Howard Who?

Howard Waldrop often disappoints me.

Here’s a Raw Feed of his first collection, another in my newest alternate history series.

Raw Feed (1987): Howard Who?, Howard Waldrop, 1986.howard-who

“Howard Who?”, George R. R. Martin — Interesting bio material on Waldrop and some on Martin.

The Ugly Chickens” — Interesting story but hardly award caliber (unless competition was weak). Still I liked idea of man searching for dodo. Best element was story of Faulkner-like family. Suspect part of attraction of story (for others) was sadness at dodo’s and other species extinction. I don’t think that emotion developed enough. Waldrop seems to like destiny of lives hanging on very small events — like car breaking down.

Der Untergang des Abendlandesmenschen” — Great story. Loved combination of Nazis, B silent westerns, horror movies, and vampires. Ending was disturbing, especially given light (and authentic given subjects) treatment. Much humor. Only fault was not enough development in writing story like silent Expressionistic movie. Still, a delightful example of inspired juxtapositioning.

Ike at the Mike” — Waldrop seems to evoke, in his stories of alternate history (especially this one), sadness by juxtaposing fictional character’s lives with what they did in history. Patton dies a sick, destitute, forgotten Jazz drummer, Elvis Presley a senator deeply sad at not pursing music. On the other hand, Boris Karloff’s life works out better. Best evocation of emotion I’ve read in Waldrop story. Liked story and milieu of jazz subculture. [What was I thinking!? I don’t even like jazz.] 

Dr. Hudson’s Secret Gorilla” — Entertaining and terrifying use of horror movie clichés. (Technique of narration from gorilla/victim’s point of view effective.) Ending was not particularly moving (either campy horror or horror). Idea of film critic deciding to enact film myth of gorilla interesting but not developed enough to be horrifying (Why? Was his brain — it seemed to be effected by the psychological strain? Why did he keep saying he won’t give the Evil Assistant his pleasure by fighting?) Still, story was interesting. Lengthening it would have been better with more emotional exploration of characters. (And why was Beautiful Daughter — loved archetypal labeling — infatuated with gorilla?) Mad Scientist character horrifying and refreshing — while still in the tradition of cliché.

. . . The World, As We Know It” — Humorous/horrifying story. Loved it in same way I liked scene in The Phoenix and the Mirror where mirror is made: arcane science (arcane terms and processes). Old idea of phlogiston (coupled with a bit of “French Chemistry”) initiates apocalypse. Fond of arcane theories validated. Passenger pigeon (another extinct animal — hmm?, why is Waldrop, as he says, so fascinated with cultural and biological losers?) scene gripping (never really thought about what animal looked like or what they meant when they said “they darkened the sky”) on own as well as foreshadowing of man and world’s doom.

Green Brother” — Only point of interest was humorous depiction of Indian narrator (several lines appeared anachronistically plucked from modern sitcom — attempt to say old Indians people too?). Also liked young Indian becoming paleontologist. Bit with Tyrranosaurus Rex not very effective.

Mary Margaret Road Grader” — More emotion than usual for Waldrop tale but still could have used more. Reasons why culture disintegrated seem a bit extreme. Liked Indian culture based around car (instead of horse) stealing. Nice subtext of battle-of-sexes.

Save a Place in the Lifeboat for Me” — Very strange tale. Witty in that buffonish personas of old movie comedians (Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, etc) sent by Groucho Marx type “God” to save ’50’s rock and rollers who are sort of like Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens (why the change?, why the similarities?  Was it to provide real reference of emotion to event?  Then why change details?), and Big Bopper in a world very much like theirs. Still, I liked this one. Particularly liked scenes with comedians.

Horror, We Got” — Very unusual story idea involving Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (Are quotes from Protocols of the Elders of Zion real or invented?) a really rational reason for inspiring Holocaust and other atrocities. Why is it necessary for world domination? Is it an example of grim irony (or am I being thick in not seeing rationale)? Narrator’s guilt and doubts well depicted but flaw still remains. Still, I liked story. However, still seems Waldrop has problems with full rationale for events (motivation and consequences especially) and with development of emotion. Odd juxtapositions are very unique and interesting and a little traveled path of sf but not as effective as could be with more emotion.

Man-Mountain Gentian” — Enjoyable story. For once, Waldrop develops emotion (though a bit more would have been nice) of characters. Liked telekinetic sumo wrestling. Not sure I liked obscure Zen proverb, but it was part of humor and atmosphere of story.

God’s Hooks!” — Witty combination of fishing and Puritan theology (liked Bunyan’s constant comments).  Features Izaak Walton. Nice evocation of atmosphere and emotion. One of Waldrop’s better stories.

Heirs of the Perisphere” — In some ways, the best and most touching of stories in collection. Waldrop manages (and perhaps this is the new trend in his writing he mentions) to write a poignant story and really feel for three cartoon simulacra. Poignant that they try so hard to retrieve time capsule with techno wonders from past only to have it ruined and die. Nice touch of having Goofy help rebuild civilization. Also a touch of black humor there as in rest of story.


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


5 thoughts on “Howard Who?

    1. My usual reaction to Waldrop is “Yes, you obviously did a lot of research, but what was the point?” Emotional sterility is common to a lot of what I’ve read of his.

      1. As an academic, I actually found a lot of the silly little academia jokes pretty fun, not sure it was emotionally sterile, it was slight in all ways though…

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