Cemetary Dance Review

Lack of Distinction(s)

A good argument can be made, although I'll not make it here, that distinctions between science fiction, fantasy, and horror have been detrimental to the fiction of the fantastic for a number of years.

For those of us who were first attracted to "genre" by the dangerous visions of Harlan Ellison, P. K. Dick, Samuel Delany, Fritz Lieber, J. G. Ballard, Roger Zelazny, and so many others, our fictional faith was founded in imaginative literature as a whole, without regard for distinctions between what was called science fiction, fantasy, or horror, let alone further definitions between sub-genera.

We were attracted by the ideas and the imagination of the fiction. Although they were never the main attraction, we even enjoyed the occasional ride on a shiny spaceship of hard SF (especially if the characters were as important as the hardware) or liked the mighty swing of a barbarian sword once in awhile (if there was as much style as sinew and a real story). Give us the best wizardry laced with allegorical wisdom and we'd warm up to it. We'd even slum with the devil's spawn and make out with the occasional monster — if they were revelatory re-inventions and not rehashed regurgitations.

Some of us preferred the darker brew more often than not, but it was still part of the mix and it still is. Even if "science fiction readers" get ill at the thought of a unicorn, they do not disdain good "fantasy." SF/F readers who say "I don't like horror" will invariably admit they love certain works of literature that are, without any cognitive stretch, "horror" or "dark fantasy."

I'm not denying there are identifiable differences in the whole. It is just that we'd all be better served by a recognition of good fantastic literature and a devotion to high quality rather than quantifiers. Instead of "supporting the genre," support what's best about it. Realize nothing is gained, and quite a bit is lost, by sustaining anything simple because it's called by one name or another.

Golden Gryphon

Golden Gryphon Press was founded in 1996 by James Turner. Starting in 1971 Turner had been the editor at historically important small press Arkham House. He'd continued to publish the canonical authors, but started concentrating more on contemporary science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers, showcasing them in high quality short story collections. The way I heard the story, Arkham's owners fired him in 1996, because they wanted to focus on what had gone before (a.k.a. "classics") as opposed to authors who were still alive and kicking.

So, Turner established Golden Gryphon, and continued to publish contemporary authors of merit in well-turned-out tomes. Turner died in 1999 and his brother, Gary, and Gary's wife, Geri, took over the press. Marty Halpern signed on as an editor in 1999. By the end of this year, Golden Gryphon will have published a total of 40 books and have a roster of authors that includes Kage Baker, Neal Barrett Jr., Michael Bishop, Andy Duncan, George Alec Effinger, Jeffrey Ford, Nancy Kress, Joe R. Lansdale, Richard Paul Russo, Pamela Sargent, Lucius Shepard, Howard Waldrop, and Ian Watson.

At this writing (early May) Golden Gryphon has four "dark" titles fairly hot off the presses. Not only are all four worth reading, they happen to be good examples of how the best fiction continues to further blur genre delineations.

Bumper Crop
Joe R. Lansdale
Golden Gryphon. $24.95. 200p
ISBN: 193084624X

Well, at least there's no need to introduce Joe R. Lansdale to readers of Cemetery Dance. Heck, one of these here stories was even originally published within these not-so-hallowed pages. In fact, first publication of these 26 stories came mostly in magazines like The Horror Show and Twilight Zone or anthologies from publishers like Dark Harvest. No fear of the h-word here. But, just as surely as the books mentioned above, this is a collection that should not be confined by genre classification. Just as "horror readers" may have missed out on most Ian McLeod stories, "SF/F readers" have missed out on most of Lansdale's. (Although it's highly likely they are at least aware of him by now.)

Lansdale's greatest gift as a writer is not that he can "go for the gross-out" (although he has on occasion) or his skewed sense of dry humor or his pure-"d" ability to spin a fine story or even that his East Texas sensibility and well-honed sense of justice give his stories a rare integrity. Nope. The secret is that Lansdale, no matter what he writes, is true to "his ownself." Few writers ever master themselves as well as Lansdale has.

Bumper Crop is a companion volume to GG's earlier Lansdale title, High Cotton, which the author considers his definitive "best of" collection. And, as Lansdale wrote in the introduction to High Cotton, he once "thought that I would be a science fiction writer. . . . science fiction — and keep in mind I lumped fantasy, horror, science fantasy, weird adventure, ghost stories, anything odd, under that label — was my main source of reading matter."

In general, the stories here are darker and shorter than High Cotton. But even the "too strange, too violent," deeply stygian "God of the Razor," once it finally was published in Grue, wound up being reprinted as "crime fiction" and in a "best of" mystery anthology. "Editors who rejected it the first time out, and don't remember they did," Lansdale writes in the story's introduction, "love to tell me how much they liked it. Uh huh." Uh huh, indeed.

This bumper is harvested from a variety of crops. If you want a monster story with a Cryptkeeper heh-heh-heh ending, you'll find few as good as "The Dump." "Chompers" is "heh-heh-heh" all the way. A tall tale with a touch of Bradbury? There's "Fish Night." How about Bradbury crossbred with the splat-pack? "The Fat Man." There's a white trash prefab Gothic haunted house ("The Shaggy House") and redneck ritual sacrifice ("On a Dark October Night" and "The Duck Hunt"). Like Cassandra in Troy, a true prophet is not believed in the Tornado Alley fantasy "The Man Who Dreamed." "Billie Sue" is surely one of the weirdest and one of the funniest love stories ever written. The far-fetched seems pretty damned "fetched" as "Bestsellers Guaranteed" explains a great deal about the business of publishing bestsellers. "Fire Dog," previously published only in Golden Gryphon's anthology The Silver Gryphon last year, is a small gem of absurdist theatre that could have been written by Harold Pinter if he hailed from Nagadoches, Texas. "Cowboy" sums up American racism in a sad, brief morality tale. In one of his most memorable stories, "Master of Misery," Lansdale uses his knowledge of the martial arts to write one of the best "fight" stories ever penned.

Let's keep it simple. Bumper Crop is good enough to make a rabbit spit in a bulldog's face. Y'all just buy it (and grab a copy of High Cotton if you're lacking it) and you'll be as happy as a hog in slops.

— Paula Guran, Cemetary Dance #50, 2004

[Note: The three other Golden Gryphon Press books reviewed in this article were Breathmoss and Other Exhalations by Ian R. MacLeod, The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, and Secret Life by Jeff VanderMeer.]


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