Copyright 2013 by Paula S. Jordan
Take one astutely selected collage of colorful, little-known bits of historical, fictional, film, and natural history drama and scenery. Trim away any constraint of time or place. Invite in a few eccentric, thoroughly human characters. Mix well, then examine the results through a genius-level sense of the absurd, focused to knife-edge clarity. Serve very well written, with wit, humor, heart, and just a touch of Texas drawl.
That’s something like the unique quality of story you can expect from one Howard Waldrop.
Never heard of him? Unfortunately, he can be easy to miss.
Writing slowly, allowing long, patient simmering for his stories and two novels (to date, with two [?] more still in the making) he appears at odd intervals — sometimes literally from the wilderness — with a new piece of cockeyed brilliance that somehow sets the real world a little straighter in its orbit.
He won the Nebula, the World Fantasy Award, and (almost) the Hugo for “The Ugly Chickens;” the World Fantasy award for “Custer’s Last Jump,” and nominations for many others. But he tends to stand a little to the side at the few SF&F conventions he attends, as if he’s shy of the ardent, equally low-profile following who watch so avidly for each new revelation.
He is well worth the wait. Whatever the story, Waldrop, like Borges, will show you a world you think you recognize, then twist it into a pretzel. But even his least likely plots and characters are disarmingly human, often at the same time roll-on-the-floor hilarious, and always, always filled with truth.
My favorite, “You Could Go Home Again,” in the collection Going Home Again, features two artistic geniuses whose names you know, returning home from a World Fair that never actually took place, in a year neither of them actually survived to see and a variant world of hope and progress that is clearly the work of fantasy.
As to why he writes so slowly? He says it takes a while, after the story’s almost done, for that one last perfect, compelling insight to reveal itself and slide into place.
All of which makes him a tough subject to get your hands around in a piece the length of this one. So I’m offering here his web site on SFF.net (Note: the free back issue of Locus is no longer available) and a knowledgeable, well-written page or two from the SF Site, with insights and a fairly recent reading list with reviews. Two more recent collections, A Horse of a Different Color and The Woods Are Dark This Night are available on Amazon and Kindle.
You might not take to Howard Waldrop at first. There are those who don’t. But do look him up. I’m betting that you’ll like him very much.
Oh, did I tell you about his titles? Almost as good as the stories themselves. I have on my shelf one of his novels — not considered his best — that I will read one day soon just to find out what in heck he has to say about The Texas-Israeli War.
I have the other novel too: Them Bones. That one is clearly brilliant.