From: "Robert Borski"
Subject: (urth) Uncollected Wolfe Date: Sun, 28 Apr 2002 13:52:15 -0500 More mini-reviews of some of Wolfe's uncollected short fiction, or as I've taken to calling them, lupets. "Eleventh City." The fourth of Wolfe's Sam Cooper stories, featuring an interesting play on a Biblical incident (Matthew's casting of demons from the swine herd) and neat title. But are we to believe that Wendell Zane--who asks to be called Dell--is the Devil or his surrogate? "The Fat Magician." The third Sam Cooper story, also told in epistolary style like the above. Much about this one I still do not understand. Why has Fat Ernst--a stage magician and safehouse operator for Jews and transvestites during WWII--been demonized by the local populace? What is the nature of the information Gertrun is keeping for "next time"? (Apparently, it has something to do with the removal of Ernst's body from the crematorium???) And those of you who have started to think of GW as a cranky old man may be less than pleased by the sermonette at the end. ("In the century we are just now closing out, we ordinary men and women have been in much greater danger from our own governments than from all the criminals in the world.") Still, I liked it for the most part, and enjoyed the tip to Avram Davidson's Boss in the Wall. "A Fish Story." Is the key to understanding this short short to be found in the name "Rob Salmon"? (Or something like that--can't find my F&SF with the story at the moment) I.e., do ghosts return to the place they're "born" too? "The Friendship Light." Modern-day Loki vs.Thor, with guest appearance by not-so-modern Harpies. Would have worked better if Wolfe could have found some other way of revealing what happens to Jack other than the clunky, less-than-believable, tape-recorded-oral-diary-method. "Going to the Beach." Wry commentary on the place and value of writers in a bleak automated future. Liked it when I first read it; still like it now. Reminds me for some reason of the movie Brazil. "Houston, 1943." One of Wolfe's finer-wrought horror pieces, with many autobiographical elements. Unfortunately, because I discuss the story at length in a forthcoming essay to appear elsewhere, I will refrain from further comment other than to say that the more you know about the practice and belief system of voudon, the better you will understand this story. "It's Very Clean." Another version of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Tin Soldier." (There's also the one in tBotNS.) Miles to the rescue! "The Night Chough." Almost no one agreed with me that this story supported my early notion that Scylla was riding Oreb and several people nearly self-combusted insisting this could not be so. It will therefore be interesting to see how the story reads now that the Short Sun trilogy has concluded. Wish Wolfe would set more of his stories in any of the Solar milieus, as this one is lily. "Petting Zoo." Agree with mantis to a point--the story does seem like a Calvin-comes-of-age fable, except that the last paragraph also ominously suggests that mankind no longer rules the Earth, robots do. "Pocketsfull of Diamonds." If the stories in _Strange Attraction_ were unattributed, and we had to guess from a list of the book's authors who wrote what, I would have said that this one was written by either Neil Gaiman or Ray Bradbury. Not that it seems atypical Wolfe; it doesn't, especially with the archetypal nature of the sideshow attractions. But the terrain seems more Bradburyese/Gaimanesque, especially with the talking cotton candy and taffy apple. "The Sailer Who Sailed After the Sun." My least favorite lupet of the bunch. A monkey takes the place of the whaler, then becomes parade lead for Egyptian sun god train. mantis, please explain your thumbs up. "The Seraph from Its Sepulchre." (Please note the correct title, which no one ever seems to get right.) Wolfe's version of "The Secret Sharer," only instead of taking place at sea, it's on a planet encircling Mirzam, in Canis Major. I note with pleasure how seraph is anagrammatizable from Sephora (the ship in "Secret Sharer") and how Father Joseph Krska, despite bearing a Czech name, is more likely a tribute to Conrad himself, whose real name was Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski (the prefixes -ski and -ska being synonymous in Polish). Further onomastics: while common enough in Czechoslovakia, Krska itself--properly, there should be a ~ over the 's'--has no meaning in Czech and is therefore thought to have been Slovakanized by newly arrived immigrants long ago. Speculation is that it may originally have been Russian for krishka (lid) or kroshka (crumb), but I prefer to think, given how I read the story's ending, that it's from kroshka, meaning infant. Surprised some of the list's more ardent religiosos haven't discussed this one in depth and look forward to their analysis of such Wolfian neologisms as "sohner" (sonar + sohn, German for 'the Son') in the context of the story. "The Tree Is My Hat." A man afflicted with Hansen's disease is cured by the Polynesian version of the AntiChrist as the Millennium turns. Hey, what did you expect from an anthology entitled _999_? Rather liked this one, but the story is marred in my opinion by Wolfe's heavy-handed character names: Baden, the leper, is married to Mary Christmas, and their children's names are Mark and Adam. Sheesh! "The Wafer." Wolfe mentions this in an interview as one of his better stories and how chagrinned he is that no one seems to have read it. Could this be because _Lamps of the Mouth_, the anthology which contains it, has a whopping list price of $125.00? "The Walking Sticks." Dave Hartwell, despite being kind enough to mention me in the intro, gives away a plot element I would have preferred learning in the story itself. Otherwise agree with Dr. Nick, in that it's rather unoutstanding. Again, perhaps mantis could enlighten us as to his favorable review? Final summation: if all of the above were collected into a single anthology, and then compared to the contents of _Strange Travelers_, I would have to say the new collection is stronger. So it appears we all have something to look forward to if this ever comes to pass. Robert Borski --