Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek

Edited by David Langford

Maps -- 2nd ed cover

Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek is a compilation of 60 of John Sladek's previously uncollected short stories, including a few poems, playlets, essays and collaborations with Thomas Disch. David Langford compiled and edited this collection and wrote the introduction (which won the 2003 British Science Fiction Association award for best sf-related work). A separate Langford article, "Maps of Minnesota: Stalking John Sladek", describes the struggle to trace stories that had been lost, misrecorded, hidden in restricted archives, or buried in forgotten theatre programmes.

See the John Sladek page at Ansible E-ditions for more bibliographical details and a selection of his nonfiction.

Tom Disch wrote: "Thanks for a chance to see the intro. My eyes are still moist with laughter. Lord, John was a funny guy! And such titles. What contents pages he could boast! It all reads fine, I have no quibbles, and I'm pleased to be present at such a distinguished wake. I hope I have the good luck someday to have so conscientious and quick-witted a memorialist. Were there a heaven and were John in it he'd be raining down suitable blessings, I doubt not. Thanks on his behalf, Tom Disch

"ps You can use this as a blurb if you like! Waste not, want not."

Charles Platt wrote: "I hope you outlive me so you may be prodded or bribed by someone (my daughter perhaps) into writing an intro for MY posthumous works, whatever they may be. In fact I am tempted to pay in advance. No author could hope for a more conscientious and savvy anthologist. It's really a beautiful job."

Maps -- 1st ed cover

I am deeply grateful to Ben Jeapes of Big Engine for commissioning and publishing this first edition of Maps – now out of print. Paul Brazier typeset it as a labour of love. Many other people were incredibly supportive and are credited in the book: special thanks to Chris Priest as literary agent, and Thomas M. Disch for allowing access to both published and unpublished collaborations with John Sladek.

  • Publication Date: June 2002
  • Publisher: Big Engine, Oxfordshire
  • Format: Trade paperback
  • ISBN: 1903468086
  • Page Count: 359
  • Cover Artist: Deirdre Counihan
  • Availability: out of print.
  • Reviews

Ronnie Doll

John Sladek's cut-out/dress-up Ronald Reagan doll – artwork from the back cover of Ronald Reagan: The Magazine of Poetry #1, 1968. Deirdre Counihan's back jacket for Maps used collage elements from this drawing.

Artwork from Ronald Reagan: The Magazine of Poetry


Paul Di Filippo, Asimov's, June 2003

Publisher Ben Jeapes and editor David Langford have done an incredible service to the genre by collecting and printing Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek ... Sladek, lamentably deceased too young, was a comic genius too little cherished on this side of the Big Pond. This volume presents a brilliant overview of Sladek's talents.

The Introduction by David Langford won the British SF Association Award for Best Non-fiction in 2003.

Steve Sneyd, Star*Line, March/April 2003

John Sladek was American New Wave SF's supreme player of serious language games, and his delight in testing genre boundaries is well-reflected in this massive paperback, containing, as well as previously uncollected prose, all his published poetry. This review focuses on the poems, beginning with the first, published in the seminal 1969 anthology of SF Poetry, Holding Your Eight Hands. Of those two, both long, the extraordinary "Love Nest" depicts (to inevitably oversimplify such multi-layered writing) a near-future alchemical wedding-cum-apocalypse, its parody of consumerist language vicious[ly] accurate yet often weirdly beautiful. "The Treasure of the Haunted Rambler" concerns the unstoppable proliferation of new chambers, in effect shrine-spaces to the narrator's emotional emptiness, within a monstrously. incomprehensibly self-shaping house: a poem at once deeply serious and darkly funny. Among other poems collected here. "Untitled" shows a road accident victim vanishing into cartoon strip fantasy. "Jesus In White Bucks" dissects three generations of commodified people. while "Down His Alarming Blunder" reconjures Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" to give a frighteningly convincing picture of a modern politico's escape via jargon and garble from uncontrollable reality into wish-fulfillment.

Those who want their science fiction formulaic and linear may find this book baffling, even annoying. But, if your mind is open to the truly speculative, and you are unafraid to tackle the universe on its own chaotic, amoral ground, here be gems.

Graham Sleight, Infinity Plus, March 2003

Andrew J. Wilson, The Scotsman, 28 December 2002 (from Best of Year retrospective):

Another up-and-coming publisher has issued Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek (Big Engine, £9.99), edited by David Langford. Sladek, an American who spent most of his writing life in Britain, was the finest satirist ever to grace the SF field with his presence. His witty and incisive fiction was distinguished not only by its humour, but also by its sophisticated ideas, complex linguistic games and elegant style. The pieces in this collection show that Sladek was not an author who could easily be pinned down by genre labels, but one whose stinging wit only matures with time.

Mark Greener, Vector 226, November/December 2002:

Maps is a veritable smorgasbord of Sladek. It's all there. The items everyone will like. The items for more refined tastes. The items that you feel you should like, but don't quite agree with your palate. Even one or two items that you wished had stayed in the kitchen.

Maps certainly exemplifies Sladek's remarkable literary range. Even mass-market stories, such as 'Peabody Slept Here' and 'Machine Screw', transcend the form's limitations with wit and verve. And 'Machine Screw' includes the memorable line: "What kind of decent American would go and – and rape a Cadillac convertible?" If that doesn't bring a smile, or at least intrigue you, then, perhaps, this book isn't for you.

Sladek's penchant for puzzles and games also shines through in, for example, 'The Lost Nose' and 'Alien Territory'. But I must warn you about 'The Lost Nose'. It's a literary 'choose your own adventure' story that can be addictive. I certainly wasted too long playing it. Maps also showcases Sladek's hallmark savage, unrelenting satire and wit exemplified by, for example, 'The Future of John Sladek' and 'Goodbye, Germany?'. And there are some unexpected gems. I thoroughly enjoyed the Thackeray Phin detective yarns as well as the stories he wrote for, of all places, Titbits, for instance.

And Maps helped me solve a personal mystery. Years ago as an impressionable teenager, I read a story about two adolescents arguing about the existence of God. The story stuck in my mind ever since. I rediscovered the story in Maps ('Bill Gets Hep to God!'). It's testament to Sladek that this very short story could make such a marked impression.

But I found some other items on the Sladek smorgasbord somewhat less tasty. The poetry, mostly published in the 1960s, left me cold, for example. (And I'm one of the increasingly rare people that still buys poetry.) I suspect the poems might appeal to some aficionados of the 'beat' poets. However, they might have been better as a chapbook.

Similarly, two of the collaborations with Disch, 'United we Stand Still' and 'Sweetly Sings the Chocolate Budgie', also left me shivering. Both were previously unpublished. And for me, they should have stayed in the bottom drawer. I found them corny, even a tad infantile; the sort of story that's funny when you write it, but maybe not later.

Maps is a somewhat eccentric collection – which might reflect the writer. I couldn't recommend it as an introduction to Sladek: the Roderick books or The Steam-Driven Boy would be a better first step. On the other hand, it's not just for completists either. There are some real gems in Maps that makes it worth a tenner of anyone's money. Indeed, the real mystery is why so many of these stories remained uncollected for so long.

Lisa DuMond, SF Site, January 2003, and MEviews, December 2002:

When John Sladek passed away on 10 March 2000, hardly a ripple passed through the speculative fiction audience as a whole. Possibly the greatest satirist of our time had died far too soon and most readers had never even heard his name. With many of his novels back in print and more coming out soon, everyone who missed out on his biting wit and stunning characters has a chance to explore the wealth of material Sladek left us. And, for admirers old and new, there could be no better introduction to the wildly askew world of Sladek than David Langford's Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek.

Starting off with some of Sladek's more bizarre and sometimes brilliant short pieces, Langford prepares readers for the unique experiences ahead. From the delightful maze of "The Lost Nose: A Programmed Book" which leads off into directions never normally contemplated to the darkly hilarious, razor-wire satire of "Goodbye, Germany?" the mind of Sladek is gradually opened up for inspection. As you dig deeper in, the most astonishing aspect of his work may well be that there were editors courageous enough to print such eye-popping pieces as "Bill Gets Hep To God" and "Robot 'Kiss of Life' Drama."

Among his many endearing qualities, Sladek had the enthusiasm of a born-again subversive, creating a world anew with every word.

In Poems And Playlets are bits and snippets of what may be Sladek's least accessible work. With poetry, he mocks the form and the forum. Who can read without flinching the deadly accuracy of his thrust in "Untitled 2"? And is there anyone who, after being subjected to the endless dissection of experimental theatre, will not second his jabs in "No Exit" and "Seventh Inning Stretch"? Were either of these pieces ever actually staged, one wonders, but, obviously not, because the stage is still standing.

Sladek Incognito is well-named. Nowhere else in the collection are there selections with read less like Sladek. Domestic strife and O. Henry endings seem almost to have come from another incarnation of the author except, that is, the lethal and scarily close to life "Publish And Perish." The academic life, such as it is, neatly wrapped up in fourteen little pages – may it be enough to discourage even one reader from taking that road...

Of course, there must be a section devoted to dual madness that was Sladek collaborating with Thomas Disch. What a shame there isn't room in this collection for their brilliant and disturbing Black Alice, but the stories included perfectly convey the outlandish and lethal world their joint minds created and wreaked havoc in. If you read only one Sladek/Disch collaboration this year make it "United We Stand Still." And then go beat yourself silly for your sadly neglected literary life.

But, what was Sladek really like? You may come closer to finding that out in Sladek On Sladek, though the sad truth is most of us missed the chance to meet the cynical genius; Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek and his other works are as close as we can come now. Don't miss this chance.

And continue raising hell, wherever you are, Marty brudda.

[Lisa DuMond also selected Maps as number four in her ten best books of 2002.]

Paul Di Filippo, Washington Post Book World, 15 December 2002 (page BW13):

Space Oddities

John Sladek, an American comic genius who lived much of his life in London, died prematurely nearly two years ago at the age of 62. Since then, Hugo-winning novelist, humorist and fan David Langford has worked to assemble the writer's unreprinted pieces into a commemorative volume that might serve as an introduction to Sladek's uniquely skewed brand of absurdist, New Wave-influenced science fiction. The result is Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek (Big Engine; paperback, $9.99), and it's a generous and affecting package, revealing just how far Sladek's talents stretched.

The book is divided into five parts: Sladek's invigoratingly loony brand of genre stories; short plays and poems; some conventional Hitchcockian mysteries; a raft of collaborations with Thomas Disch; and, finally, some essays. Sladek's voice is strongest in the first section and in the partnerings with Disch. Sladek was an expert utilizer of surrealism and Groucho-Marxian wit; only he could imagine, in "Peabody Slept Here," a time-traveler whose simple scheme to support his shady genealogy business would lead to his being stranded in prehistoric times, or, in "Love Among the Xoids," a separate species of wan humanity that lives in the interstices of our mundane existence. While none of the entries in this volume possesses the magnitude of Sladek's masterpieces, such as the black-humored novels Roderick: The Education of a Young Robot or Tik-Tok or even the novella Masterson and the Clerks, which has remained vivid in my mind after a single reading 30 years ago, they all amply reward the reader with bushels of rueful laughter.

Jeff Gardiner, The Alien Online, October 2002

Jane Palmer, SF Crowsnest, November 2002

Steve Sneyd, Data Dump #62 (genre poetry newsletter), November 2002

This massive trade pb brings together, alongside prose and visual items hitherto uncollected by the New Wave's serious prankster supreme, what are believed to be all his poems, from sources as obscure as Ronald Reagan: The Magazine of Poetry, as well-known as the Holding Your Eight Hands seminal SF poetry anth[ology], as unexpected as the sober critical zine Riverside Quarterly. Although most of the poems are far from conventionally genre (understatement!), they offer a fascinating insight into the language-game approach to poetry, as to prose, of one of SF's most waywardly original writers.