Howard Waldrop
Night of the Cooters: More Neat Stuff

Here are eight stories, one essay, many chatty introductions and one short novel, none of them very much like anything else.

The 1960s come dancing nostalgically back to life. Bygone French notables move through a surreally rewritten Dreyfus Case on wheels ('Fin de Cyclé'), culminating in Alfred Jarry's downhill bicycle race on the steps of the Eiffel Tower. A centaur left over from the age of myth is craftily smuggled through the tighter "modern" world of the Roman Empire under Julian. One hitherto unnoted Martian capsule from The War of the Worlds impacts far west of the others, causing alarums in cowboy-era Texas. Another altered world sees the 1939 "peace in our time" declaration relayed worldwide by, er, television? The Baker Street Irregulars sleuth a mechanical rival of Jack the Ripper. High over Broadway, a comic-book hero fights the good fight....

That last story's follow-up article on sources and roots makes you boggle and wish all the rest were annotated likewise. Howard Waldrop's pop-culture and indeed real-culture erudition make for weird, manic and often very funny effects. He takes you out of your depth painlessly and with style: plenty of these have been shortlisted for popular awards and/or collected in Year's Best SF anthologies.

The short novel 'A Dozen Tough Jobs' is another of his fecund, cross-cultural transliterations: the Labours of Hercules, moved bodily to Mississippi in 1926-7 and told from the viewpoint of a young black slave. Some of this is just good rancid fun, as when Houlka/Herakles takes on the Augean Stables with a few sticks of dynamite – "That sonofabitch blew the seal on my minnow pond!" Some episodes are brand-new or powerfully changed: the descent into Hades becomes a far more alarming visit to a grand assembly of the Ku Klux Klan.

My sole niggle is that the relentless name-parallels can sometimes get a bit much: Mr Augie with the manure problem, Mr Ness who's always on his horse, Mr Pluto Dees (Kleagle of the Klan), Mrs Hippola of the local brothel (and her corset), etc. Though some are deliberately played for laughs, like T. Harris Tottle with his not-so-funny connection to Big Al, Al the Great, Al Capone....

It is impossible to do this wonderfully weird collection justice in Paperback Inferno's miserable quota of 400 puny words. Just rush out and buy it, please. Trust me.