Locus Magazine Review



Attack of the Jazz Giants and Other Stories, Gregory Frost (Golden Gryphon 1- 930846-34-7, $25.95, x + 344pp, hc) June 2005. Cover by Jason Van Hollander.


Gregory Frost may be less obsessed with cultural minutiae, but he's just as eclectic. Attack of the Jazz Giants and Other Stories has tales about Mexican factory workers, Mozart, Ku Klux Klansmen, and outer space adventurers, in settings that range from a Jesus-based theme park to old Russia and a wild realm of his own invention. While many have elements of horror (light or dark), including riffs on the works of Wilde and Poe, the book's one original is an SFnal take on Hope-Crosby-Lamour "Road" pictures! If you think this is starting to sound familiar, you'd be wrong. Where Waldrop puts his own stamp on everything he touches, Frost is protean — and quietly passionate. Waldrop universally employs a deadpan tone that Frost reserves for his comedies, and John Kessel's Afterword aptly praises Attack's darker works for "the bruised heart they reveal beneath the rage."

Don't mistake this for an overactive social conscience. The first of the author's many faces we encounter here is slyly wicked: "The Girlfriends of Dorian Gray" has a diet plan spawned in Hell. And there's a kind of irony as well as "rage against the machine" in the powerful tale that follows, "Madonna of the Maquiladora", as it abruptly switches genres. "Collecting Dust" takes a metaphor sociologists and psychologists have applied to both workers and the American family and makes it all too real (poignant and unsettling), while "The Bus" sidles its way from the mundane toward something — someplace — very different, though we've all heard of it before.

In the title story, surreality invades the Old South for a very weird kind of justice (with elements of Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, according to Frost's Afterword). "Some Things Are Better Left" shows that (omigod!) there are horrors even worse than High School.

Two stories date back a long way. Warped space opera "A Day in the Life of Justin Argento Morrell" (1983) didn't really work for me, but just when I was ready to write off the early Frost I came to his first professional sale "In the Sunken Museum" (1981), a wonderfully creepy hommage to Poe. That's the thing about a protean writer: you never know what you're in for. The most recent work in the book, previously unpublished "The Road to Recovery", places its uproarious analogs of Hope, Crosby et al. into a surprisingly vivid SFnal setting where the silliness takes on added dimensions without losing a whit of absurdity. A different kind of wit informs the closing story. "How Meersh the Bedeviller Lost His Toes" features a trickster in the mode of Jack Vance's delightful antiheroes, roaming a place where differing realities converge, but labels like "antic" or "Vancian" don't really convey its mixture of panache with darkness, absurdity with wonder. Frost says this one derives from a much larger concept he's been working on for several years, "Shadowbridge". Hey, man, finish it! I can hardly wait.

— Faren Miller, Locus, May 2005



 

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