Albedo One Review

Custer's Last Jump [and Other Collaborations] by Howard Waldrop (Golden Gryphon hardback, 254pp, US$24.95)

I'm not sure if Howard Waldrop is an acquired taste. I suppose he must be, otherwise his stories would sell for millions and he would be a rich man, living off the fat of the land, rather than a luddite hermit living from hand to mouth (allegedly) in Nowhere, Texas. I approached his publishers for an interview — telephone, e-mail, anything — and was given his mailing address. Apparently, he doesn't even have a phone, never mind a computer or e-mail. Though if the entertaining and informative link sections from his new short story collection, Custer's Last Jump, are true then he makes up for his technological limitations by replying at once and in depth to all letters.

Custer's Last Jump is a collection of stories, all of which are collaborations and his collaborators get the last word, providing an afterword to the stories on which they collaborated. Mostly they provide small details about Howard, that he was too modest to put into the introductions. Not only are the front and end pieces informative, they are enlightening and entertaining, making one wish that every collection contained as much commentary.

What can be said about Howard Waldrop's short fiction that has not already been said a thousand times, and better? As is obvious to every reader of Albedo One, the editorial staff are fans, so this is obviously a biased review. But as evidence of his undiminished genius I give you the perfect story title (part four of a continuing sequence) for the subject matter. So, what does one call a story about the siege of Troy? If I had thought of calling such a tale "One Horse Town" I would probably cease writing immediately and rest on my laurels.

. . . The title story (with Steven Utley) is about the air war in the West, during the American Civil War. And it's as good as it sounds. "The Men of Greywater Station" is a straightforward (for Waldrop) explorers-on-a-hostile-planet story, written with George R. R. Martin. Of course it is sublimely written and plotted. How could it not be? "The Latter Days of the Law," with Bruce Sterling, is a tale about feudal Japan. According to the intro it is one of the first such tales and was a bugger to sell, which seems to be a subsidiary theme with a number of these stories. It's a delight to read, though.

"Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole" is a pastiche, but also so much more. You would not be surprised to find it in a collection by Poe or, more likely, Lovecraft. Another collaboration with Steven Utley, it should appeal to anyone who ever read a horror story written before the Twentieth Century and enjoyed it. Of course, if you've read and enjoyed a story by the divine Howard before that is also a guarantee, though of what I am not quite sure.

— Underview, Albedo One, Issue 28, 2004


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