The Ultimate Werewolf

This isn’t Halloween programming. It contains a story by Kathe Koja, and I’m working on a couple of postings of her work.

Raw Feed (1993): The Ultimate Werewolf, eds. Byron Preiss, David Keller, Megan Miller, and John Betancourt, 1991.ultimate-werewolf

Introduction”, Harlan Ellison — Ellison makes an interesting case regarding the movie The Wolf Man as the inspiration for most modern werewolf tales, the reason the sub-genre became popular, and the source of most of the werewolf folklore movies and literature.

Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38° 54’ N Longitude 77° 00’ 13”, Harlan Ellison — It’s a great title and some of the writing and ideas are very good. I particularly liked Lawrence Talbot’s much hated fish and the idea of minituarizing yourself to travel a literal and fantastic inner landscape. Ellison does a good job with the scientific sounding doubletalk. However, the story bored me, and I found it alternately trivial and incomprehensible. Clearly, Ellison is trying to say something. The various images are designed to meet symbolic and thematic purposes: Talbot’s thoughts of mother link to entering his body through the navel and blood red placenta-like sea, his much hated pet fish links to the deadly fish of his interior landscape who kills dreams and dies at story’s end for lack of a worshipper, Talbot has the same name as the protagonist of the movie The Wolf Man but that end is unclear, or, worse, trivial. In his interior landscape, Talbot finds alls sorts of toys from a 30s and 40s childhood in a burst of nostalgia that reminded me of Ellison’s “Jefty Is Five” but not nearly as well-used here. (If Talbot is really that young, why does he want to die so badly? He can’t be an unnaturally old man at the time of the story. Is it the guilt? Another failing is no dealing with the relationship between Talbot and Victor’s father.) The point of the story is that it’s only one’s soul that makes life valueable but this soul quantity is unknowable and symbolized by, of all things, a “Howdy Doody button” (and, no, Ellison doesn’t assign specific human attributes like humor, naiveté, or innocence to the button). My reaction was much like Victor’s: “What the hell’s that supposed to signify…”. A story that never really gelled into anything.

Wolf, Iron, and Math”, Philip José Farmer — A slight story but better than I expected. The two major points of interest in this story are Farmer dwelling on the many details of the werewolf transformation experience, and a pleasant experience it i,s and the werewolf magazine complete with personals section in which people promise not to eat their date’s children.

Angels’ Moon”, Kathe Koja — This story combines two old monster story themes. First, its protagonist (formerly a brilliant poet, now a derelict who has trouble using language and reading the simplest books) and his possible lycanthropy serve as a metaphor for the social outcast and vice versa. Second (and probably an even older ploy than using monsters as social metaphors), he may be a werewolf or insane, his madness may have caused by his lycanthropy or followed it. I think either reading is justified. It’s very well written from the werewolf’s point of view, full of bright images. But, ultimately, it’s not a very original or interesting notion no matter how slickly written, and it’s ultimately pretty forgettable.

Unleashed”, Nina Kiriki Hoffman — The temptation, when doing monster stories, is to quickly march to the idea of confronting monster with monster (horror movies did this long ago). This story does this but with a twist. A werewolf meets the girl upstairs who also transforms by the light of the full moon – into a surly man (who may just confine himself to sexual acts his alter ego woman finds distasteful or he may – and this is never really confirmed — murder too), sort of multiple personalities literally embodied. I liked this bizarre touch; I liked the quiet way the werewolf copes with his fate – he explains that it actually only affects 5% of his life – and tries to help the girl do the same — actually, I wouldn’t have minded the story dealing with that at greater length rather than only at the end. What I didn’t like was dragging out the old horror story notion (born of Freud I’m sure) of sexual repression via a dominating parent as reason for the girl’s problem.

The Mark of the Beast”, Kim Antieau — This is one of those tales bent on using the werewolf as a metaphor, here seemingly for repressed sexuality (that hackneyed cliché of horror – vying with the equally prevalent notion of sexual cravings leading to a bad end). This story suffers from a vague, unclear ending. The point seems to be that Garnier despises his wife’s, Marie, lycanthropy because he is a ravenous werewolf (the old reaction formation) himself. Yet, Marie seems to be in touch with the sensual, not harmful side of werewolfness. It’s a rather pointless story. The reaction formation feature is a rather trivial (at last as handled here) reason for a story.

At War With the Wolf Man”, Jerome Charyn — This story is humorous at times, written in a sparse style and cadence reminiscent of a fable. I’m not sure what the ultimate point was. Police Commissioner of New York, Isaac Sidel, hunts down the strange urban assailant (deliberately reminiscent of the Wild Man of medieval European legend) known as the Wolf Man. In the process, Sidel becomes more alienated (as evidenced by only snapping out of his melancholy at story’s end) and animal-like himself (as symbolized by his increasingly unshaven face). I liked the humor (professional werewolf specialists matter-of-factly hired and actors impersonating a werewolf) but didn’t think the story had much of a point.

Day of the Wolf”, Craig Shaw Gardner — A well-told, grimly humorous tale that does a variation on the usual werewolf folklore. There is the usual story of a cursed man alienated by his curse (and going to the suburbs since rural areas have people with guns who know how to handle wild animals and cities are starting to take notice of urban violence). Here, however, there is the variation that the protagonist creates werewolves by his touch while being immune to them. Sometimes he accidently turns children into werewolves. (The story seems to imply that one werewolf boy kills his sister, a murder the protagonist is blamed for). Sometimes attackers who suspect him as a werewolf are turned. The story neatly alternates between the protagonist being cursed by sex (there’s an example of anti-sex bias in horror) with a whore in a liberated whorehouse in WWII France, and the story’s hero turning a suburban dweller (temporarily, she regards herself as not being a suburbanite) into another version of him.

Moonlight on the Gazebo”, Mel Gilden — A strange combination of late 19th century, small town America mixed with werewolves and witches is this story’s main interest as well as the idea of professional, respected werewolves serving as executioners. The story itself was ok.

Raymond”, Nancy A. Collins — This story’s weak point is failing to tell us exactly why Colonel Reynard, proprietor of a wild animal show in a carnival, regards wolf boy Raymond Fleuris as an “abomination” (Fleuris himself is a werewolf) because he is “stuck in-between the natures” of man and wolf as the result of some surgery performed on him (why and what exactly the surgery was is also, unfortunately, unexplained). Obviously not knowing this stuff is fully in keeping with the position of the first-person narrator but then Collins could have structured the story differently. What I did like was the realism of the portrait of boyhood in a rural area, everything from the fascination of the lingerie section of the Sears catalog to being poor enough to have to take your paper lunch sacks back home..

There’s A Wolf In My Time Machine”, Larry Niven  — A disappointingly minor story (with a flat falling joke at story’s end) about a time traveler from the future travelling to an alternate world where wolves have developed sentience and an intelligence. The best part of this story is the worked out implications of this idea. Wolves, being nocturnal, prefer dimly lit houses and have forsaken, due to their keen sense of smell, internal combustion technology. However, the ending, where wolf Wrona goes back with time traveler Svetz and, when crossing the time lines, regresses to her ancestral wolf form, was perfectly predictable. I would bet this story, featuring a future man evolved to only survive in an atmosphere laced with industrial pollutants, is from the early seventies with its ecological concerns.

South of Oregon City”, Pat Murphy — This is the third in the chronologically linked tales of Nadya, a werewolf traveling the Old West, and I think it’s by far the best. I liked the matter-of-fact, sudden, believable, low-key, yet genuinely affectionate if not conventionally romantic, “marriage” (they never actually legally formalize it) between Nadya and half-breed Jem. They genuinely love each other in their own way, and Jem matter of factly accepts Nadya’s lycanthropy. However, a genuine, realistic element of jealousy enters when Jem resents Nadya’s sexual relations and capering about with a male wolf when she is in wolf form. (Even though his “rival” is a wolf, it’s a believable rivalry.) I also thought his eventual acceptance of Nadya’s wolf romance was believable too as he realizes that on the nights of the full moon, he can not love Nadya in the way her wolf form needs. The story carefully avoids (as far as I saw) telling us if the two children she bears at story’s end are the result of a union with a wolf or Jem. The lycanthropy genes seem to be dominant.

Special Makeup”, Kevin J. Anderson — A funny story with an original variation on werewolves. An egotistical actor bitches once too often about his werewolf makeup so his gypsy makeup man curses him: he’ll turn into a werewolf whenever the klieg lights shines on him (thereby typecasting him for good.). The best part of this story is the description of the movie being filmed, Wolfman in Casablanca. Werewolf Lance Chandler meets a beautiful French Resistance fighter vacationing – not an activity normally associated with French Resistance fighters – vacationing in Morocco. She just happens to be a werewolf too. Romance ensues as does the destruction of lots of Nazi military machines. The final scene has the two howling, in wolf form, on the rooftops above burning Nazi tanks and artillery.

Pure Silver”, A. C. Crispin and Kathleen O’Malley — The most thematically ambitious werewolf story I’ve seen. The protagonist and narrator is an animal control officers who loves animals and, as is often the case with animal lovers, doesn’t have much time or affection for people including the police officer who would like to romance her. Her path crosses an old man who she feels affection towards – because he’s not like other humans but, of course, a werewolf. In this case a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp taking bloody vengeance on escaped Nazis and other criminals. The potential for vigilante justice via a werewolf or even a vampiric form seems to be neglected in most stories. Thematical juxtapositions are made between the concentration camp and the mercy killings administered by the narrator at an animal shelter. She kills animals because she loves them. (Because, after all, there “are worse things than death”.) Zeyde, the werewolf, urges the narrator to go out with suitor and policeman Joe and get involved with people. One gets the sense that the homeless Zeyde kills evil men because he loves people and because his family died in the camps. He gives the narrator a silver knife to kill him because she is his only family. She does, but his attack on her turns her into a werewolf and the story ends with the irony of a newly social woman isolated from lover Joe and humanity. She has turned into a beast and is cut off from people when she now wants them. A neat, tidy, convincing story.

Partners”, Robert J. Randis — A trivial story about two cops, the female partner being a werewolf.

Ancient Evil”, Bill Pronzini — A very competently told story without an original idea behind it. Three ranchers hunt a werewolf in the wilderness. The best thing in the story is the werewolf’s diary which talks about how werewolves are evolving from relatively benign hunters of livestock to vicious hunters of men. (The diarist is of the more benign variety but still fearsome enough.) The story reaches a bit too far when it cites werewolves as the cause for many modern disappearances and missing children.

And the Moon Shines Full and Bright”, Brad Strickland — A pointless story with no payoff despite some nice attempts to rationalize werewolf folklore. Lycanthropy is a recessive trait potentially activated by a werewolf’s bite. Said bite alters DNA to express the trait. Radiation bounced off the full moon activates the transformation. The DNA alteration makes regeneration instantaneous, but silver acts as a de-stabilizing catalyst. The captured werewolf of this story of the for future serves as metaphor for the vanished wilderness, for conquered wilderness. There is no wilderness left. Humanity doesn’t even eat meat anymore. The werewolf’s plight is depicted fairly well. However, the story’s end of dumping him on Venus (where his superior intellect and body will make him a leader amongst the last frontiersmen there without the social stigma of being a werewolf) seemed pointless and anti-climactic.

Full Moon Over Moscow”, Stuart Kaminsk — The best thing about this story are the details of life in the Gorbachev Soviet Union: a police detective longs for the simple, unaccountable days of Stalin, drunken taxi drivers supplement their income with black marketing, squalid apartments. I also liked the statistics loving protagonist. The plot, though, was ho-hum: protagonist attacked by werewolf, protagonist confronts werewolf’s husband — after being bitten by said werewolf and killing it. The ending, where the protagonist has “subtly” (though probably not as much as the author intended) changed into a werewolf and savagely killed the dead werewolf’s husband and brought his heart home to her friend, was a cheap shot horror story ending of the worst sort.

Wolf Watch”, Robert E. Weinberg — A darkly amusing story well-told. At first this seems like a tale of a night watchmen who will meet a werewolf. Then it’s revealed he is a werewolf preying on occasional thieves who break into the department store where he works. The story’s strength comes from the amusing and ironic contrasts in the werewolf’s character. He’s a simple man of simple tastes who likes crossword puzzles and classical music, a man of not great intellect but loyal to his employers, a soft touch for helping the homeless who sometimes break into the store, a man who turns junkies into the police. Yet he’s also a fierce werewolf security guard. I particularly liked the scene where one of his victims seeks protection in the Christmas display. (This is also a werewolf who can change anytime he wants.) At first, the symbols of Christianity seem to make the werewolf retreat. Then it’s revealed that the werewolf just wanted his victim away from all those delicate Christmas ornaments and out in the open where he could be killed with a minimum amount of fuss.

The Werewolf Gambit”, Robert Silverberg — The only good thing about this story – a disappointment from Silverberg – is the witty idea of a man trying to seduce a woman by telling her he’s a werewolf. The ending, where his date turns out to be a vampire who attacks him, is a cheap irony of the worst horror story variety.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor

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One thought on “The Ultimate Werewolf

  1. Pingback: Selected Short Fiction of Kathe Koja | MarzAat

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