Book Review: The Dog Said Bow-Wow

>> Wednesday, February 3, 2010

It's so difficult to assign an overall rating to a collection of short stories, as each rates individually. This is a strong collection though, with only one or two stories I skimmed or skipped.

The collection starts off with a bang with "'Hello,' Said the Stick," a short, clever Hugo-nominee about a talking stick and the unlucky people who stop to pick it up. Right away, Michael Swanwick's skill and playfulness as a storyteller are on display, as the briefest of stories has enough bite to feel satisfying, and enough depth to feel as though a much larger, fully-realized world lies behind this modest tale.

This volume also includes three Hugo-award winning short stories--"Slow Life," a hard science fiction story of first contact, "Legions in Time," a story that begins like a classic Twilight Zone episode and ends like a Post-Modernist war story, and "The Dog Said Bow-Wow," the first of three blissfully fun Darger and Surplus stories that follow the exploits of the two gentlemanly yet roguish con men in a post-apocalyptic renaissance.

Other highlights are the gentle and sentimental "Triceratops Summer" that evokes a bit of Clifford Simak, "The Bordello in Fairie," which puts Swanwick's signature humor and bawdiness to work, and "A Small Room in Koboldtown," a locked-room mystery with a voodoo/fey twist. "Urdumheim," the final story in the collection, is a treat for fans of creation stories, weaving many early human tales into one unified and unique one, with plenty of original Swanwick thrown in for good measure.

The misses in the collection are few, thankfully, but take up a fair bit of real estate. Most notable among the disappointments is the never-before-published novella, "The Skysailor's Tale," which I felt it necessary to abandon before any semblance of plot took over. The piece felt laborious and purposeless--and I have to wonder if that is why it was never published elsewhere first. "The Last Geek" is interesting but feels more like an exercise in prose, and "Dirty Little War," while mixing a 70's dinner party and the Vietnam War in a way somehow reminiscent of something by Robert Silverberg, feels more like a "New Weird" piece written a bit too literally.

But despite a few misses (and after all, what collection of this kind *doesn't* have a few misses?) this is a strong collection, and shows off Swanwick's mastery of the form.


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