Strange Monsters of the Recent Past
by Howard Waldrop
Review by Timons Esaias

It's true that most of my reviews seem to be of out-of-print works, but much of the best in the SF genre seems to go into that state these days for no good reason. A case in point is this collection by the idiosyncratic short story writer, Howard Waldrop.

I've been a fan since I heard the title story of his "Night of the Cooters" collection read aloud, a hilarious rendition of what happens when some of Well's Martian invaders land among the good ol' boys of Texas. Also in that collection is the ultimate Boomer class reunion story "Do Ya, Do Ya Wanna Dance" that has one of the most effective endings in short fiction.

This collection also has a stand-out story that will appeal to lovers of the Greek myths. "A Dozen Tough Jobs" retells the labors of Hercules as the story of a work-release parolee in the deep south. Anomie, Mississippi to be exact. It's inside jokes from front to back, and just plain fun for the non-pious literati.

"Helpless, Helpless" describes a future plague; not of humans but of their computerized servants and the impact on civilized life. Fourteenth Century Europe comes again, and reminds us what our world is dependent on.

Many of Waldrop's tales take the form of homages to various cultural artifacts or trends, and there are fine examples here. "All About Strange Monsters of the Recent Past" fills the world with the B-Movie monsters of the 50's and 60's. "What Makes Hieronymous Run?" drops its characters into the weird landscape of a Bosch painting. And "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll" tells us whether the aliens appreciate doo-wop a cappella groups or not.

There's a sort of homage, or opportunity-for-redemption for Ernest Hemingway in "Fair Game", a fine mood-piece in a most surreal setting.

"He-We-Await" is the least satisfying effort in the collection, going perhaps once too often to the well of Egyptian immortality techniques. It has fine moments, though, and taps firmly on the buttons that make this a recurrent theme in film and fiction.

This book should be perennially on the shelf of every bookstore, but since it isn't, it's worth searching out so that it can be perennially on your own.

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