Sixteen stories ranging from short story to novelette, from creational mythology to hard science fiction. Three stories in the collection („The Dog Said Bow-Wow,“ „Slow Life,“ and „Legions in Time“) won the Hugo, several others were nominated.
The anthology demonstrates Swanwick’s sense of humor and inventiveness packed in his literary prose. Not every story is great, some of them I simply didn’t get into. But some of them are outstanding and the combination worked very good for me.
- ★★ • “Hello,” Said the Stick • review
- ★★★★★ • The Dog Said Bow-Wow • review
- ★★★★★ • Slow Life • review
- ★★1/2 • Triceratops Summer • review
- ★★★★ • Tin Marsh
- ★★ • An Episode of Stardust • A bizarre con-men feary story on the unseelie court mixed with modern technology. I was tired when reading this and couldn’t get into it.
Amusing story but nothing insightful to be found. It felt more like a bit scratched out from a larger novel – maybe like [book:The Iron Dragon’s Daughter|25781] or the newer [book:The Dragons of Babel|1777371].
- ☆ • The Skysailor’s Tale • Steampunk set in early 19th century Philadelphia where the indepence war was lost. This story wasn’t published before and is the longest in the anthology.
- • Legions in Time
- ★★★ • The Little Cat Laughed to See Such Sport • This time, Darger and Surplus are in Paris, conning the recovery of the Eiffel tower. Cat-woman, an intelligent talking pistol, hah!
- ★★★1/2 • The Bordello in Faerie
- ★★★ • The Last Geek
- ★★★★ • Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play
- ★★ • A Great Day for Brontosaurs
- • Dirty Little War
- ★★★★ • A Small Room in Koboldtown
- ★★★★★ • Urdumheim
This cosmogonic etiology was one of the strongest stories in the anthology – probably not for everyone but I love those sometimes pathetic sometimes grand tellings. One sample would be [book:The Silmarillion|7332] which has a similar theme: How language is central for the world (and there even creates it).
The Bible tells us in the Book of Genesis that the confusion of tongues is a punishment for the hubris of building the Tower of Babel – the word for „confusion“.
Swanwick’s story tries to accomplish the opposite: A single language is a bad thing because it might be stolen by demons and reduce humans to wild creatures.
We witness the very creation of the world – music, dance, war, aren’t introduced with heavy pathos but with unexceptional incidents: An unremarkable straight line scratched in the mud is commented with a dry „thus did history begin“. Only death is „invented“ with enough pathos referencing Swanwick’s anti-war stories.
Acting protagonists are taken from Mesopotamian myths. For example, we see Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love and warfare, Enlil, the god of storm, or king Nimrod who is a powerful sorcerer.
The story is quite heavy compared to other stories in the anthology, especially the con-stories of Darger&Surplus. But Swanwick handles it with grace and great imagination. One scene comes to mind when one of the Firsts should describe how Urdumheim was originally. Other authors might have answered that question with a short explanation. But Swanwicks „shows“: there was no language at that time, so she opened her mouth and envisions the horrible darkness of the place which they fled.
The ending is quite logically the construction of the Tower of Babel as a defense against the demons.
Swanwick seems to throw everything he has got into this story: romance, schemes, traitors, murder, action, and warfare all combined and mixed with his great imagination.
It is interesting that this pathos concludes the anthology because it is also a beginning.
I choose the collection because I liked his light-hearted story of two conmen Darger and Surplus in [book:Rogues|20168816]. This collection contains three additional stories with those „heroes“: The eponymous and Hugo-winning „The Dog Said Bow-Wow“, „The Little Cat Laughed to See Such Sport“, and „Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play“.
★★★★ for Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play
Darger and Surplus are in Greece. The winner takes it all: think of all the obelisks and statues that the Roman and British and German Empire took from ancient countries. Now, Greece has been a mighty country and stolen Lord Nelson’s statue and the Lions from British Empire…
But there always is a bigger fish, and I found it funny that it is (once again) an African country creating those pheromone gods like Dionysos. I loved it and hope to read another con-story located in Istanbul.
At the same time, I am impressed by a much deeper theme Swanwick shows us very briefly at the end of the story: the impossibility to return to the places one loves best.
★★★★ Tin Marsh
Prospectors on heat-scoured Venus get a chip implanted which controls in a kind of Asimov’s laws their behaviour. When a landslide disrupts one of those chips, one of the space-suited prospectors isn’t barred from living out his hatred anymore and a cat-and-mouse play evolves.
I’d call it Western-SF: „Turn around or I’ll lase you a new asshole.“ (spoiler due to profanity)
I feared a basic „how those laws make problems and can be circumvented“, but the story turned out differently. A short thriller keeping you on the edge.
★★★ The Last Geek
Once again, Swanwick demonstrates his diversity – this time with joke in the form of a short story.
A professor of „South Culture“ invites the last practicioner of his profession, a carnival geek to talk about good old South and demonstrate his art. He is proclaimed as American as John Wayne or Buzz Aldrin, a living cultural treasure and an acknowledged national icon. Of course, this leads to the pointe of the joke.
I don’t want to over-analyze it, but I think, it is not only a joke but also holds up a mirror on strange things that academics investigate.
What I’m wondering is if there are really people who bite off chicken heads or if that was invented.
In an interview Swanwick tells us
People think I’m having a laugh at my own expense when I say it’s autobiographical, but when first I finished it and read it through, I honest to God did think, «Le Geek, c’est moi!»
The framing story starts with a fireside story where an elder skysailor regrets that he mist his mad father’s burial, leading to a longish meditation about his father. It carries on with his travelogue of adventures on an airship including piratery, alternate worlds, and some X-rated scene.
I’m sorry, but I didn’t get into the story and started skipping pages. It felt longish, weak, not incomplete, a start of a novel that didn’t come to life. Some editorial work would have done good.
I’m looking forward if you can get more out of it and I’ll have to re-read it when I’m better concentrated.
★★★1/2 for The Bordello in Faerie
After the boys in Ironbrock come of age, they adventure to the faerie bordello across the river – a kind of inverted Dunsany’s world-building. Protagonist Ned finally gets to experience what all the fuss is about and he becomes obsessed in faerie sex.
There are some explicit scenes but nothing adult haven’t come across. And if you think it is faerie porn, then you have to read it again because it is more than just that: Because Ned could be the neightbour guy obsessed with online gaming, his car or similar. Swanwick develops a very good characterization how he stumbles into it, doesn’t recognize his obsession and doesn’t know how to get out but needs help.
The story develops very nicely with a good tension arc and a definite ending. I especially liked devious Gilbrig the imp and loved the world-building.
★★★★ A Small Room in Koboldtown
This seems to be a locked room murder mystery, but Swanwick only plays with the genre but doesn’t stay true to it: In a locked room mystery, readers should be able to solve the puzzle given the clues. The fantasy aspects of haunts, ogres and kobolds didn’t allow to do that, at least not with the world-building he delivered in this story. Maybe his novel [book:The Dragons of Babel|1777371] (this story is an excerpt) gives more context.
But as I’m not into detective stories, I didn’t care about that failed attempt and enjoyed greatly the Harry Potteresque fantasy/detective setting.
★★ A Great Day for Brontosaurs
Short short story turning Jurassic Park in a twist. Similar to „Hello, Said the Stick“ but not as predictable but with a less interesting setting. Swanwick didn’t get me with this one, but it was brief enough that I could forgive this story.
It worked very well in the anthology – contrast that to a collection of grotesque faerie story after faerie story and you know what I mean.