecy Machine, Finn, is s lizard maker, that is he crafts exquisite mechanical life-forms. Finn, along with his beloved is Leticia Louise (a Newbie, as humanized animals are called in Finn’s world) and Julia Jessica Slagg, the lizard to end all lizards, get stranded in Mahasar where everyone is more-or-less insane. Finn regards himself as eminently sane, and is increasingly (and comically) frustrated by the shenanigans of Mahasar.

Soon Finn is drawn into a bizarre mystery involving rival sects of madmen, his deranged host, bad food, and a machine of awesome, yet obscure power. The Prophecy Machine is rather like Skinny Annie Blues, a way of torturing the protagonist in a delightfully amusing way while putting a fresh twist on old genre standards like fantasy and mystery.

-Dave Hardy